Five tips for migrating from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice

If your organization is moving its users over to LibreOffice, there might be some initial confusion. Here are a few things you can do to make sure the experience is as painless as possible.

Many small businesses are migrating from Microsoft Office to alternative solutions to save money and sidestep the Ribbon interface that arrived with Office 2007. There are plenty of alternatives, but none of them stacks up to Microsoft Office as well as LibreOffice.

LibreOffice? Wasn't it OpenOffice? Yes it was and still is. But OpenOffice has been forked, and a newer, more actively developed alternative has been born. That alternative is LibreOffice, and it's already surpassing OpenOffice in terms of development. Naturally, when you make this switch, your users will need to know a few best practices to avoid the typical migration pitfalls. The following tips will help ease the transition.

1: Learn the names

The first thing your users should know is that LibreOffice has everything they need to get their jobs done (with respect to office suites). Along with that, they need to know the corresponding names for the tools. Let's compare:

Microsoft Office LibreOffice
Word processing Word Writer
Spreadsheet Excel Calc
Presentation PowerPoint Impress
Database Access Base

LibreOffice also includes a graphics tool, Draw, that Microsoft Office does not include, as well as a tool to help you create mathematical formulas (Formula). After installation, each of these tools can be found on the Start menu under the LibreOffice subfolder.

2: Take advantage of the LibreOffice Desktop

LibreOffice includes a very good desktop tool. Instead of having to open individual tools/files from the Start menu, users can simply open up the LibreOffice Desktop. From within a single window, they can launch any of the included tools, open a recent file, manage the LibreOffice extensions, and manage their templates. To open this desktop, select the LibreOffice X.X entry (where X.X is the release number).

3: Save files in a format Microsoft Office can read

As much as it pains me to bring this up, I feel it's my duty. By default, LibreOffice will save in its native formats. As you might expect, Microsoft Office will not know what to do with these open formats. Make sure your users know they'll need to save in a format that Microsoft Office can read, if they're sharing documents with Office users. They can do this two ways. On a case-by-case basis, they can click Save As and select the proper Microsoft Office document format. They can also change LibreOffice's default formats by clicking Tools | Options, selecting General from the Load/Save section, and selecting the default format for each type of document they use.

4: Don't expect personalized menus

Microsoft Office includes dynamic personalized menus that remember and display the most commonly used menu entries. LibreOffice does not have this, so your users will have to get used to the full layout of the various menus. It is possible to get around this by adding user-configured buttons to the toolbars for the most-used menu entries. But this is a more advanced feature, so you may not want to show it to your less tech-savvy users.

5: Use familiar keyboard shortcuts

Many of the keyboard shortcuts your users have grown accustomed to work the same way in LibreOffice:

  • [Ctrl]C - Copy
  • [Ctrl]V - Paste
  • [Ctrl]Z - Undo
  • [Ctrl]A - Select All
  • [Ctrl]N - New Document
  • [Ctrl]S - Save Document
  • [Ctrl]P - Print
LibreOffice is well laid out in terms of functionality. Users who have used the standard toolbar/menus found in most software on the planet will quickly adapt to this new office suite. And since most users use only about 10% of an office suite's capability, they shouldn't have any trouble getting up to speed on the features they need to do their work.