Since 2017, I’ve been doing something radical in my own workfow. I essentially cut my ties with Microsoft Office. In the past, this wasn’t an easy thing to do as I was always working with other entities that used office products, including the U.S. Government. Once I started working in the contract world, I no longer needed to work off of other peoples tools. I could finally cut the cord properly and see how she flies.
This post isn’t going to be a “how to”, rather I’m going to discuss my challenges and triumphs. First, I decided to go with the open source Office Libre, which can be freely downloaded from the internet. That’s right, free. Outside of that great price tag, it has a huge user community and and has had a lot of time to season. Downloading Libre Office is a journey into a well developed product with no expense other than your time. I’ve used Libre before, primarily when I had used Linux on a few older laptops. It wasn’t, however, something I used regularly. I liked the novelty of having an Office alternative on Linux, but I was so immersed in Microsoft workflows that I didn’t want to give up the convenience of working within that product. Specifically, I didn’t want to have to work with file conversion hassles. But now that I dependent on no one else, I made the fearless leap and have been office-less for 2 + years now.
There are two primary programs I use, Libre Writer ( which is the Word equivalent) and Libre Calc (the excel equivalent). First and foremost, I have to say that for nearly 80% of the stuff I did in Office, I had no difficulty doing the same in Libre Office. The product is very intuitive, and you won’t have to do any “heavy lifting” to get a report done or throw together a spreadsheet. One of the things I missed about Microsoft was the ease of using the ribbons. I initially hated ribbons when they were deployed, but I’ve gotten so use to them that it created some discomfort not having them around. Libre Office used the conventional icon approach to controlling features, so its not that difficult a transition.
In Libre Writer, I’ve had few issues with document creation. It’s pretty straight forward and the features mirror everything the average office user would use. The only struggle was just “remapping” my mind about where I need to click to make bullets or set margins. But as I mentioned earlier, the icons are intuitive so we aren’t talking about some steep learning curve. Writer also makes PDF conversions a snap by putting a 1 click icon in the tool bar. In addition, writer provides many templates similar to Microsoft and many more can also be downloaded from their website.
I thought Calc might be the bigger learning curve as I expected the the formula transition to require the greatest effort. But, surprisingly, it was pretty straight forward. Calc even provides the same epsilon and pre-defined functions you can access without having to memorize them. And the best part might be the videos on Youtube that will show you how to do the more complex functions in case you don’ t want to experiment. Calc also has pivot tables, which I found no less difficult than Excel. Like Writer, Calc using icons on their toolbar so you really don;t have to go searchign for anything.
Libre Office also includes Draw (Vector based graphics) , Impress (Powerpoint clone), Base (the Access DB clone) and Math. Because of my shift in work, I no longer use PowerPoint like I use to. I can’t really talk to the strengths of Impress, I can however state that I was an advanced PowerPoint user when i did use it, so I’m expecting there to be strong functional gaps. Draw was a bit disappointing, I would honestly rather be using Corel Draw. I felt like Libre Draw has a long way to go in terms of it’s advanced features. The UI feels clunky when compared to similar products. I tried making a few logos in Draw and eventually moved over to Fireworks when I wanted to get some more control over gradient shading. Draw might be good for getting initial shapes together but I would find another program to get your higher level art done. As of this publication date, I haven’t used math so I can’t comment on its functionality.
As an open source product, I think Libre Office is a fantastic option for students or small business looking to find productivity on a budget. I haven’t had any productivity issues to speak of in my 2 years using Libre Office. I produce how-to manuals, contracts, project plans, spreadsheets and letters without issue. Every document goes to my printers without translation problems. With regard to document sharing, I save everything in PDF when I need to share with customers ( something I also did in Microsoft, and you should too). Try it out yourself, you literally have nothing to lose.