LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, Not Always Simple

October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Operating Systems, Technology | 39 Comments

[Final Update: This post got a lot of notice, but I also had a follow up post that received less notice here that should be read for full perspective before commenting on this one now.]

If you are like me, you prefer LibreOffice over (Apache) OpenOffice because (1) It has a better open source license. (2) It has more community support. (3) It is more rapidly developing and releasing updates.

But at the same time, when I try to use them in a hard-core power user work environment, ideals go out the window and I use what works to keep my job.  My employer briefly flirted with OpenOffice around 2005, and supposedly it was really bad experiment, but I wasn’t there at the time.  So sadly, no one here contemplates a change from MS Office.  Take an example spreadsheet I use. It is very complex to the point it would be better off in a database, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

The surprising part is that MS Excel fails my needs even with working with its own .xlsx spreadsheet format. I need to hide 130 columns and Excel 2010 warns me “Cannot shift objects off sheet.”  Prior Excel versions had the same problem.  I’ve spent some effort looking for a solution, but the only thing I found to work is opening in an open source office suite.

MS Excel 2010:

I can open up this Excel document in either OpenOffice 3.4.1 or LibreOffice 3.6.1, and both are able to successfully hide the large number of columns I need hidden where Excel fails itself.  However, LibreOffice has a bug that has persisted for many months, whereas OpenOffice just works.  LibreOffice is making all comments visible by default.  The only solution I’ve found in LibreOffice discussions is to manually close each one.  In this case, that is an insane waste of time, as there are hundreds of comments showing, poking through the hidden columns.

LibreOffice 3.6.1:

Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1:

So in this case, the solution is to use OpenOffice.  I’d rather point to a LibreOffice victory, but the open source community has to acknowledge failures for them to be fixed.  And the bright side is that Apache OpenOffice is both still open source, and still free.  There is nothing stopping people from using both office suites when necessary to see which better renders specific documents.

Update:  Here is discussion where LibreOffice users have known and tried work-arounds for the past six months.  I think that OpenOffice might have had a greater focus on MS Office document compatibility, while LibreOffice has focused on advancing features.  I’m afraid my employer needs are squared directly over MS Excel compatibility vs. new features.

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  1. Reblogged this on pacesettergraam.

  2. the link to the discussion is missing a “http://” and it can be reduced to “″ too.

  3. The problem with either software is that of knowing your position on the market. Then comes the focus on compatibility with the major software and design. Apart from compatibility issues ther are numerus usabillity issues that have never been adressed. I hope that Libre O. will soon hire the right people that will focus on usability

  4. That might help you to hide the comments:

  5. I wanted to reply here because I made a similar observation a few months ago. I’d always found LibreOffice (and in the past, pre-Oracle Hell with OpenOffice) to be buggy as hell and extremely slow.

    A friend then suggested I try Apache OpenOffice and amazingly, pretty much all those issues have been alleviated. I’ve not encountered a single bug with AOO, and it feels so much faster than OO.o or LibreOffice ever did.

    I’m very happy I made the switch.

    • Of course, they achieve that by adding very few features and rarely making releases publicly available. Personally I prefer to use LibreOffice, keep a best-working version for daily work and wait for reports from others before updating.

      I like having things like hybrid PDF support, Visio import and other things Apache haven’t done and probably won’t do for ages, if at all. All it takes is to understand LibreOffice prefer to release early and release often like a real open source project should, and act accordingly!

      • Of course, intead of just monitoring the community for reports, you could help by testing and reporting bugs and help fix them. That would make the software much better for you and everybody.

        As I can read, AOO team isn’t worried on adding new features, they are focused on fixing what Sun didn’t do and make it faster and more stable. LO on the other hand is trying to make it the best solution, with best features, and let community handle bugs. If community does nothing, nothing will chance.

    • Open Office versus Libre Office: every time I ‘m curious about the performance of Libre Office and reinstall it again… to try if it can handle my > 80 pages documents. Where my AOO can handle the documents quite easily (barely no extra cache memory, limited extra processor time) the lon g documents are literally shocking. This discomfort makes me deinstall Libre Office every time. I tested again the release 4.0 of LO, again very slow performance in larger documents. Despite the extra features in LO, the more vivid community I will stay on AOO until the basic features like speed, memory-load are solved. I feel sorry, but consider this as ”feed-back”,.


  6. It takes more time to describe the solution than to apply it. As it often happens with free software, someone has encountered the same problem and has solved it with an extension:

  7. [...] LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, Not Always Simple If you are like me, you prefer LibreOffice over (Apache) OpenOffice because (1) It has a better open source license. (2) It has more community support. (3) It is more rapidly developing and releasing updates. [...]

  8. Just would like to know if that bug wasn’t present, would you have come to the same conclusion? Or are there more issues that would make you pick OpenOffice?

    • To clarify, I’m still using both, or all 3 including Excel 2010. There have been some seriously major bugs with .xlsx files before in LibreOffice, like one that removed cell formulas that was in the release version of both 3.4.0 and 3.4.1, fixed IIRC in 3.4.2. It has made me leary of saving .xlsx files in LibreOffice without first making a backup. I’m an accountant, not a true IT or programmer, and have had to get IT to restore a previous day’s file version because LibreOffice killed my document once. But ideologically, I’m still rooting for LibreOffice in the long run. I’m just not recommending it as a transition path that requires continued use of .xlsx files.

      • In this case, its a matter of what works, and what products you can use thats SAFE, and secure, and will not slow you down, or make you call IT to fix. If AOO works there at work, use it. It you want to play with LO on your own time where its not as important if you loose something, then thats cool. I feel the same way about other documents and situations too.
        Thanks, Rob

  9. Hi there – thanks for your interesting blog; if you have an issue like this it is almost always best to file a bug in bugzilla: so the issue can be sorted out. After seeing this – I noticed an existing bug for this: which (sadly) was incorrectly categorised. It was not marked as a regression, nor a most-annoying bug.

    Initially I thought this might be a side-effect of the big comment storage / scalability work we did for 3.6 which should improve performance for everyone. Instead, it seems it was a silly merge conflict / bug.

    It turns out that this was already fixed for 3.7 – with a lot of other nice improvements around shape handling and shadow properties, and I’ve back-ported this part of that to the 3.6 branch – the fix should be out inside a month as part of 3.6.3.

    Clearly we’re still working extremely hard to improve our OOXML filters, and I’m sorry you managed to find one of the few places that we’re actually worse – we have a huge interop. feature edge here.

    The earlier you test & file bugs, the sooner we can fix them, please consider getting involved with testing pre-release builds, and – thanks for using LibreOffice :-)

  10. Please create a bug report so the devs know about it. Thanks!

  11. I used to do a lot of complicated spreadsheets. I’d have a spreadsheet that held data (I had users with no interest in using a database to hold it) then they’d click a button that ran VBA that did a lot of behind the scenes calculations and then created a new spreadsheet with those results… VBA handling all the formatting and what have you. I haven’t written any VBA code in years but, I’m assuming that it’s still a part of MS Excel?

    it might not be appropriate for your situation but it saved my users a lot of frustration.

  12. You should be extra careful with your sheet in either case: there have been a number of reports from users who have lost all the cell comments, or found all the comments spontaneously move to the wrong locations.

    Backup often and always check that the comments are where they’re supposed to be.

  13. I think this problem was known and it seems it will be fixed in 3.6.3 LibreOffice version, see the trail that starts at

  14. Reblogged this on My Way of Life.

  15. [...] a question bloggers were mulling earlier this year, and recently — thanks to a blog post that popped up last Monday — it’s been on their minds once [...]

  16. [...] en el artículo “LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, Not Always Simple“. El artículo de Salih, me inspiró a traducir en parte, agregando libremente mi [...]

  17. [...] a question bloggers were mulling earlier this year, and recently — thanks to a blog post that popped up last Monday — it’s been on their minds once [...]

  18. [...] my prior blog post, my intended lessons for OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice were  1. Try both. 2. Use both. 3. Use what [...]

  19. My lessons with OpenOffice have been learned, don’t use it unless you are willing to put up with bug after bug. My limited exposure to LibreOffice has been promising.

    Either one lacks behind Excel in functionality, but absolutely kills it in terms of interface (the interface of Office 2007 and later is horrific!)

    • Is the Google Doc products any better? Or have you even tried that one?

  20. It’s very easy to make a decision for me. I installed both. Decided I didn’t like LibreOffice, so I uninstalled it. What did it do? It wrecked my system registry, deleted random DLL files, and generally completely FUBAR’d my system. Back to using OpenOffice version 2.0 (don’t go any higher).

  21. Quality articles or reviews is the main to be a
    focus for the viewers to go to see the web page, that’s what this website is providing.

  22. True open source has never been good at usability and user experience. The sort of people who do open source do not do usability.

    In fact, I think it isn’t hard to detect a hardcore “vengeful nerd” vibe that is openly hostile to the very idea of usability. “Anyone who isn’t smart enough to use vi (or emacs) is quite possibly a jock, and shouldn’t be using a computer in the first place.”

    The same with MS compatibility. “Why pour energy into compatibility with the devil’s own software, we should instead try to eradicate it!”

    Yes I’m being overly sarcastic, and I do use certain open source products, but 80% of the time open source simply isn’t about the software being usable. It’s about a dozen other things, like politics (“oh my god, someone just compiled a closed source hardware driver into the Linux kernel, call the police!”), having fun while coding, and overall nerd supremacy.

    I think this has a place in the world, but not in developing software meant for non-nerds. I prefer Open Office. The politics around Libreoffice make using it feel like wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. That doesn’t even fit.

    • Politics? Which politics? Independence from companies is not politics, and The Document Foundation is trying to create an ecosystem to develop the economics of free software and make it sustainable.
      Of course, if you believe to Apache OpenOffice advocates, this is another story, of global dependence from a single company which is heavily into politics (and calls its competitors “enemies”…).
      We are very happy if people like you prefer Apache OpenOffice over LibreOffice. Governments and companies worldwide are migrating to LO, because they have got the message and understand that independence is a global value which makes LibreOffice a better solution because politics are left outside, while you write about Che Guevara…

    • Sorry Sigmoid, but I think your mindset on open source ceased to be very accurate about a decade ago, even if the memory lingers on. In fact, my follow-up to this post is an answer in itself.

  23. Excellent post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I am inspired!
    Extremely helpful info specifically the closing phase :) I care
    for such information much. I was seeking this certain information for a very long time.
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  24. About poster, you also should report and maybe even try to fix the bug. Wait years to get a free fix for a bug in a free software, that you use for so long and needed the fix all this time…

  25. Cannot shift objects off sheet is a bug that was introduced in Excel 2003 when in VBA, notes were changed to comment shape objects. To fix this, display comments/notes (not just the red but with the whole comment – advanced view setting), hit F5 (goto), click [Special] button, select [objects] option button, click OK to select. All comments are then “selected”, right click on any selected one and properties (or Ctrl F1 I think) and change property to [Move and Size] with cells

    Hiding columns will not only NOT give error but be faster by orders of magnitude….

  26. Regardless to any bugs that has been encountered over the past i think Libre Office is doing a good job on updating there software.

  27. Try WPS office by Kingsoft. It is free and pretty much a clone of Microsoft Office.

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