There are four main contenders for your "office suite". The most popular and best known is Microsoft Office. I would then suggest that the next best known is Open Office, however since Oracle got out of the office suite business, what was OpenOffice.org or OOo has become LibreOffice from The Document Foundation and Apache OpenOffice from Apache. So that leaves one more, which is WordPerfect Office, which is probably the least well known and the least used, even though WordPerfect and QuatroPro were very popular tools in their day and are probably still very good.
I have recently downloaded LibreOffice 4.1.4 and Apache OpenOffice 4.0.1 and compared them. In summary I made the following observations:
- You can install both of them on the same machine, they sit side-by-side quite happily and you can do this with Microsoft Office installed as well, if you really want
- LibreOffice supports more file formats
- Apache OpenOffice has the nice side panel, which actually comes from IBM Symphony but that is a longer story
- LibreOffice also has the side panel feature via Apache, however it is "experimental", see below
- It should be noted that LibreOffice does have a side-panel type thing in Impress, it's presentation software
- LibreOffice supports Visio documents, I don't think this is "full" support but it does a reasonable job, Apache OpenOffice can't even open them
- LibreOffice also has a nice word count feature in the status bar
- It would seem to me that Apache OpenOffice has a much slower lead time for fixes and updates etc, I know it is not as mature as LibreOffice but I do think this is important
- Apache OpenOffice still has the cumbersome installer that creates a directory on your desktop, full of installation files and then leaves it there, never have understood that
- Running on Windows 7 LibreOffice shows different taskbar icons for each "application" (Writer, Calc, etc) but Apache OpenOffice merges them all into one. This might be configurable but I prefer the LibreOffice approach
I was trying to be objective on the two OpenOffice derivatives but as of January 2014, I believe that whilst Apache have added some nice user interface functionality by way of the side-panel, LibreOffice is the better product. I get the impression their code base is better and they have more contributors. Whilst a side-panel looks nice, neither product is hard to use but the wider range of file formats is hard to beat!
If you need to find out more information on these suites, then visit their respective websites. However it is important to note that Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice are both free, Microsoft Office is often bundled with a new computer and so is not too expensive, Corel's WordPerfect Office is also paid for.
It is also well worth noting that Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice are both cross platform products (Windows, Mac and Linux), unlike Corel WordPerfect which is Windows only and Microsoft Office which is Windows with a little bit of Apple OSX.
It is worth noting that The Document Foundation, who run the LibreOffice project also have a project called Document Liberation, which aims to provide access to documents of all formats. This is relatively new but shows great promise and is why LibreOffice supports more file formats than Apache OpenOffice.
This is one of the tricky, cross suit compatibility issues, especially as Microsoft Office defaults to fonts that are not free. So take a look at Advent Resource #18: Croscore Fonts for some help on converting documents from Microsoft Office to something else, like LibreOffice.
Originally IBM developed a side-panel or sidebar for their Symphony, which was an OpenOffice.org fork. I don't know the full story but they donated the code to Apache and their developers switched to working on Apache OpenOffice, which IBM now offer with their own extensions. Interestingly the sidebar is also in LibreOffice 4.1.4 but as an "experimental" feature, hence it needs switching on and is not considered "stable release ready". Turning it on is not obvious, so, just follow these steps:
- Start LibreOffice
- Select "Options..." from the "Tools" menu
- From the tree on the left, under LibreOffice there is a section called Advanced
- Check "Enable experimental sidebar (on restart)"
- Click OK
- Click Restart now
- Start Writer or Calc and see the difference
To disable the sidebar just follow the steps but un-check the option.