I am what is commonly referred to as a geek or a nerd. I enjoy playing with technology, mainly software because I can rarely afford hardware. I routinely install many different versions of the same type of software to test out which is the best. For example, as I type, I have roughly six web browsers installed on my PC. You call it overkill, I call it many tools for many needs.

In this review, I plan to introduce you to the leading free alternative to Microsoft Office: LibreOffice. Everyone in the world uses Microsoft Office, but not everyone can afford it. I plan to help with that.

The History of LibreOffice

LibreOffice has a long history. It all started back in 1999 when Sun Microsystems purchased a German software company named StarDivision. At the time, StarDivision was developing an office suite named StarOffice. According to former Sun employee Simon Phipps, Sun purchased StarDivision because it was cheaper to purchase the company to get their office suite than to license Microsoft Office for Sun’s 42,000 employees. Makes sense to me.

In 2000, Sun announced that they would release StarOffice’s source code to create a free and open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. (Open-source means that the source code of a program is made available to the public so that anyone can change or adapt it to their needs.) Later that year, OpenOffice.org came into existence. Over time, it became quite popular, especially among Linux users.

However, the road ahead was not smooth. In January of 2010. Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems. While Sun was well known for its support of open-source projects, Oracle was just the opposite. Shortly after acquiring Sun, Oracle shut down several open-source projects. Fearing that they too would soon fall under the ax, most of the OpenOffice.org developers created a fork of the old project outside of Oracle. (In programming circles, a fork occurs when a group of developers take the code of an existing open-source project and take it in a different direction than the original creators.) The new project was called LibreOffice. OpenOffice still exists, but its development is slow compared to LibreOffice.

What Does LibreOffice Have to Offer?

LibreOffice consists of the following six applications:

  • Writer – a word processor – similar to Microsoft Word
  • Calc – a spreadsheet program – similar to Microsoft Excel
  • Impress – a presentation creation program – similar to Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Draw – a vector graphics editor and diagramming tool – similar to Microsoft Visio
  • Math – an application designed for creating and editing mathematical formula
  • Base – a database program – similar to Microsoft Access

Most of the features that you have come to expect from an office suite are available with LibreOffice. In the past, there were some problems opening the newer files formats used by Microsoft since Office 2007. However, recent updates have improved compatibility quite a bit.

Should You Use LibreOffice?

I’ve been using LibreOffice personally for almost a year without a problem. When I bought a new used laptop last year, I couldn’t afford to buy Office. So, I downloaded LibreOffice and have been using it ever since without any problems.

Still not convinced? In the last couple of years, quite a few government organizations around the world have dropped Microsoft Office in favor of LibreOffice, mainly to cut the cost of licensing Office. In the last year alone, the following have switched to LibreOffice: the Italian Ministry of Defense (150,000 PCs), the Italian city of Bari (1,700 PCs), and all UK Government agencies.

In the end, the decision it up to you. Download LibreOffice and give it a test drive. It won’t interfere with your Office install. There is no cost and no strings attached. I don’t get a dime out of this, just the satisfaction of helping people save money.