Last Updated: February 16th, 2012
Looking at my blog’s stats recently, I’ve noticed that among the searches that lead people here is people asking for comparisons between OpenOffice, NeoOffice, and/or LibreOffice. I’ve decided to take the time to look at these 3 suites and write about what is good and bad about each. I’m going to keep it simple with what most people will notice, and not get too technical about data, code, etc.
NOTE: This comparison is between OpenOffice 3.3, NeoOffice 3.2.1, and LibreOffice 3.5
Let’s start with OpenOffice. OpenOffice is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. With version 3, it became a native app on Mac, and has for a long time been one of the primary default office suites on many version of Linux. With version 3.3, its icons have less color, going for a more minimalist look. Personally, I prefer a little color in the suite, but this is a minor change, but it does mean that it looks better in Windows, and especially better in Linux, than it does on Mac. It comes with read and write support for Microsoft’s .doc, .ppt, and .xls files, but can only read the latest versions of Microsoft’s .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx found in Microsoft Office 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. Open Office is still a great free suite of tools to work with, but it still takes up a lot of RAM and energy. It no longer comes with many language dictionaries by default, which is nice for installation speed and hard drive size, but not so much if you have to download a lot of other languages. It has a lot of add-ons though, which you can download along with those dictionaries.
Next is NeoOffice. NeoOffice is specifically Mac only, with its original purpose to be run natively on Mac (OpenOffice did not run natively on Macs until version 3). It uses on Mac’s Aqua interface style, which blends in well with the native Mac feel. However, since they have not updated to Mac’s latest interface style (dubbed Cocoa) it doesn’t feel as natural in Snow Leopard or in Lion (OS 10.6 and 10.7 respectively). The native icons actually take up more room on the toolbars than they do in Open or Libre, and the dock icon is kind of ugly. You can download some really nice looking icon packs for it though.
That being said, Neo really makes up for its style in features. It can also read and write Microsoft Office formats (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel), including the .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx formats (which Open can only read); this ability is slightly limited though. Neo also has built in integration with iPhoto and other Apple applications, which is a major plus for those who deeply integrate themselves in Apple programs, fonts, etc. Neo is also easier to configure than Open, and generally takes better advantage of Mac’s processing power. Text highlighting is also Mac native, and can utilize Mac’s built in basic grammar checker, though I’ve found it a bit spotty at times. Neo does use more RAM than OpenOffice though, and is reliant on Open for its code, meaning that Neo users have to wait a little longer than Open users for major version updates. Neo does send out more patches, fixing bugs and holes in the software, sooner than Open however. I’ve also found that it it slower to startup, sometimes taking a few minutes before the dock icon even shows up. Neo also does not have that nice Startcenter option like Libre or Open does, allowing me to choose what new document type I want to work in quicker. Neo generally opens documents faster than Open, but it is slower in printing and print previewing (very noticeable). But NeoOffice does have it’s own mobile application for iOS, so you can sync, read, and edit document on your iDevice. However, free users only get 10 Megabytes of storage and the documents are removed from online after 7 days, though not for donater accounts. Since the update to Lion, NeoOffice has added Lion’s ability to Resume, go Full Screen, and to save as Versions. While very nice features, NeoOffice is now donation only, so if you want to use the software now, you have to donate $10 (U.S.A.), which makes it seem less like a donation.
Finally we have LibreOffice. LibreOffice split off from OpenOffice for political reasons, mainly being that some developers did not like the way it was being run by its new managers at Oracle. Otherwise, it isn’t too different from either Neo or Office, but has few noticeable differences. Like Open, it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, but looks best in Linux, followed by Windows, then Mac. It has some of its own, more colorful icons that I happen to like. It has support for Microsoft Office documents, including better support for the .***x formats that were mentioned earlier. It also has SVG image support, better support for Lotus, Microsoft Work, and WordPerfect files, and 3D transitions in Linux. It also supports Open’s extensions, but has a few bundled in nicely including a Presenter view for Impress (PowerPoint), a PDF importer, as well a grammar checker. This grammar checker certainly doesn’t have the power of Microsoft Office, but it is a very nice addition and has been improved in the 3.5 update. Called LightProof, it seems to work for English, Russian, and Hungarian. Libre is constantly working to have a smaller footprint, and use Java as a base code less. It includes the multiple language dictionaries that by default were removed from Open. This does mean the install time is a little bit slower, but Libre makes up for it in being pretty quick to load up once installed, and being fairly light compared to the other two suites. Libre has had a lot of superflous and unused code taken ut of it, especially with the 3.5 update. One last note is that it is somewhat separate from OpenOffice development, meaning that, unlike Neo, Libre can update before or after Open updates, however it sees fit. Compared to Open, it does tend to update on a quicker basis. Before 3.5, Libre lacked the ability to auto-update, but version 3.5 has finally given Libre the ability to auto-update as new releases are published. This is probably the most welcome feature for me.
So what’s the final verdict? NeoOffice seems to be falling away from the spirit of open-source, though I don’t blame them for it. The additional features for Lion are also certainly welcome, but the interface could really use an update. LibreOffice, however, takes the cake in my opinion with the most features, a quick update and patch cycle, and being the best in terms of speed and resource footprints. You can use the other, because in the end it is really up to the individual, but LibreOffice is the best of the three, and what I recommend to people who ask me.
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