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Libre OfficeWriter can protect your Word documents

The ability for multiple persons to work on the same document is important – for employees working on a sales report to soccer moms creating a flier for a bake sale. For a couple of decades now documents could be sent to others via email or by another means to others. Several office applications allow people to work on a document at the same time.

Many times there are people in a group who receive a document that do not need to edit a document or only edit parts of it. For those situations Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Writer have settings that allow the original creator of a document, or administrator, to make a document read-only, require a password to open it, or to make some sections of it un-editable. Both applications have similar capabilities in this regard. While Word has more protective features, LibreOffice has certain advantages over it.

Microsoft Word

Protecting a document in Microsoft Word is done through the Info tab of File and the Review ribbon. The tab has a Protect Document icon that is a drop-down menu with five choices. The three this article covers are Always Open Read-Only, Encrypt with password, and Restrict Editing. Restricting Editing also can be found in the Review ribbon, under the Protect drop-down menu. It also has a Block Authors choice for use when the document is shared with others on OneDrive or a SharePoint server. These settings are used to control who and how a document is edited.

Setting a document to read-only is the most basic way of restricting a document. When you set one to this through the Protect Document drop-down menu, read-only is difficult to undo. A password cannot be applied so others can edit the document. Those receiving it can make changes to the document, but those changes cannot be saved.

If you want some people to be able to open and edit a document while not giving others any access to it, you can encrypt it with a password. This choice requires you to create a password and reenter it. When others click to open it, a dialog will appear asking for the password.

Restricting Editing allows you to set what kind of editing and formatting can be done to a document. Read only is the most restrictive. There are also settings for filling in forms, tracking changes, and commenting. The No changes (Read only) choice in Editing restrictions section is different than the Read only choice that can be found in the Protect Document icon in the Info tab. The Restricting editing choice sets the document so text and objects can’t be added or changed, even temporarily. If Save As is performed the protection settings will be transferred to the new document.

The pane also allows you to select sections of the document that can be edited and who can edit them. As a whole, the document needs to be set as No changes (Read only). Then sections and recipients can be set up in the Exceptions section below it.

These protection methods are performed on DOCX formatted documents. However, Word also allows for protecting a document that is exported to PDF. While Word has a basic PDF export feature out of the box, plugins can be installed for more advanced control over PDF exportation.

Word has evolved these settings and features over the years in order that it remains the most feature-rich word processor on the market. The latest protective settings support its services that allow for real-time collaboration and its integration with OneDrive and SharePoint.

LibreOffice Writer

The Document Foundation, the organization behind LibreOffice, does not offer the same collaborative services that Microsoft offers, but it still has given Writer protection features that are on par with the most popular text editor.

Documents in LibreOffice can be locked through the Save and Save As dialogs. There is a checkbox in the dialog, “Save with password”, putting a check in it will launch another dialog that allows you to create a password that is required to open the document and edit it.

Only those who have the password you created in the File Encryption section of the Set Password dialog. Those who don’t have it cannot open it. This setting works in both OpenDocument Text (ODT) and DOCX formats.

A document also can be set to read-only. This is different from the Read only setting in Word’s Info tab. It will open in a mode does not allow the user to change the document, even temporarily.

However, a user can simply go to the Edit menu and click Edit Mode, so there is a check next to it. There is no need to perform a Save As to make changes to the content. This is the case even if a File Encryption password is created.

If the document is saved as ODT, the password fields in the File Sharing section can be used to create a password. This will restrict editing to those who have the password. If a File Encryption password has not been created, anyone who has the document can open it.

Read-only also can be set in the Security tab of the Properties dialog. A link to open the dialog is in the File menu. However, the only way to password protect a read-only document is through the Set Password dialog.

Like Word, Writer has several settings for exporting documents to PDF. One setting is to protect the PDF with a password. It has several more settings than word when it comes to creating a password. The Security tab in the PDF Options dialog. Word allows you to simply encrypt the PDF with a password.

LibreOffice has options for copying text, print resolution, filling out forms, and making changes to images. Word requires Adobe Acrobat Professional or another PDF plugin to have these kind of features.

Protecting Sections

LibreOffice allows users to create sections. A section is a block of text that has special attributes and formatting. Images, shapes, and other objects cannot be inserted into a section. One important feature of a section is that it can be protected. A password can be set through the Sections dialog. A link for this dialog is in the Insert menu.

Protecting sections in Writer is slightly different than it is in Word. Word allows you to assign different sections to different people. Writer does not allow this. However, different sections can have different passwords. Word also allows images and other objects to be in the sections.


NOTE: The latest versions of LibreOffice can be uploaded to a server to create similar services to those Microsoft offers Office users.

Word has more polished and slightly more advanced features for protecting DOCX documents. It is designed for managing control for documents saved to OneDrive or a SharePoint server, as well as documents sent via email. The Document Foundation doesn’t create services to back its suite, so Writer does not have as many collaborative features that are available to Word users.

When you share documents through email or a shared folder, you have as many protections as Word users do. These settings are slightly easier to use than those in Word.

While Writer is better in this regard, most people who need to collaborate use Word and the DOCX file format. Writer is mainly used as a stand-alone word processor. It’s protections are mainly focused on sharing a document after it has been completely drafted. Others will open it and edit it then send it back to you. Word is good in a real-time editing environment, where several people are working on a document at the same time, as well as a stand-alone word processor. This, in addition to its popularity, give it an advantage over Writer.

Writer’s advantage is in its out-of-box PDF capabilities. It has advanced features to control how people interact with a document. Word will need a plugin to have the same features. Its out-of-box exportation to the format only gives you the option to lock a document with a password. The PDF features are something that makes Writer an application that could easily be used in addition to Word. It opens DOCX formatted documents, and it can easily export them to PDF. This means it can open documents created in Word and be used to create a PDF.

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