10 ways to help users move from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice

Make a smooth transition from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice. These tips will help you iron out the wrinkles.

Image: LibreOffice

It's coming -- that day when you decide the path of least resistance no longer runs through Microsoft. When that happens, you'll be seeking out alternative solutions for your business to get work done. One such solution is the LibreOffice suite.

Even though LibreOffice provides everything you need, there is one issue you'll have to get around: migration from Microsoft Office. As anyone in tech will tell you, end users fear and hate change. No one wants to have to jump ship mid-job and learn something new. That downtime could be costly (not just to employee efficiency, but to the bottom line). So how do you make the migration easier? I have 10 tips to help you out. Let's see if one or two won't motivate you to kick off that looming migration.

1: Install LibreOffice side by side with Microsoft Office

Because there is no cost associated with the purchasing of LibreOffice, you can download and install it at any time. So why not pull the trigger sooner rather than later? Giving the staff plenty of lead-in time to get used to the new tools (all the while still having a working license of Microsoft Office to fall back on) will make the migration much easier. It will also give them a chance to see how both suites are similar and different ─ side by side. You can't get a better teaching tool than that.

2: Save files in Microsoft-friendly formats

One of the biggest issues you'll find is that Microsoft Office is really not that friendly to foreign file formats. Office likes Office and little else. Even if your entire office is migrating to LibreOffice, your staff will probably have to send documents to other people who may be using Microsoft Office. So it's a good idea to teach them to save in a Microsoft Office-friendly format. With LibreOffice you can save as .doc, .docx, .rtf, and plenty of other formats.

3: Offer question-and-answer sessions

Your end users will have questions. Do not expect them to answer those questions on their own. Instead, prior to the actual migration, offer Q&A sessions so they can get those issues out of the way. Providing this support in conjunction with installing LibreOffice side by side with Microsoft Office will go a long way toward getting rid of any apprehension about the migration.

4: Point users to the LibreOffice documentation

There's a lot of documentation for LibreOffice out there. One of the first resources users should seek out is the official documentation. The Getting Started document alone is worth its weight in Office licenses. You can even print that PDF and hand it out to users before the migration begins. Once they get beyond the Getting Started guide, point them to the Community Support page, where they can find plenty of specific and advanced help.

5: Introduce users to the Extension Manager

The LibreOffice Extension Manager expands the feature set of the software. On the official Extension page, users will find plenty of extra tools to add to LibreOffice. There are extensions for each of the LibreOffice tools, including the likes of the Alternative dialog for Find/Replace and the Multi-format Save. These extensions help make LibreOffice more powerful and easier to use.

6: Remind users they used a menu-driven interface for years

Before that Microsoft Office Ribbon interface, what did people use? The same menu-driven interface found in most software ─ including LibreOffice. When the Ribbon interface first arrived, people complained mightily. But they eventually got used to it. It will take them less time to readjust to the more standard menu interface. A quick reminder of this will help ease the transition.

7: Show users how to customize toolbars

Toolbars are commonly ignored on a piece of software. Doing that with LibreOffice is a huge mistake. Users can make their day so much more efficient by customizing the toolbars to fit their needs. All they have to do is click View | Toolbars | Customize and then go to town making those toolbars work for them rather than against them.

8: Migrate all necessary templates from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice

If you have power users who work with templates daily, you'll want to get those templates into LibreOffice. Believe it or not, this is simple: Just save the Microsoft Office template in a central location, open it in LibreOffice, and then click File | Templates | Save As Template. After that, users can click File | New | Templates and select the template they need from the My Templates section.

9: Create a packet that illustrates the differences between the two suites

One of the fastest ways to get users up to speed is to create a compare/contrast packet that illustrates the difference between Microsoft Office and LibreOffice. Make sure you do the compare/contrast with the actual version of Microsoft Office you have installed ─ otherwise you might cause unnecessary confusion.

10: Give users plenty of time

Don't expect this transition to happen overnight. Give everyone plenty of time to acclimate to the new environment. For some, this will be a major migration ─ especially for those who depend upon an office suite for their daily routine. But with the help of a side-by-side installation, plenty of documentation, and Q&A sessions, those end users should be up to speed and comfortable with the new software in a few weeks. Giving them enough time at the front of the migration will ensure there fewer problems down the road.

Also read...

More tips?

Migrating to LibreOffice doesn't have to be a nightmare. In fact, if handled with care and attention, the process can be much more seamless than you'd imagine.

Have you ever migrated to an open source solution? If so, how did you manage the task -- and how did it go?