It looks like LibreOffice is finally going to reach the cloud. Why this has taken so long is a mystery to me.
After using the latest demo of Collabora's LibreOffice cloud suite, I'm happy to report that it seems very promising. Before you get too excited, CloudSuite is still a long ways off. Even though Collabora has released a functioning demo that proves the tools work well, there are two serious issues in its way:
- The demo is tied in with ownCloud, and I have no idea what the future holds for that company; and
- no major provider has stepped up to provide a hosted service.
When I first experienced the cloud-based version of LibreOffice Writer in 2015, my initial impression was serious disappointment. Collabora's offering was little more than a foundation for a functioning tool. That did little to persuade me into believing the company could produce a viable alternative to Google Docs or Office 365...something the open source community (and Linux users) badly needed.
Fast forward a year, and Collabora has proved it's on its way to offering that viable alternative. In fact, as of this writing, the Collabora CloudSuite can create and work with text documents, very basic presentations, and spreadsheets, and even the upload and download features function with supported documents (Figure A).
Working within the Collabora CloudSuite demo.
This demo isn't nearly production ready. While working on a very small, simple document, I experienced a noticeable lag during typing. The text editor is also missing critical components such as Track Changes and other editorial features. Even so, this demo holds a great deal of promise and proves that a cloud-based version of LibreOffice is not just possible, but probable. The big question is "When?"
SEE: Job description: Cloud Engineer (Tech Pro Research)
We need this now
The main issue with a LibreOffice-based cloud suite is timing. Every day this isn't released is another day the competition pulls ahead.
Neither Google nor Microsoft show signs of slowing down. With each passing day, Google Docs improves, gains new features, and grows its user base. Out of the starting gate, Collabora CloudSuite will already be way behind the curve; can it catch up?
The days of desktop office suites are starting to feel numbered. Imagine what would happen if Microsoft sunsets the standard desktop version of Office in lieu of Office 365. At that moment, the game will change, and the perception will shift to anyone using a desktop office suite being out of touch.
If Microsoft drops the desktop client, it would open a floodgate for LibreOffice installations. Either way, the time has come for a cloud-based version of LibreOffice. This should be considered a requirement, not an option.
But we already have a solution
There are already outstanding solutions in the CloudSuite space (Google Docs, Office 365, Zoho Office), so when everyone can use these tools regardless of platform, why do we need a solution?
The release of Collabora CloudSuite wouldn't be so much a win for consumers/users, but a win for open source and LibreOffice. Yes, we'd have another option to choose from (and one that many Linux users wouldn't cringe at the thought of adopting), and it would be an option that is 100% open source. That means you could download CloudSuite and host it onsite, or modify the code to better suit your needs. More importantly, it would bring a new level of validity to LibreOffice that it very much needs.
When will it finally release?
The answer to that question is simple: No one knows. And because of the turmoil with ownCloud, the release of CloudSuite could become an even bigger unknown. Will Collabora migrate to NextCloud or stick with ownCloud or maybe even fork the server on their own?
There are a lot of questions darkening the Collabora cloud that won't go away until they have a functioning product for the world to use, or they have found a major host to provide a cloudsuite for the masses.
I believe CloudSuite will happen, though when it will happen is up in the air. In any case, Collabora finally has a product that proves LibreOffice in the cloud works well.
- Finally there's an open source drop-in replacement for MS Office (TechRepublic)
- LibreOffice 5.1: Sweet, subtle, and necessary polish (TechRepublic)
- The UK government embraces open source with the help of LibreOffice (TechRepublic)
- Speculations on why ownCloud's founder forked its popular product into Nextcloud (TechRepublic)
- Linux and open source have won, get over it (ZDNet)
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.