Android

LibreOffice is coming to Android

Jack Wallen discusses the addition of a full-blown LibreOffice suite for the Android platform. Does it makes sense, or not?

LibreOffice

I've been hoping to see this headline for some time now. At the first LibreOffice Conference, the Document Foundation announced its plans to migrate LibreOffice to mobile devices. The plan didn't include a total rewrite of the code, but repurposing at least 90% of the current code base. That meant the majority of the work was already done. That last remaining 10%? The user interface. The 90% already compiles on Android -- so there is a working model. Of course, what good is a working model without an interface to go along with it?

But the single most important question to ask is "why"? Why is it so important for LibreOffice to make it to the mobile platform? I can answer that with three simple words:

Open Document Format

At the moment, getting odt or ods files open for editing on the Android platform is a nightmare. Honestly, this has confounded me. WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) does not support ODF. Office Suite Pro does support ODF (however, it's not supported in the free version, which offers a subtle layer of irony), but you'll find the app crashes a lot (some devices, like the LG G3, can't even open Office Suite Pro). Google Docs doesn't offer native support for ODF (though you can import and export). AndrOpen is a ported version of OpenOffice for Android, but the interface is horrible (Figure A), and working larger files is cumbersome at best.

Figure A

Figure A

AndrOpen on a Huawei Ascend Mate 2.

With the addition of a free office suite that fully supports the ODF format, the Android platform extends its reach even farther. This is especially significant, given how widespread the adoption of the ODF format has become (Britain has mandated ODF as their official format for all government documents). Android needs this. Actually, the mobile sector needs this. Even with Android's seamless Google Docs integration, not everyone depends heavily on Google's go-to office suite. Anyone who depends on open-source software knows this element is sorely missing from the Android ecosystem. One would think a platform based on the Linux kernel would be overflowing with quality open-source apps. The problem with the office suite is the Google imposed file size limit of 50 MB.

But wait... I can already hear you shouting. You install apps over 50 MB all the time!

Google imposes this file size limit on main apk files, but it allows the inclusion of expansion packs. The Play Store will download the main file first (which is under the 50 MB limit, and then it downloads the expansions next. The problem with LibreOffice is that the smallest the developers have managed to shrink it to (up to this writing) is 54 MB. Once they trim that 4 MB of fat, the office suite will be very close to ready for prime time.

I happen to rely heavily on Google Docs. However, there is one issue I face. When I send a book to an editor, I have to send it in either .doc or .odt format. The editor will then make comments and use track changes to edit the manuscript. When I get that file back, I can no longer work with it in Google Docs -- this means I must open that file in LibreOffice. Since all of my laptops are now Chromebooks, this is a problem. To that end, I wind up tethered to my desktop for second drafts and working with editors. When LibreOffice arrives for the Android platform, this will all change. This also brings to light the possibility of running LibreOffice on a Chromebook. Professionally, that is very exciting.

There is no set release date at this point. Until the developers get the file size below the Google limit, they are unable to predict a release. Until then, however, we'll just have to sit back and wait -- and hope this happens across the Google landscape. Even though LibreOffice would be in direct competition with Google Docs, it's clear that there are some users who not only need native ODF support, but rely on a more traditional office suite to fulfill those needs.

Although I'll continue my dependence upon Google Docs, having the addition of LibreOffice on Android (and Chromebooks... fingers crossed) would make my life incredibly more efficient.

What do you think? Does having LibreOffice on the Android platform make sense? Would you use it? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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 getjackd.net.

21 comments
larrybradley
larrybradley

For the life of me, I don't understand why Google does not do some kind of mashup between Docs and odf, or just outright fork a lighter-weight LibreOffice and use it to replace docs (at the very least, this gives google docs some of the simple, common features it lacks, missing features that keep people from considering it to be a "real" office-ware package. The Android version of LibreOffice will be very welcome, if done right. 


Or maybe we could have a few Drive extensions / add-ons that convert between .gdocs, odf and docx?

IndianArt
IndianArt

Jack I don't agree with "Even though LibreOffice would be in direct competition with Google Docs".


Google collaborates with LO (not competes) & is even one of its "Advisory Board Member[s]". http://www.libreoffice.org/about-us/advisory-board-members/


I feel Google helps LO with its Summer of Code etc.


I have requested Google to make an app something like OOO2GD: https://code.google.com/p/ooo2gd/


This would bring the best of both worlds (Offline + Online) for users. 100s of features would be added thanks to LO & collaboration because of Google Docs & Google Drive.


To me it appears Google does not seem to be interested in the 80 million users of LO & millions of users of AOO. I guess Google's loss is Microsoft's gain!

chucksmailbin
chucksmailbin

I definitely would welcome it.  I have used Open Office ever since it was available and also Office Libre.  90% of what I do is in ODF format.

LorinRicker
LorinRicker

You've got to be kidding... Take a bloatware office suite, second only to Micro$oft's own Office Suite, riddled with degrading features and bugs that won't ever, it seems, get fixed, and pound that through a rat-hole to get it onto a "mobile device" upon which you can barely enter a legible text message?  And this is supposed to be a product stepping in the right direction?

As I'm dealing routinely with WYSIWYG on my desktop systems, with full keyboards and large (enough) screens, fighting with nearly incomprehensible typographical, style and layout controls, "automatic aides" that underwhelm or do outright damage, user interface issues that obfuscate rather than illuminate, and document "interchange" incompatibilities that beggar description -- imagine putting this on my Android smartphone, and calling it "usable"?  Not hardly, not likely in this lifetime.

Nope, count me out on this one.

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

If it can be made workable on a 7" or smaller screen,  OO would be  a welcome addition.  Mostly I'd like to be able to read and annotate open format docs created on a laptop/desktop using a tablet.


wb8nbs
wb8nbs

I look forward to decent document encryption on Android! Count me in.

cflange
cflange

And not a minute too soon.

bwexler
bwexler

I have been looking for it since I got my first smart phone over 2 years ago. Until now I had no idea why it wasa not here.

Pronounce
Pronounce

I'm guessing that from the developers standpoint that 4MB is not fat, but bone and muscle.

info
info

"...given how widespread the adoption of ODF format has become..." Really? Beyond the very occasional resume submission, I don't think I've ever seen an ODF/ODT file in existence in my entire company. And those few resumes are sent to me so that I can change them to a format the managers can easily work with using MS Word.


It's definitely a step forward, but Jack unwittingly highlights the very issues that prevent the average user from 'taking a look at this LINUX/Open Source/Android thing'. Without 'one-click' compatibility, it's awfully hard to make a business case.

d_baron
d_baron

Love to see it but not sooo useful on a small screened phone. I avoid huge apps, even though I can symlink them off internal storage so they will fit on the device. I removed my favorite Swype because it was too big, bloated and heavy. Had I a top-end tablet, the decision would be different than on a lower-end phone with many apps incompatible with it.


There is an open-document viewer on Play of small size so I can read the documents.

Ironblood666
Ironblood666

To be honest they can easily get past the 50 mb limit. Just make the APK small and have it only link to the larger files or expansions

buzza24
buzza24

It is literally a squished UI of the desktop version. How adorable!

link0612
link0612

Didn't Google just announce compatibility with Track Changes in Google Docs a couple of weeks ago?

IndianArt
IndianArt

Oh, it makes perfect sense & it can't come soon enough..


I wish Google makes an  extension for LibreOffice for better integration of LO to Google Drive.

IronSmithFE
IronSmithFE

@LorinRicker Are you implying that people who like LibreOffice and want to use it on their android devices shouldn't have the option because you believe that you wouldn't like it?

As for bloat, if you call having an spreadsheet program coupled with a text editor "bloat" then you are right, it is bloated, if you are talking about buggy the best way to deal with that is to not include any features. I know a program that is neither bloated nor buggy, it is probably the only program that I know of that is for editing documents that has neither, it is called notepad and it is only $140... oh wait never mind, that is also bloat because it requires an installation of windows to support it.

Honestly you come off as a bit of a jackass, I have a low opinion of people that complain about innovation of a program that is free. Especially free programs that I happen to like.

Pronounce
Pronounce

I'm not complaining about it though. Back in the day you had KB to work with not MB. Now days software is bloated (partly because the the number of includes that are standard practice, every programmer loves to have their favorite includes to draw from).

p.delacey
p.delacey

@buzza24 Have you seen a beta release? If not, how do you know what it looks like? (The Figure A above is not LibreOffice).

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