New LibreOffice 7.2: More Office compatibility, but enterprise really should pay up

LibreOffice has more Office compatibility and native Apple Silicon support, but The Document Foundation really wants enterprise customers to pay for the otherwise free and open source (FOSS) alternative to Microsoft Office.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: The Document Foundation

The Document Foundation (TDF) has announced the release of LibreOffice 7.2, the free and open source alternative to Microsoft Office.

LibreOffice 7.2 arrives six months after TDF released LibreOffice 7.1 with a message urging enterprise users to stop using the free Community version and move to a paid-for LibreOffice Enterprise version with more support options from partners.

TDF, which bills LibreOffice as "free and open source software" (FOSS), is maintaining its position that enterprise organizations should stop free-riding off the volunteer-made community version and that LibreOffice may stagnate like OpenOffice -- the open source office productivity suite that Oracle offloaded to The Apache Foundation in 2011.

"Despite this recommendation, an increasing number of enterprises are using the version supported by volunteers, instead of the version optimized for their needs and supported by the different ecosystem companies," TDF says in a blog post announcing LibreOffice 7.2, which is available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux from the LibreOffice website

This presents a long-term problem for the sustainability of the LibreOffice project and risks the longevity of the free Community edition, TDF says.

"Slowing down the development of the platform is hurting users at every level, and may ultimately lead to a stagnation of the LibreOffice project."

In other words, enterprise users who want LibreOffice to avoid the fate of OpenOffice, from which it was forked, should support TDF's project via LibreOffice enterprise support partners.

LibreOffice was forked from OpenOffice after Oracle inherited the latter through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2009. Oracle had its eye on the Java development platform, but OpenOffice wasn't important.

Oracle dropped commercial OpenOffice and handed it to the Apache Software Foundation in 2011. But while TDF forged ahead with frequent updates, OpenOffice development and security fixes quickly stagnated. Linux distributions like Debian and Ubuntu distribute LibreOffice these days.

On TDF's LibreOffice enterprise page, the project notes that the community edition is "great for home and small office users". That edition lacks tech support.

"LibreOffice is also great for schools, educational and research institutions, and large organizations; in these cases, we strongly recommend using LibreOffice Enterprise versions from one of our ecosystem partners," TDF says. 

Commenters on Hacker News have noted that the TDF faces a difficult challenge convincing anyone, including enterprise users, to pay for a FOSS office productivity suite -- in part because LibreOffice and other FOSS products can't compete with the quality of paid-for products like Microsoft Office and Google Workspace, be they locally hosted or in the cloud. 

As for the LibreOffice 7.2 update, the major highlight is interoperability improvements with Microsoft's proprietary file formats and its availability for Apple's Arm-based laptops. 

However, TDF warns that while binaries are available, the Apple Silicon build "should not be used for any critical purpose at this stage."

There are updates for key apps including the Writer word processor, the Calc spreadsheet app, and Impress & Draw. The key updates include:  

•  Popup list to search for menu commands
•  Scrollable style picker in the NotebookBar
•  Fontwork panel in the Sidebar
•  New list view for the templates dialog
•  Built-in "Xray"-like UNO object inspector

•  Background fills can cover whole pages, beyond margins
•  Page styles can now have a gutter margin
•  Mail merge shows a warning about nonexistent data sources
•  RDF metadata in Style Inspector
•  Custom color metadata field shadings

•  Calc now can filter by color in AutoFilter
•  HTML tables listed in the External Data dialogue now show captions
•  "Fat cross" cursor available in the options
•  Type can be selected in "Moving Average" trend lines

•  New templates: Candy, Freshes, Grey Elegant, Growing Liberty, Yellow Idea
•  Multiple columns now available in text boxes
•  Direct access to the scaling factor via the status bar

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