If you do any kind of computer work at all, you will be familiar with the Microsoft Office Suite of programs. Microsoft’s word processing program for document creation is called simply “Word”, though it is sometimes referred to as MS Word. And truth be told, Microsoft Word has all but dominated the word processing scene for PC users over recent decades.
There are some other word processing packages out there, including most notably Apple Pages, Coral Word-perfect and Apache Open Office Writer. In fact, Open Office became quite popular with MAC users, but never managed to completely replace MS Word for PC users. But now there is now a relatively new kid on the word processing block, called LibreOffice Writer.
LibreOffice Writer is one program in an entire suite of programs called LibreOffice, with other applications comparable to Microsoft Office and Open Office. LibreOffice was created by former users from the Open Office community and includes Writer as its word processing program.
LibreOffice also includes Calc for spreadsheets, Impress for Presentations, and Base for database functions. LibreOffice Draw is also included, specific for drawing, and includes many of the functions available through the Word Art feature of MS Word.
LibreOffice Writer is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with on the word processing scene. It’s already proven itself better and more powerful than Open Office, which some say is now on its way out since most of the users have migrated over to LibreOffice. LibreOffice Writer is in fact believed to be moving quickly into position to one day compete with MS Word.
Accessibility and Document Sharing
All the LibreOffice suite programs are open source and available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. LibreOffice Writer has gone through multiple revisions over the last several years at the hands of volunteers in the community and it is now one of the fastest and most powerful programs of its type. Users report that the export and import features of LibreOffice Writer have been vastly improved in the newest version as well.
The code for LibreOffice Writer is open and not “owned” by anyone so modifications to code can be done by anyone with the know-how and doesn’t cost anything to do. This provides tremendous customization options.
And if you have been looking for a program that could open those ancient documents on your hard-drive created in Word-perfect or previous versions of Ms-word, LibreOffice Writer is the answer. Writer also has its own open source default document format that it uses to save documents. The default save format can be altered to default save in Ms Office format if you share documents frequently with others.
This means LibreOffice Writer has maximum compatibility when it comes to sharing documents with other PC and Mac users. Microsoft Word, on the other hand, is part of the proprietary suite of Microsoft Office. On the upside this means that bug fixes may come a bit quicker and more organized for new versions and security issues are handled more efficiently.
The downside, of course, is that MS Office is proprietary which means you must have permission to do any alterations of the code if needed. Users have also reported some compatibility issues when using files that were created or saved in previous versions. This can make document sharing confusing and sometimes tricky, depending on which versions are used by parties involved.
Spelling and Grammar Check
The spell check feature in Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Writer work very similarly in that mistakes are underlined with a wavy red line. It’s safe to say that most users won’t see much difference in this feature. While Microsoft Word comes with spell check built-in, you will have to download the dictionary, thesaurus, etc. on LibreOffice. Once the spell check extensions are installed, however, there is little difference in this feature. LibreOffice also offers an auto correct feature similar to that of Word, it’s toggled on or off using a toolbar button, making it much easier to access than in Word.
The grammar check in MS Word underlines grammar errors with a blue wavy line and LibreOffice Writer also uses this method to indicate grammar errors. Many users report that the grammar check feature for LibreOffice Writer is actually better than that of the grammar check feature in MS Word.
Styles & Templates
As a long time user of MS Word, I have to admit I have always found the Styles and Templates difficult to use. For me, it was simply easier to format titles, headings, and paragraphs manually in most cases than it was to try and set up a saved Style that I could use with the click of a button. Those who use MS Word for more repetitive document work may disagree. From my brief review of the Styles feature in Writer, it appears to be somewhat less complicated to use. The Styles menu is located in a sidebar and includes preset formatting for things such as page numbers, internet links, quotation, emphasis, etc.
Templates are designed to make life easier when it comes to formatting and polishing a document. Once you find a template you like, you can add your text and the result is a professional looking document complete with consistent formatting, color scheme, and everything else you desire.
Both Word and LibreOffice Writer offer the use of templates. MS Word comes pre-loaded with many more templates than LibreOffice. This is perhaps the one drawback for LibreOffice Writer. In order to use a template, you must first find the one you want, download it, open it and give it a new name, and then save it to the My Templates folder. Although there are over 300 templates available for LibreOffice, they are all listed together without distinction as to which are for Writer, Calc, Draw, etc. MS Word wins here in that it lets you search templates for only Word templates, or only Excel templates, etc.
Although some users report that the LibreOffice Writer Interface is clunky and that the menu options can be confusing, I find it easier to navigate than the ribbon menus. Buttons are right there on the toolbar, represented by icons. Menus are definitely more cluttered, a throwback to the menus we used in the 1980’s versions of Word. But with a little know-how, you can customize your toolbar and reduce some of the clutter.
In fact, while writing this article I purposefully switched from MS Word to LibreOffice Writer. I was able to open and manipulate the original Word file without any difficulty whatsoever and I truly saw no substantial difference in how I interacted with the two interfaces.
The only drawback for LibreOffice Writer is that there is not currently a tablet or cloud-based version of the software. This will only matter to you if you are someone who has gotten used to actually using your MS Word from your phone or tablet to view and work with documents.
After looking at the pros and cons of LibreOffice Writer and Microsoft Word as far as features, the price is where LibreOffice Writer takes the trophy. Although Microsoft Word offers a 30-day free trial version, you must pay for the full version and pay fees to upgrade to any future versions. To use Word on more than the allowed number of devices, you must pay additional licensing fees.
Additional language packs involve more fees. Even their cloud-based applications hit you in the wallet, charging a recurring monthly fee. If you cannot make your payment for whatever reason, you would then risk losing access to all your documents.
LibreOffice, on the other hand, is completely free to use. Simply go to the LibreOffice site and download the latest version of the software. It takes a matter of minutes and you are up and running. Extensions and Templates can be installed at no additional charge.
The program can be installed simultaneously with MS Word and/or Open Office, which means that you could download a copy today and try it out without having to alter your existing setup. If you don’t like LibreOffice Writer for any reason, you can simply go back to using Word.
MS Word supports more functions such as complex outline numbering, complex rich text formatting in comments, decorative page borders, watermarks and view options such as the horizontal split document, outline and draft view but many of these are possible in LibreOffice via free extensions or a work around.
In conclusion, it’s clear that LibreOffice Writer can actually replace MS Word for many basic and intermediate Word users. In fact, those using MS Word for simple document creation and writing projects likely won’t even notice any absent features. Power users may have to install extensions and make use of templates in order to get close to the feature packed Word experience they are used to. But in my experience, LibreOffice Writer will work as well as Word for most users without much modification at all.
The trade-off, of course, is that LibreOffice Writer may be slower to develop components for integration with other technologies such as mobile and cloud applications. Because developments and bug fixes are developed and implemented by volunteer users rather than paid dedicated staff at Microsoft, they take a bit longer but in the end are more user focused. So while LibreOffice is open source and therefore easy to modify and customize, it may take a little more effort on the user end to make those modifications.
The main reasons to switch from using MS Word to LibreOffice Writer are cost and control. LibreOffice writer provides a completely free alternative to MS Word. There is no worry that non-payment of renewal fees will restrict future access to documents. Users will no longer be forced to pay licensing fees for new and only slightly revised versions of Word or for permission to use the software on additional devices.
It would seem the LibreOffice Writer would be a tremendous cost savings venture for many governments and public entities including schools, emergency personnel, public boards, etc. There is absolutely no cost involved with this software, so money currently being allocated for Microsoft Office software licensing, renewal fees, and multiple users fees could be allocated for more important things. Because the LibreOffice Writer interface so closely resembles older versions of MS Word, there would also be very little if any re-training needed for personnel.
So after an initial review of LibreOffice Writer in comparison to Microsoft Word, I would have to recommend that everyone download a copy of LibreOffice today and start using LibreOffice Writer for their daily projects. It really is a seamless process to switch between LibreOffice Writer and MS Word, so there’s no reason not to give it a try. Use LibreOffice Writer for a few months to make sure it will do what you specifically need it to do. And then bid Microsoft Office and their licensing fees farewell for good.
For the truly brave, the next step in freeing yourself from corporate control naturally would be to switch your entire computer system to Linux, but that’s a bit more complex. I think for most people, making the switch from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice will save them substantial money and be enough adventure for this year at least.
To learn more about the best writing software and to discover the essential programs that all writers should have, read my article on the Writer’s Toolkit.