​The best desktop office suite, LibreOffice, gets better

The new LibreOffice release has improved its looks and added even more interoperable features.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

OK, so maybe Microsoft's Office 2016 for Windows is perfect for Windows 10 users, but for the rest of us, LibreOffice 5.1, the full-featured, open-source office suite, is a better choice.


LibreOffice 5.1 is better than ever.


I make my living from writing and poring over data in spreadsheets. For me, LibreOffice has long proven to be the best desktop office suite choice.

This new version offers a reorganized user interface. Unlike Microsoft Office, which long ago embraced the annoying ribbon interface, LibreOffice has stayed with the tried and true menu-based interface that any Microsoft Office 2003 user will recognize at a glance.

What The Document Foundation, LibreOffice's parent organization, has done is reorganize the menus for Writer, Calc, and Impress -- LibreOffice's word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. They're designed to provide faster access to the most-used features.

Guess what? It works. I found all three programs to work faster after only a day or two of getting used to the new menus. The trio also got new top-level menu selections -- Writer "Styles;" Calc "Sheet;" and Impress "Slide." These make all three core applications easier to use.

LibreOffice 5.1 has also added integration with remote servers. The supported servers include Alfresco, FTP servers, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft OneDrive, and WebDAV. This means you can create, edit, and save files to these cloud and Internet services just as easily as if they were on your PC hard drive or local area network. LibreOffice should work with services that supports the open Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) protocol.

First you'll need to set up a remote service. Once that's done, you can easily access your remote files with the File Menu's "Open a Remote File" and "Save to Remote Server" choices. If you're like me, and you keep a lot of work papers on cloud services, this makes LibreOffice more useful than ever.

The new LibreOffice also comes with improved document format support. Besides its support for Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2, LibreOffice 5.1 also boasts improved compatibility with Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format, Microsoft Office's default file format. Technically, Microsoft's OOXML format is an ISO standard. Technically.

In practice, no version of Microsoft Office, including Office 2016 has ever used the "strict" version of the standard. Instead, Office saves documents using a "transitional" version of OOXML by default. As the Document Foundation's Italo Vignoli points out, this is a transition that's been going on nine years. The Document Foundation says this standard tends to change with each new release of Microsoft Office, often in big ways, making it a challenge for LibreOffice to keep up.

For that matter it makes using the same document difficult between Office versions. So, if you think only Microsoft Office can fully support Microsoft Office document formats, think again.

LibreOffice also boasts improvements for importing old Microsoft Office documents in binary formats: DOC, XLS, and PPT files. It also does a better job of importing RTF files and Microsoft Visio projects. The program also now supports importing Microsoft Write (.wri) documents and Apple Keynote 6 (.key) presentations, and Gnumeric spreadsheet files.

LibreOffice 5.1 has also been improved "under the hood," thanks to the work of hundreds of volunteer developers. Besides better file and cloud support, the change you're most likely to notice is that LibreOffice is far faster than before.

Want to see for yourself? LibreOffice 5.1 is totally free, runs on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows and can be downloaded today.

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