The Difference Between OpenOffice and LibreOffice

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LibreOffice or OpenOffice?

You may have noticed that Ninite has OpenOffice and LibreOffice both for downloads.  If you’ve used Ubuntu for a while, perhaps you are also aware that it now comes with LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice.  If you have used both, perhaps you’re even more confused, as they seem to be pretty much alike.

That’s because they essentially started from the same code base.  It turns out that I finally got a chance to research it, and LibreOffice is a fork from OpenOffice.  If you know what a fork is, you’re probably curious as to why.  If you don’t know, I’m about to quickly explain it.

In software development, a fork is essentially creating a duplicate copy of the software in order to work independently upon it.  Under normal circumstances, software features and enhancements will take place separately from the main line of development.  The copy is considered a “branch” off of the mainline, as it creates a sort of tree structure.  In this way, serious bug fixes can take place on the mainline without the complexity of determining what to do with new features that may or may not even be finished or tested at the time a critical release is required.

Normally, however, this development branch will be merged back onto the mainline and labelled prior to final testing and release, as it will now become the production version.  If you’ve ever wondered why companies urge people to upgrade so hard, it has as much to do with the nightmare of trying to maintain different versions of software as it does with generating sales revenue.  In fact, at some point, it becomes cost prohibitive to maintain a version, and support for it will at that point, if not prior, will be totally dropped.

In open source software, however, the code is owned by an entire community.  This point is being stressed, as it has a lot to do with LibreOffice.  Therefore, when someone says an open source application has been “forked”, it often takes on a more permanent meaning, as it is assumed that changes will normally be placed back onto the mainline unless there is good reason to not do so.

Open source software has undergone a lot of changes over the decades.  Even the term “open source” is often open for debate, even as the term “organic food” is sometimes argued over.  When a company buys an organization that owns open source software, that’s when things get sticky.

Sun Microsystems has long owned a long list of open source applications, platforms, etc.  Wikipedia credits Sun with creating Java, for example. They made their money selling their servers and workstations running Sun Solaris and offering their services in other areas.  It was founded in 1982, and it was bought out by Oracle finally in 2009 after having wild ups and downs since the Dot Com Bubble in 2000.

StarOffice was a revolutionary idea by StarDivision in 1986, and it rode upon the Java “write once, run everywhere” idea.  I remember running it on OS/2, and it was a decent and free replacement for Microsoft Office, which did not have a current OS/2 equivalent.  It was bought by Sun Microsystems in 2000 and renamed to OpenOffice.org.

After being bought by Oracle, more and more frustration with “management of the project” is cited by Wikipedia as the incentive for most of the developers of OpenOffice to leave in September 2010.  However, the more specific claim is by a contributer to the ask ubuntu forum about “What is the difference between OpenOffice and the newly created LibreOffice?” that:

Sun has asked for copyright assignment to Sun if you wanted your patch to be merged. …Another good reason for breaking apart was that Oracle does not look interested in taking the development of Open Source ahead. OpenSolaris is nearly gone and if this fork didn’t happen, probably OO.o would also have become stagnant.

Translation: Big company is bought by bigger company, who in turn kills off anything its not interested in, including various open source projects.

At any rate, Oracle contributed all of the code and trademarks to the Apache Software Foundation in 2011, apparently to fulfill a contractural obligation to IBM, who supplied the development pool for the project going forward.  It is now known as Apache OpenOffice.org.

Both suites are free, and both are considered open source.  Both are the same, but then again they are not. Both can run on Windows, Linux and Mac.

How do they stack up?  That’s tougher.  My initial impression of LibreOffice is that it seems rough around the edges.  However, I haven’t fully used OpenOffice in quite some time, either.  After trying to print an envelope this morning and struggling with templates yesterday, I think I might download OpenOffice and do a real comparison.  However, since this is an application suite, this could take some time.  While I’ve looked online, I haven’t yet found anyone who has done this, although I did find a comparison of LibreOffice 4.0 to Microsoft Office 2013.

OTOH, considering all the history and politics, there also is the Calligra Suite, which includes Calligra Office (Words, Stage presentation application, Sheets for spreadsheets, Flow for flowcharting and diagrams and Kexi for databases), Calligra graphics applications (Krita and Karbon) and Calligra Plan for project management.  Now, this is one that looks promising…