If you're looking for an affordable alternative to Microsoft Office, you might well consider an open source productivity suite such as LibreOffice. Ever since its origins back in 2010 (open source fans will recall its relation to OpenOffice), the software has steadily improved. Today LibreOffice can successfully compete with any other popular productivity suite in a business setting.
Most of the fixes over the years dealt with import and export filters to improve compatibility with other productivity suites such as Microsoft Office, but a lot of work focused on new and improved features as well. Here are some of my favorite LibreOffice features to help small businesses save time and effort.
LibreOffice: Favorite Features
1. True Mouse Cropping of Images
Cropping in Writer has historically been cumbersome and inexact. Most people typically edited images in another application before setting them in a document. Then LibreOffice 5.0 introduced true mouse-select cropping, and this feature is quickly becoming a fan favorite. No more trial and error, no more opening GIMP to crop beforehand, no more wasted time. In version 5.0 you simply right-click and choose Crop Image from the menu. Red resizing handles appear and you just crop the image quickly and easily as desired. This is my new favorite feature in LibreOffice.
The new mouse crop feature in LibreOffice 5.
2. Word Count
Word count is a small and often unappreciated feature, but it can be quite handy. There are thousands of reasons you might need to know the word or character count of a document, and this tried-and-true feature is quick and easy. The running total displays on the status bar or just click Tools then Word Count for an instant word and character total.
The LibreOffice word count data.
3. Sort in Writer
Sort is another small, often overlooked, yet useful feature. Sort is common in Spreadsheet by column or row, but it can be handy in Writer as well. Anytime you need to sort a list, items in a table or paragraph—whether alphabetically, numerically, descending, or ascending—the Sort tool can save you time and effort. Just click Tools and Sort to open the setup dialog. Click OK to apply.
The LibreOffice Sort configuration dialog.
4. Tracking, Accepting Changes, and Committing
Tracking, accepting and rejecting changes as well as making comments may not be a new feature set, but it's recently improved and quickly becoming a favorite. Managing changes and leaving comments are useful in a collaboration setting when multiple people work on the same project. This feature set can even compare two documents to show before and after, and it lets you set a password to protect the final changes. Turn on this feature by going to the View menu and Toolbars subheading and click the checkbox beside Changes. Then click the Record Changes button in the Changes floating panel to begin tracking.
Track changes and make comments easily.
5. Export to PDF
Exporting or saving to PDF is helpful when you want documents that you send or share to remain unchanged or hard to copy. It's also a favorite option to assure the document appears the same to everyone no matter what hardware and software they use. It can be helpful to save to PDF in Impress—it knocks a large presentation down to a manageable size for quick review or to allow downloads.
Hybrid PDF allows editing of an ODF (Open Document Format) portion. In version 5, Export to PDF supports the IETF Time-Stamp protocol and digital signatures. You'll find exporting to PDF available in all LibreOffice applications.
LibreOffice offers lots of Exporting to PDF options.
Extensions by definition extend the functionality of a given application. The Document Foundation provides an Extensions website as an Extensions Manager in LibreOffice. Many are dictionaries or for some obscure compatibility, but others are more exciting. One, for example, lets you not only save to PDF, but it also opens the default mail client with the resulting .pdf file as an attachment.
LibreOffice Extensions manager.
Pepito Cleaner "quickly resolves the most common formatting mistakes of old scans, PDF imports and every digital text file." One of the most popular extensions, Clipart gallery of danger signs, offers more than 400 pieces of clipart. My newest favorite is the LanguageTool, which detects errors and grammar mistakes that a simple spell/grammar checker cannot detect, such as mixing up "there" versus "their."
There are so many features in LibreOffice that make it an indispensable small business tool. The import/export filters are in constant review and being updated all the time. Every release LibreOffice supports more formats. The core code has been cleaned up in the last several years making LibreOffice perform better with each release.
What makes LibreOffice the perfect office suite for any small or new business trying to maximize their returns? Its best feature: the price. You can download, install, and use it for no fee with Community support. Contract support is available through vendors. In addition, it's available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. There are a thousand reasons to try LibreOffice. It's definitely my favorite Open Source application.
Susan Linton, a writer of, and expert in, all things Linux and open source, founded the website TuxMachines.org in 2004.
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