LibreOffice 6.0—the latest version of the popular open source office suite—was released by The Document Foundation on Tuesday. While the project has been on an approximate six-month release cadence since the debut of LibreOffice 3.3, the release of 6.0 brings significant improvements as well as code refactoring under-the-hood to ease development of new features going forward.
As language evolves, new words are often invented to describe new ideas. This is particularly prevalent in IT, as new concepts are invented rapidly. Often, these new terms are compound words such as "crowdfund" or "middleware," which office suites interpret as being incorrect for purposes of spell-check. LibreOffice introduces a "Grammar By" function allowing new words to be automatically recognized in the same format as other words.
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From the examples provided in the release notes, the Grammar By function can be used with the word "crowdfund" by modeling the word "fund." Using this function, derivations including "crowdfunds, crowdfunder, crowdfunders and crowdfunding" will automatically be recognized. While beneficial for English, the Grammar By function is also beneficial for languages that extensively utilize compounding—such as German—or in agglutinative languages such as Hungarian, Turkish, and Basque, where thousands of suffixes are possible. For an example in German, using "Gummi" as the model word for the word "Litschi" (lychee), other forms in that pattern are automatically recognized: Litschis (lychees), Litschibaum (lychee tree), Litschibäume (lychee trees), Litschifrucht, Litschifrüchte, etc.
A more flexible interface
One of the most divisive features in Microsoft Office is the "Ribbon interface" introduced in Office 2007. This, like the interface formerly known as Metro, was a creation of ex-Microsoft employee Steven Sinofsky. Both of these new design languages were met with vociferous disapproval when first released, though improvements came in successive versions, as pain points of using the interface were addressed.
LibreOffice has for some time stuck to the "traditional" Office toolbar format, though an experimental version of a Ribbon interface called "Notebookbar" was introduced in previous versions of LibreOffice. Version 6.0 brings a complete refactoring of the toolbar code, making toolbar customization more flexible than ever, and paving the way for alternative toolbar styles in future releases.
While the default toolbar in LibreOffice 6.0 remains the "traditional" Office-style toolbar, it also brings new styles: "Groupedbar," which more closely works like the Ribbon interface, and "Notebookbar Tabbed Compact" in Writer, which combines the two in a compact way—particularly helpful for notebook or netbook users with displays smaller than 1080p, where vertical space is at a premium.
Improved file compatibility
LibreOffice 6.0 adds support for importing QuarkXPress 3.x and 4.x files, as well as improved support for files from Microsoft Open XML (used in Office 2007 and newer), Adobe Freehand and Pagemaker, Microsoft Publisher and Visio, Apple iWork, as well as FictionBook, Abiword, and Quattro Pro. Support for Enhanced Metafile Format Plus, the native vector image format for Microsoft Office applications, was completely rewritten for this release.
Export filters have also been improved, with Writer gaining the ability to export EPUB files. When files are exported to XHTML, images are now exported in a browser-readable format (generally SVG or PNG).
Deciding on a free office suite can be slightly intimidating—there are an abundance of options, though many of them fundamentally look the same. For years, OpenOffice.org was the default choice for users and organizations in need of a free office suite. Due to corporate politics, LibreOffice was forked from OpenOffice.org, and many of the contributing developers joined in the development of the new fork.
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Because of this, LibreOffice is the new standard for open source office suites. For comparison, the current version of (what is now called) Apache OpenOffice is effectively a patched version of LibreOffice 4.1, which is now four and a half years old. Public discussion of discontinuing OpenOffice outright began in September 2016, but no firm decision has been reached.
How do I get LibreOffice?
LibreOffice 6.0 requires a minimum of Windows 7 SP1 or Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks). You can download it freely from LibreOffice.org. For Linux users, updates are typically distributed with your package manager, with availability depending on your distribution. If you don't want to wait, you can download an installer in DEB or RPM format directly from LibreOffice using the link above.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.