Software

LibreOffice 5.1: Sweet, subtle, and necessary polish

LibreOffice 5.1 has arrived and Jack Wallen tells you why it's such an important release and why you should upgrade to the latest iteration of the open source office suite.

Image: Jack Wallen

Dot 1 releases are those magic unicorns that come to light after a major release. They fix all that ails that .0 and make everything whole again. Such has been the case for a very long time...so much so, many end users skip over the .0 releases and wait (somewhat) patiently for the .1 release.

LibreOffice, is a bit of an exception...at least they were with the 5.0 release. Actually, I'll be more specific. When LibreOffice 5.0 hit, there were plenty of issues; so much so, that I wound up heading straight back to 4.2.8.2. In fact, LibreOffice 5.0 caused me a number of micro-nightmares with one of my book releases. It wasn't until 5.0.4.2 was released that the fifth iteration of the open source office suite began to settle in and situate itself. And boy did it. The improvements over 4 were massive. Not only was the whole of the interface brought into the modern world (still no Ribbon, which is a blessing to most), every piece of the LibreOffice puzzle managed to make serious leaps ahead.

And now, we have LibreOffice 5.1 available. This upgrade is actually one of key importance. Why? Let's take a look.

Interface

On the outside, the differences are subtle, but important. Open up LibreOffice Writer 5.1 and you'll notice a new menu: Styles - Where you get quick access to individual styles for your document (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

The new Writer Styles menu.

Also take note of the Comment button in the toolbar. No more do you have to navigate through the Edit menu to add a comment.

Open up LibreOffice Calc 5.1 and you'll notice a new menu: Sheet - Where you gain easy access to important sheet functions (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen

The new Calc Sheet menu.

In fact, the whole of the interface has been completely reorganized to place the most used functions front and center. This re-design of the interface makes LibreOffice far more efficient and easier to use for those new to the suite.

Remote files

There is a very important addition to the File menu. Click it and you'll see the Open Remote File entry. Click that and a new window will open (Figure C) where you can connect LibreOffice to the likes of Google Drive, OneDrive, Alfresco Cloud, WedDAV, FTP, SSH, and more.

Figure C

Figure C
Image: Jack Wallen

Opening a remote file is now a viable option.

Unfortunately, at the moment, connecting to Google Drive is broken...which is quite the shame, as this would have been a significant step forward for LibreOffice had they been able to release it in a functioning state. I would imagine, considering bug files have already been reported on this issue, that it will be resolved in the next minor release.

Interoperability

Once again, LibreOffice has worked hard on ensuring interoperability with other platforms. If you attempt to read between these lines, you might assume all the focus for improvement has been on MS Office. Guess what, this time around, the developers of LibreOffice made sure to include a few new import filters in the works. You can now work with:

  • Gnumeric files (only available on Linux)
  • Apple Keynote 6
  • Microsoft Write

That is all fine and good, but everyone knows the real focus must be centered around MS Office. Fear not, there were plenty of improvements to interoperability of Microsoft formats (and OOXML as well). Here are the highlights:

  • Export of the modified VBA stream back to binary Microsoft formats and OOXML
  • Improved export of embedded objects to DOCX and PPTX, including export of Math formulas
  • Numerous other improvements to the Microsoft OOXML import and export filters, the Microsoft Office binary file formats and the RTF format.

The whole outweighs the pieces

We could go through the individual bits and pieces that LibreOffice has improved. But unless you are one who considers changelogs light reading, what's really important is the whole. NOTE: For those that do want to get the in-depth on the details, here's the official listing of new features and change.

If you step back and take a look at the whole of LibreOffice 5.1, you see a confluence of pieces that come together to make an impressive release. Over the last two years, LibreOffice has taken some incredible steps forward in the office suite space. Even though the front-facing UI has remained tethered to the past (where the old menu hierarchy was King), it has at least evolved into an elegant take on that aging system. Underneath the hood, however, it's all about the now and the future. For those that must work with multiple formats and platforms, LibreOffice 5.1 might well be one of the more important upgrades to the office suite you will have seen in awhile. Not only does it improve on everything brought out by 5.0, it adds a few new pieces to one of the biggest challenges it faces.The major missing piece

If there's one thing that LibreOffice is still missing, it's an online edition. Yes, they are taking the right steps in adding the ability to open/save a file on a remote server...and maybe that's really all the solution they need for a cloud presence (can you say best of both worlds?). But until that feature can function with Google Drive, it's a bust.

Should you upgrade

Yes. Period. End of story. If you're a user of an earlier iteration of LibreOffice, you should immediately upgrade to the 5.1 release. If you've been on the fence about making the switch, now's your chance. Once the developers nail the remote file feature, LibreOffice could make serious noise in both the home and business landscape...so you'll want to get a head start on learning the ins and outs of the interface.

LibreOffice 5.1 puts a sweet, subtle (and necessary) coat of polish on the 5.x release cycle. Download it, install it, and enjoy it...you won't regret it.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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