Open Source

How to better collaborate on large documents using LibreOffice

You probably have found LibreOffice quickly bogs down if you use it to try to collaborate on large documents. Jack Wallen offers a solution for this issue.

Image: Jack Wallen

Recently I received a manuscript back from a new editor. This particular editor worked differently than my previous collaborators. Instead of using Track Changes, she placed every suggestion in a comment. In the end, the process worked out really well for me.

For me.

For LibreOffice ... not so much. In fact, this 60,000 word document (containing hundreds of comments) brought the open source office suite to an unusable crawl. LibreOffice looked like it was going to massively fail me for the first time. As my deadline loomed, I had to turn to an alternative: Apple Pages, which had zero issues with the file. In fact, for testing purposes, I opened the same file with WPS Office (installed on Elementary OS). Like Apple Pages, WPS Office had zero problems with the file, confirming the problem lie solely with LibreOffice. It also turns out this is a bug (61558) that was originally reported back in 2013. Seems like the issue has yet to be resolved.

That would not do. I had to find a way to bolster LibreOffice such that the tool was up for the task.

It didn't take long. Let me share the solution with you.

Adjust the Memory

The solution to this problem was found within the Memory settings for LibreOffice. Out of the box, LibreOffice doesn't demand too much from your system. That's fine for most documents. However, when you're working with larger documents (especially ones that contain a lot of comments), that minimal memory setting simply won't suffice. Here's how you solve that issue:

Open up LibreOffice and then click Tools | Options. In the resulting window, click on Memory (from the left navigation). You'll want to increase both the memory used for LibreOffice as well as the memory per object (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Upping the memory made available for LibreOffice.

What I suggest is to double the default memory, OK the setting, restart LibreOffice, and test to see if that's enough to handle the document. If not, go back and double it again. Repeat this process until you find a working minimum. In order to get LibreOffice to function properly with my document, I had to keep raising the amount of memory to 512MB for LibreOffice and 40MB per object. Once LibreOffice had enough dedicated memory, it was able to handle my comment-laden document. Unfortunately, the solution wasn't ideal (the document was still slow in both scrolling and replying to comments), but it was usable.

As a bonus, you can click the checkbox for Enable systray Quickstarter. This feature will make starting LibreOffice significantly faster.

Not a perfect solution

This is not a perfect solution. Considering MS Office (my editor's tool of choice), WPS Office, and Apple Pages handled this document without a single issue, LibreOffice is clearly at a disadvantage. I understand that the average user might not be working with documents containing hundreds of pages and comments, but the business world is a different story. It is not uncommon to see such collaborative documents that contain copious amounts of comments. Until LibreOffice is able to work with such documents out of the box, many users will avoid adopting the open source office suite.

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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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