LibreOffice 3.5 adds some nice new features to a serviceable productivity suite. There are still plenty of rough edges to be ironed out, but many people will find it meets their everyday needs well and the developers are committed to regular updates
A full office suite, including database tool; supports Windows, Mac and Linux
Not as slick as Microsoft Office; some usability issues, especially with Impress presentations app
Free to download and use
Windows: Windows 2000 (Service Pack 4 or higher), XP, Vista, or Windows 7
Mac: Mac OSX 10.4 (Tiger) or higher
Linux: Distributions with kernel version 2.6.18 or higher
Anyone looking to avoid paying through the nose for office productivity software will find there are a handful of low-cost options, including some that are completely free. Of these, OpenOffice.org and Google Docs are well known, but there is also range of less familiar alternatives, such as LibreOffice.
LibreOffice is actually a derivative of OpenOffice.org. When Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle, OpenOffice.org's future became uncertain and the LibreOffice was instigated as a project by a group of OpenOffice.org developers who have called themselves the Document Foundation.
There's some background about the aims of the Document Foundation on its website, which asserts that LibreOffice 3.5 is "the best free office suite ever".
LibreOffice is a suite comprising six applications, and which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. Like OpenOffice.org, this is developed by a large community and also like OpenOffice.org, it won't suit everyone.
But given the old adage that only 20 per cent of the features are used by 80 per cent of the users in modern applications, does it offer enough to keep most users happy?
It is easy to obtain LibreOffice from the project's website, and installation took less than five minutes for us, even though we also had to install Java onto the system which we used for our review.
Like OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice relies heavily on Java, so If you want to run LibreOffice long term you'll need to ensure the Java runtime is kept up to date on your system (this is also a free download).
If you've been a fan of LibreOffice in the past it is worth noting that the file encryption used in its native document format has been changed from Blowfish to AES.
LibreOffice 3.5 will still open files created with the older suite, but any document saved will use the new standard. The upshot is that if you're exchanging files with someone running LibreOffice 3.4.4 or earlier, they won't be able to open them.
Anyone running the new version of LibreOffice, incidentally, can use an automated checker for online application updates.
Most users will probably make more use of the word processor than any other aspect of LibreOffice, and in the Writer application, there are some attractive improvements on top of what is a good range of core features.
A grammar checker underlines what LibreOffice thinks is poor grammar with a crinkled blue line, but it doesn't seem to go as far as Microsoft Word in this respect. It didn't want to pick duplicate words, for example, but it was quite hot on double spaces and poor punctuation.
It did not seem to even attempt to correct what it saw as badly constructed sentences, something which Microsoft Word does (though not always to good effect).