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LibreOffice: almost 40 years of development

When people think of software, they often think about multi-million dollar corporations. They do not always think of charities or non-profit organizations. However there are many applications that are developed by non-profits and their volunteers. The open-source office suite,LibreOffice, is such an application.

The office suite that is maintained and developed by a non-profit organization, The Document Foundation, has been in existence since 2011. Built on OpenOffice.org source code, it has become one of the most feature-rich suites on the market. It has several features that Microsoft Office for Windows does not have, such as the ability to export documents in the XHTML format. Its applications also can create and editor standard Office formats, from the 1997 versions of the suite to the most current ones. Its primary formats, however, are OpenDocument Formats (ODF).

It is composed of six applications and a document manager, called StartCenter. The applications are Writer, the word processor; Calc, the spreadsheet; Impress, the presentation application; Draw, the vector graphic program; Base, the relational database manager; and Math, the formula editor. These applications have been part of the suite since its beginning.

The suite has these same applications and features, regardless of whether its running on Windows, Mac, a Linux distro, or BSD (Berkely Software Distribution). It can be downloaded in various ways, and it comes preinstalled on most Linux distros. There are also several off-shoot versions that are available for iOS, Android, and Chromebooks.

LibreOffice’s heritage is two office suites that were developed at the same time that Microsoft Office began to dominate the market.

History

StarOffice

The original office suite that LibreOffice code was taken from was developed in Germany in the mid-1980s. In 1985, Marco Börries created StarWriter 1.0, and a year later formed the company Star Division in Lüneburg. It was originally created for CP/M and MS-DOS, and Star Division developed several versions of the stand-alone application in 1986.

For close to 10 years, Writer was the sole application. Then, in 1994, Star Division released version 2.0; its first suite. This included Writer; Calc, the spreadsheet application; and Base, the database application. The suite was originally designed for Windows 3.0.

Version 3 of the StarOffice suite, released in 1995, had a few more applications, and it was the first Star Division product developed for Windows 3.1 and Mac OS. It was also available on a few other operating systems. The next version, 3.1, which was released in 1996, was the first version available for Linux.

Versions 5.0 through 5.2 contained a dozen applications. Most of these were only around for this series of the suite.

Close to the end of the 20th Century, Star Division was acquired by Sun Microsystems, Inc. The California-based company, that was known for developing the Java language, released version 5.2 of StarOffice in Summer 2000. It acquired Star Division originally for internal use, but they decided to release it to the public.

Most of the code for version 5.2, which was released in Summer 2000, was under a free and open source license. This gave spawn to OpenOffice.org, which was developed by Sun employees and a community of volunteers.

Version 6, released in 2002, came with only the six applications. These are the ones that now compose LibreOffice. There were nine versions of StarOffice, all together, before its name was changed by a company that acquired Sun.

Oracle purchased Sun in 2010. It renamed StarOffice to Oracle OpenOffice. Like StarOffice, it was the commercial twin of OpenOffice.org. Oracle only kept them for two years.

OpenOffice.org

OpenOffice.org was owned by Sun for 10 years until the company was purchased by Oracle. Many of the OpenOffice.org developers were unhappy with how Oracle was handling the project, and several of them left in 2011 to form The Document Foundation, the organization behind LibreOffice.

The open-source suite was the dominate suite on Linux distros before LibreOffice came on the scene. It also had versions for Windows and a few other operating systems. Version 3.0 was the first one that ran natively on Mac OSX. Previous version required Mac users to launch the suite using Unix.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice have the same applications and source code. LibreOffice is based on it.

LibreOffice comes into existence

A group of volunteers for OpenOffice.org were concerned about the direction Oracle would take the open-source project. They had wanted Sun to take a more equal approach to the development of the project before the company was bought out, and Sun had stated in 2000 that a non-profit organization would be over the management and development of the suite. The intended organization was never formed.

The community was bothered by Oracle’s lack of commitment to OpenOffice.org, and The Document Foundation was founded in 2010. Several months later LibreOffice 3.3 was released. It was based on the source code for OpenOffice.org 3.3.

The two suites were very similar in the beginning, but due to the focus of The Document Foundation and the development cycle, LibreOffice is more advanced. It releases new versions every six months, so it is more advanced than OpenOffice.org. Oracle donated OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation, and it is now called Apache OpenOffice.

The first version of LibreOffice was based on OpenOffice.org 3.3, so it was called LibreOffice 3.3. LibreOffice’s latest version is 7.1.

Conclusion

LibreOffice is not a top-of-mind office suite like Office or Google’s office applications, but it has features and capabilities that these two do not. The foremost one is that all of its applications and features for each version are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux distros. Google’s applications don’t run natively on these platforms. Office doesn’t run natively on Linux distros, and their Windows and Mac versions differ.

For Linux users, LibreOffice is not the only office suite, but it is the most accessible. The Document Foundation and others who work on the suite have made it available on just about every distro and just about architecture. Those who use Intel computers and those who use Raspberry Pi or another ARM processor can install the suite or will find that it is already part of the operating system they install.

Windows machines received the most downloads and installs of LibreOffice, even though their users have many other choices. The uses like that it handles open formats and that it does not track the number of times it is installed or require them to login to use it. There is also a portable version for Windows that can be stored on an external drive and used on different PCs.

Mac users will have an office suite that is just as capable as the version that runs on Windows. It also has more features than Office for Mac and the iWork suite.

In many respects, LibreOffice is the best suite on the market. It has capabilities and features that are comparable to Office and some that the popular suite does not. Most users may not replace Microsoft Office with it, but it may be an excellent companion to it.

Click here to install LibreOffice free of charge. There are articles and videos about it on the OS-College Website.

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