LibreOffice 5.3 goes online to take on Google Docs and Office 365

Now you can install LibreOffice on your server.

Credit: Nguyen Hung Vu/Flickr

The Document Foundation has released LibreOffice 5.3. This is a major release of the open-source office suite and offers many new features, including a ribbon interface that resembles Microsoft Office. And with this release, the foundation also made available the LibreOffice Online source code that can be installed on servers.

LibreOffice 5.3 is available for macOS, Windows and Linux. However, while you can download 5.3 for macOS and Windows immediately, if you are running Linux desktop, you will have to wait for a few days or weeks before it’s available through official repositories.

It remains a weakness of Linux desktop that distributions can’t keep up with major projects and make software available as soon as it’s released. It’s disappointing to see that even openSUSE Tumbleweed is still stuck on LibreOffice 5.2.3. That is why I feel technologies like Snappy and Flatpack are so important, as they remove the distribution as middleman and allow users to get packages directly from app developers.

If you do want to try LibreOffice 5.3 on any Linux-based distribution, you should go the Flatpak/Snappy route.

A new UI comes to LibreOffice

What’s new in this release to get excited about? One thing that I am going to like is the use of HarfBuzz for cross-platform text layout engine so that I get consistent text layout on my macOS, Windows 10 (which I run in a VM for testing) and desktop Linux.

Power users will also enjoy the support for Table Styles to apply formatting to a table that is preserved when you make edits to it, as well as a new Page Deck in the sidebar that allows easy customizaction of page settings.

If you are new to LibreOffice, a revised Help menu will assist you in getting things done through user guides.

libreoffice ribbon Swapnil Bhartiya for

The most important new feature is the inclusion of an experimental UI that brings the ribbon UI of Microsoft Office to LibreOffice. I do use MS Office, along with LibreOffice, on my system and I like the ribbon for quick access to things that I would otherwise have to hunt down in menus. I am excited about it. However, at the moment, the ribbon (or Notebook UI as it’s called in LibreOoffice) is in an experimental stage and it’s not as usable as you might like (hence why it’s called experimental). But I suggest you try it out and offer your feedback to developers to further improve it.

To enable the Notebook UI, go to Tools > Options > Advanced and enable experimental features and restart LibreOffice. Then go to View > Toolbar Layout and select Notebookbar. Eureka!

LibreOffice Online

LibreOffice Online is where things get interesting with the new release. LibreOffice Online is a software package, not a service. The Document Foundation doesn’t have the resources or desire to set up an online service similar to Google Docs or Office 365. Instead, they are offering LibreOffice Online code that you can install on your own server. All you need is a single sign-on service and a file sync and storage solution like Nextcloud. Then just install LibreOffice, add users and start collaborating on documents.

(I will be writing a detailed tutorial on how to get it up and running.)

While individuals can install LibreOffice Online on their own servers, it’s aimed at ISPs and other cloud providers, giving them the ability to offer open source online collaborative suites to compete with Google Docs and Office 365. It’s also suitable for organizations that want to use standards-based solutions for creating documents with collaborative features.

The only piece missing is a fully functional mobile version of LibreOffice, let’s hope that will arrive soon.

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