LibreOffice 4 review
Lots of little changes keep LibreOffice moving steadily forward, although the UI needs a revamp
Review Date: 14 Feb 2013
Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray
Price when reviewed: Free
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
The development team at the Document Foundation has been hard at it for the past couple of years. Since adopting the OpenOffice.org codebase and turning it into a community project, the popular free office suite has seen a rapid-fire schedule of releases. This is its fourth update in that time, a rate that far outstrips Micosoft’s release cycle.
With such frequent updates, it isn’t surprising that improvements are comparatively minor. Version 3.5 was light on big new features, and that's also the case in version 4 (though we'll also be covering updates included in version 3.6 in this review); anyone hoping for an interface overhaul on the scale of the recently updated Microsoft Office 2013 is going to be disappointed.
All is not completely lost, however. Although nothing has been done to change the look and feel of the buttons, toolbars, menus and dialog boxes themselves, it is possible to freshen up the interface using the new Persona tools to change the toolbar background.
This uses the same framework as the FireFox web browser: to switch personas, simply visit the FireFox themes gallery, pick a background and copy and paste the URL into the Persona dialog box. Themes should be applied with care, though, as dark colours can render menus and icons unreadable.
LibreOffice also brings improvements to Microsoft document format compatibility. This includes the ability to import inked annotations from DOCX and RTF files, plus floating tables and WordArt. None of these new features worked perfectly in our tests, though, with both the position and look of the graphical elements a long way from matching the original.
Elsewhere, LibreOffice gets an updated template manager tool, which also allows the import and use of templates from “other office suites”. We tried this feature with a couple of randomly downloaded Word templates and were similarly disappointed with the results.
At the back end, there's now the ability to integrate with document and content management systems, allowing the opening and saving of files to and from Alfresco, Nuxeo, SharePoint and other similar systems.
The tool we most use in the LibreOffice suite, however, is Writer, and here there are a handful of more effective updates.
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