The flagship open source office suite, LibreOffice, recently released version 3.5. I've been putting it through production-level tests to find out what's important about this release, and I've come up with some serious goodness to share. Naturally, not every feature will appeal to every user, but LibreOffice 3.5 offers enough enhancements all around to give something new to all types of users.
Let's take a look at the highlight reel.
1: LightProof grammar checker
I adopted this tool back when it was an extension. It works. Period. In fact, this tool does a particularly good job of catching many of the issues that plague me. LightProof checks for improper punctuation, various wording mix-ups, word duplication, and much more. And it's less prone to false-positives than many other grammar checkers.
2: Easier headers and footers
With 3.5, writers have immediate access to headers and footers, without having to go into properties. Anytime you hover the cursor over the top or bottom of a document, the header/footer indicator will appear. You can then enter text (or add fields). If you don't want to add headers or footers, just move your mouse. Believe it or not, it's quite handy and doesn't get in the way.
3: Real-time word count window
Some users might not see this as a big improvement, but for anyone who depends upon word count, it's a real plus. In Writer, you can open up the word count window and watch it update as you type. This real-time update is for words, characters, and characters excluding spaces. With the window open, you can select a passage and immediately know the counts. This could also be a boon for Twitter power tweeters!
4: Easy worksheet insertion
Once you have a spreadsheet open, you can insert as many worksheets as you need (up to 10,000) from the Insert menu. This makes managing workbooks much easier. Instead of having to click the + button every time you need a new worksheet, you can just add precisely the number of sheets you need.
5: Multi-line input area
If you frequently insert multiple lines of text or really long formulas in Calc, you will be happy to know that it now has a multi-line input area. By default, the input area is a single line. Click the little arrow to the right of the area to expand it for multiple-line input.
6: Unlimited number of conditional formatting rules
Conditional formatting is an amazing feature, but prior to 3.5, you could add only three rules. Now, you can specify an unlimited number of conditional formatting rules, giving you an incredible amount of control and flexibility.
7: Better presentation import
The custom shapes and small shapes import (from PPT, PPTX) is much improved — and so is the speed at which Impress will import non-native presentations. A Visio import filter is also now included. Impress isn't the only piece to gain import improvements. The RTF filter was completely rewritten and the Word DOCX filter was seriously tweaked with a number of improvements.
8: PostgreSQL native driver
LibreOffice already enjoyed a native MySQL driver. Now it also includes a native driver for Postgre SQL. This could be a real boon for people who need to perform data entry for PostgreSQL databases and want to set up user-friendly forms for the task.
9: Better overall performance
All in all, LibreOffice simply runs smoother and faster and seems to consume far less system resources than it did in prior releases. Startup times, document loading/importing, and Save To PDF are all faster.
10: Built-in online update checker
LibreOffice 3.5 has a built-in update checker. This is significant because many Linux distributions have out-of-date versions in their repositories. So installing from the download meant having to manually update. Now users can simple click Help | Check For Updates and have LibreOffice give a hand to the update process.
LibreOffice has finally, seriously, come into its own. With these improvements, it's well prepared to become nearly anyone's desktop office suite. Give the latest iteration of LibreOffice a go. I'm fairly certain you will be impressed with what you see.
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.