The open source LibreOffice productivity suite has hit a milestone with the 5.0 release, the first to be based on a new generation of the code that ushers in an enhanced user interface, improved import filters for better file compatibility with Microsoft Office documents, and support for Windows 10.
Available to download immediately, LibreOffice 5.0 is the latest release of the free to download application suite, which was created as a fork of the OpenOffice.org suite after Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, the developer of that suite.
The Document Foundation, which oversees LibreOffice development, has followed its own path since that time, and the suite is now the default application package bundled with many Linux distributions, as well as running on Mac OS X and Windows.
LibreOffice is now available in a new release that is compatible with Windows 10 and in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, as well as adding a version that supports basic editing on Android devices, while the Document Foundation is now looking to develop an iOS version for Apple devices.
With LibreOffice 5.0, the suite is now almost entirely based on modern code that replaces the legacy code inherited from Oracle, according to Italo Vignoli, one of the founder members of the Document Foundation.
"5.0 is the first version of what we consider our third generation of code development. We inherited rather old source code from OpenOffice, so all of the 3.x releases were focused on code cleaning and code refactoring, to replace working parts with more state-of-the-art technologies," he said.
A major focus of the refactoring was an almost complete rewrite of the code in the Calc spreadsheet app, which Italo described as the most critical part of the suite, because it is the one most directly measured against Excel, its counterpart in Microsoft's Office suite.
"We needed to apply more care and attention to this, as Microsoft Excel is indeed a very good piece of software. We wanted Calc to be considered at the same level as Excel, while Writer and Impress are already comparable with the similar products from Microsoft," he said.
To this end, pivot tables have been a major focus, making them compatible with the way pivot tables work in Excel.
The user interface also sees a whole host of minor improvements come together to give a refreshed, more colourful look and feel to the suite.
The toolbars have been improved to make it easier to edit a document without having to hunt through the menus for functions, and LibreOffice apps also now preview style changes, allowing the user to see before selecting.
Another area of focus has been file import and export filters for greater fidelity of document styles and formatting, especially with Microsoft Office file formats. For example, highlighted text might lose its highlight when imported from a Microsoft document and re-exported again in previous LibreOffice releases.
Alongside LibreOffice for Windows/Mac/Linux, the Document Foundation also recently released a LibreOffice Viewer for Android. With LibreOffice 5.0, this has been updated with basic editing capabilities.
"LibreOffice 5.0 is the first version where the desktop code is shared with a mobile device, on Android at the moment. It's still not full-feature editing, but over time it will become full-feature editing," Vignoli said.
Vignoli also confirmed that a version of LibreOffice for Apple devices will follow.
"We have been working to make it available on iOS. It's not as easy as Android, so we want to release on Android first and once we are happy with that we will focus on iOS," he said.
Meanwhile, the Document Foundation also plans to introduce an online version of LibreOffice 5.0 later in 2015, with collaborative editing being added sometime in 2016. This will be a rival for Microsoft's Office Online web apps and Google Docs.
LibreOffice is free to download for individuals, but for businesses and other organisations there is paid-for long-term support from companies in the LibreOffice ecosystem. For this reason, the Document Foundation is advising these users not to upgrade to LibreOffice 5.0 right away.
"We maintain two branches, and LibreOffice 5.0 is the more feature-rich and is for early adopters or power users running it on an individual basis. We are telling other users, especially businesses, to wait because LibreOffice 4.4.5 is more stable because it is more tested," Vignoli said.
"We call LibreOffice 5.0 ‘LibreOffice Fresh' and LibreOffice 4.4.x we call ‘LibreOffice Still'," he explained.
The LibreOffice developer community is already working to ready LibreOffice 5.1 for January next year, the firm said.
LibreOffice comprises the Writer, Calc, Impress, Math, Draw, Base and Charts applications.
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