In brief

LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org are fully-featured office suites comprising word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application, web page designer, and a number of other utilities besides. Originally written for Windows but now ported to a number of platforms, including Linux. Free and open-source. Very much a clone of Microsoft's office suite.

History

The present office suites OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice can trace their origins back to the mid-1980s, when StarDivision, a German company, launched the StarOffice office suite. In the late 1990s, StarOffice was one of the three most mature word processing programs/office suites for Linux, alongside WordPerfect and Applixware.

Successors and forks of this product have been known by a number of names. They have been distributed in both commercial and open-source forms, have been through several changes in ownership, and have used a number of different file formats.

The products currently of particular interest to translators are OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice. OpenOffice.org is currently maintained by the Apache Software Foundation, LibreOffice by The Document Foundation. Until recently (the late 2000s), OpenOffice.org was the software suite of choice for mainstream Linux distributions, but this role has since been assumed by LibreOffice.

OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice are very similar in functionality and share the bulk of thir code.

File formats

StarOffice initially used proprietary, binary file formats. These are unlikely to be encountered by translators. For the best part of a decade, OpenOffice.org and its variants have used a format involving multiple XML files contained within a zip archive. In 2006, OpenOffice.org adopted the Open Document Format (ODF), which was derived from the former XML format and was also published as a public standard. This format is widely supported by other office applications, such as Abiword and Textmaker.

The original XML file formats, of which the word processing format with the extension .sxw is the most common, may still be encountered but has now largely been replaced by the ODF formats with (among others) the extensions .odt for word processing (text) documents, .ods for spreadsheets and .odp for presentations.

Plus points:

Gripes:

Compatibility:

LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org have excellent import/export filters, probably the best of any word processor for Linux (or, for that matter, on any platform). They can import and export MS Word and Excel files with very little formatting corruption. They can also handle PowerPoint files, though I have found compatibility here to be consistently inferior to that for Word and Excel.

Libre Office and OpenOffice.org's collaboration functions are compatible with those of MS Word, so you can receive a Word text from a colleague, revise it with the "record changes" function, and send it back – your colleague receives a text marked up as it would have been in MS Word. Compatibility extends to many of the plug-ins such as the equation editor. There are limitations to the compatibility, but if you simply overwrite other people's MS Word files, they are relatively rare.

Language support:

Excellent

A large number of proofing dictionaries are available, though they may have to be obtained separately (for example, they may not be included with your distribution of choice). Installing additional dictionaries has been made easier than it was with earlier versions.

As would be expected from a mature office suite, support for Japanese/Chinese/Korean and for right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew is good.

Font management is straightforward.

An online community of translators who use OpenOffice.org can be found at groups.yahoo.com/group/OOo4trans.

OpenOffice.org website

LibreOffice website