Open Source

What's new in LibreOffice 5.3

The latest iteration of LibreOffice might well solidify the flagship open source office suite as a solid contender to meet your productivity needs.

Image: Jack Wallen

If you require the use of an office suite to get your work done, you've probably heard of LibreOffice, with good reason. LibreOffice is the flagship open source office suite that does a stellar job of serving as a drop-in replacement for MS Office. The software contains all of the pieces you use on a regular basis:

Recently a new update to LibreOffice was released, one that offered some much-needed polish to the software. The biggest change comes in the form of a new take on the UI; something that has been long-needed to freshen up a dated interface.

Let's take a look at some of the more important improvements that come along with the latest iteration of LibreOffice.

The UI

As I mentioned, this is the biggest change to hit LibreOffice in quite some time. The new LibreOffice interface (Dubbed "MUFFIN", for My User Friendly & Flexible INterface) takes a slight nod from MS Office's Ribbon interface and attempts to improve upon it. If you open one of the LibreOffice tools and go to View | Toolbar Layout | Notebookbar, the UI will switch to something that appears a mixtape of the Ribbon Interface and tabs (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

The LibreOffice Notebookbar in action.

There are actually four types of UI styles to choose from:

  • Default - the standard LibreOffice interface
  • Single toolbar - a single toolbar where you can place only the buttons you need
  • Sidebar - a single toolbar with the addition of a sidebar
  • Notebookbar - the Ribbon and tab mashup

I'm growing to like the Sidebar layout, as it does an outstanding job of organizing everything necessary to work with a document (and do so with a nod to efficiency). Even so, the Notebook bar will probably wind up being my default (as I find it offers the same level of efficiency but without robbing the document of precious real estate), only without the unflatteringly 90s retro tabs. To get rid of the tabs, uncheck View | Notebookbar | Tabbed.

With the biggest change out of the way, let's take a peek at some of the smaller changes.

Writer

As an author, I frequently work with documents that exceed 100 pages. With the release of LO 3.5, a new Go to Page dialog has been introduced. Click Edit | Go to page and then enter the page you want to jump to in the text area (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

The Go to Page dialog in action.

If you use a lot of tables in your documents, you'll be thrilled with the new Table styles feature (Figure C) which includes:

  • Table styles are preserved with edits in the table (including add/deleting rows/columns/data)
  • Import and export of Open Document Format (ODF) table styles
  • Styles can be created and assigned to tables
  • UNO API (for working with table styles)
  • Undo and Redo for tables

Figure C

Figure C

The Table styles tab in Styles and Formatting.

A new Arrows toolbox has been added as well. This feature spans across the tools, but will probably find the most usage within Writer. Open the Sidebar, click the image icon, and then click on Arrows to reveal the new feature (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D

The Arrows toolbox is ready to serve.

Calc

The spreadsheet tool saw a number of improvements. For instance, number formatting has undergone a few significant changes, such as:

  • #, ? or 0 can be used for any of integer, numerator, or denominator format string (i.e. # ?/#00 will display 3.5 as 3 1/02 and PI as 3 16/113)
  • Any string can be used as a delimiter between an integer and a fraction (i.e. #" plus fraction "?/? will display the value of PI as 3 plus fraction 1/7
  • An improved algorithm for more accurate representation of fractions
  • If a denominator has less digits than places, it is now left aligned

Default cell styles have also undergone a few changes, including:

  • Default cell styles are now loaded from a file in the user profile
  • Cell style syntax is based on the Open Document Format (ODF) and loaded through orcus (library for processing spreadsheet documents)
  • A number of new cell styles are included

And don't think the LibreOffice left out Pivot Tables from the fun. Median has been added to the functions available to Pivot Tables (which is useful for data fields and for row/column fields).

Impress

The presentation software also saw a few necessary updates. The most obvious update is found when you go to create a new presentation. Click File | New | Presentation and a new Template Selector will appear (Figure E).

Figure E

Figure E

The Impress Template Selector.

The Template selector also includes two new templates, Vivid and Pencil.

Base

If you work with Firebird databases in LibreOffice it is important to know that Firebird has been upgraded to 3.0.0. This update means that LibreOffice base will no longer be able to read back Firebird 2.5 data. Any embedded Firebird odb files created in previous versions of LibreOffice will not be compatible with LibreOffice 5.3. The developers are working on backwards compatibility, so future versions of LibreOffice will be able to read Firebird 2.5 data. You can, however, manually convert ODB files (created in LibreOffice 5.2 or earlier) by using Firebird 2.5 to convert the data to archive format and replacing the database data within the ODB with the archive version. To do this, you must install a standalone version of Firebird 2.5 and make use of its gbak tool.

Find out more

There are quite a few more improvements that go along with LibreOffice 5.3. To read the full list of changes, check out the official LibreOffice 5.3 Release Notes page.

The flagship open source office suite continues to grow and improve. With each release there are fewer and fewer reasons why you must rely on the competition. Give the latest iteration of LibreOffice a try and see if it now meets (or exceeds) your needs.

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About Jack Wallen

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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