It’s arrived — the release of Microsoft Office that I think will have
users flocking to alternatives. I’m talking about the train wreck that is Microsoft Office 2013. It’s a challenge to work with (especially when there’s a
problem), and it’s pricey.

For small businesses, a logical alternative to Office 2013 is LibreOffice 4.1. After just a few short years, LibreOffice has grown
to be one of the finest locally installed office suites available. Not only
will it save your company budget dollars, it will save users the
headache of having to learn yet another iteration of the Microsoft Office interface.

It won’t take long for your end users to feel comfortable with LibreOffice 4.1 because of the interface. When you break it down, almost every office suite works
the same — it’s how and where you click that makes a difference. But just
in case you find the migration a challenge, here are tips to make the process smoother.

Forget the Ribbon

Your end users might have acclimated to the Microsoft Office Ribbon
interface. LibreOffice, on the other hand, held steadfast to the tried and true
menu drop-down system. As soon as your users see this interface, they will feel
right at home.

You should remind users that they used this
interface for years (and probably still use it on most of their other
applications). This point will ease the transition more than you know.

Understand default document formats

Most office suite users aren’t accustomed to making a lot of
changes to how their tools work. This is the one area that can trip up users who are new to LibreOffice.

Out of the box, LibreOffice works
great, but minor changes should be made before users start working with
their first document. The most important change is the default document format. 

LibreOffice defaults to the open document format. In other words:

  • odt – text documents
  • ods – spreadsheets
  • odp – presentation

If your users create documents using the default
file type and then send those documents to Microsoft Office users, there could be
problems. You can configure LibreOffice to use the Microsoft Office defaults
instead. Although I prefer to leave the defaults as-is, it’s less of a headache for your end users if the
defaults are changed. This is done by going to Tools | Options | Load/Save | General. From this section (Figure A), select each file type (Text Document, Spreadsheet, Presentation) and associate the Microsoft Office file type with each one.

Figure A

Be sure to select each file type from the drop-down.

Introduce users to Wizards

A very nice but often overlooked LibreOffice feature is
the Wizards tool. This handy feature guides users through the process of
creating template-based documents for letters, faxes, agendas, presentations, and web
pages, and even offers a wizard for document conversion and address data source
(for mail merge). To get to the Wizards tool, go to File | Wizards and select the appropriate Wizard for what you want to create.

For example, with the Letter Wizard, the end user is walked through the steps of creating a document (Figure B). These steps include:

  • Page Design
  • Letterhead Layout
  • Printed Items
  • Recipient And Sender
  • Footer
  • Name And Location

Figure B

The Wizard for creating a letter.

The document created will be a
professional looking letter; the user would have had a much more difficult time creating it manually. 

Use that status bar

Unlike Microsoft Office, the LibreOffice status bar (which is at the bottom
of the LibreOffice window) has some useful bits. You can:

  • See a
    real-time update on word count
  • Get quick access to styles
  • Change the language (language packs must be installed)
  • Change the
    selection tool
  • Do a quick-save of the document
  • Change the page layout
  • Zoom in or out

With the help of the fast-access status bar tools, users can
interact with their documents much more efficiently. Make sure they know how to
use this tool right out of the gate.

A smooth transition

The transition from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice 4.1 doesn’t have
to be a challenge. With just a little thought and care, your end
users can be humming away with LibreOffice 4.1 before you know it.