Ask LH: Am I Missing Out By Sticking With Open Source And Not Buying Microsoft Office?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve been using LibreOffice and OpenOffice for some time now, and it has suited my needs just fine. I am curious about the supposed superiority of MS Office. I haven’t been able to find concrete answers as to why MS Office is better that LibreOffice and I was hoping you could clear this up for me.Best wishes, Sort of Confused

Dear Confused,

It’s normal for users of open source software to wonder from time to time if they’re missing out by not using the pricey, proprietary competition’s offering. In this case, it’s the mighty Microsoft and its Office suite versus the free twins OpenOffice and LibreOffice.

Mainly, Microsoft Office is glossy. Very glossy. With newer operating systems, cleaner interfaces, and a very design-driven tech world booming around us, it can be a bit rough to see how glossy Microsoft’s offering is compared to a rough-around-the-edges free app. When it comes down to it, the problem has always been a matter of gloss. Microsoft simply has more resources for designers to make Office look sleek and modern, and that pays off in the end — most people will choose it just because it looks nicer.

All that gloss doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better, though. When it comes down to it, both OpenOffice and LibreOffice can do, more or less, everything MS Office can do. There’s really only one exception, and that’s email. One of MS Office’s core apps is Outlook, and the free offerings just don’t have anything to match that. They do, however, have the rest of the open source community — which means you’ve got apps like Mozilla’s Thunderbird available. So, If you pull an outside app into the mix, the two sides are even again.

The look of MS Office may be nice, but it’s also tying in controls, settings, and other interface functions. Microsoft calls the interface “Fluent”, but most people refer to it as “ribbons”. It’s great for making a big suite of apps that all look alike, and look pretty, but it does have the side effect of confusing new users. People are accustomed to just looking for standard menus, and both of the free office suites still use standard menus. Their users are generally quite happy about that.

When it comes to support, you may have a cause for jealousy. Because MS Office is an expensive, corporate-backed piece of software, it’s got a massive support machine behind it, staffed by people trained to answer questions. The flip side to that is that Microsoft’s support machine is known for being convoluted, unhelpful, and difficult to navigate or contact.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice don’t have large support networks in place like that. They do, however, have communities. You can usually find the answer to your question by searching through each suite’s forums for the answer — or by just asking other users on those same forums.

When it really comes down to it, it’s still a matter of personal preference. All three will read and write MS Office formatted documents. All three can make and read spreadsheets and presentations. They can all handle images and special formatting for text. They’re all full-fledged office suites, one of them just costs a lot of money. Don’t let the glossy interface and large user base make you think you’re the oddball by not buying it. Free options get the job done, too.


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23 responses to “Ask LH: Am I Missing Out By Sticking With Open Source And Not Buying Microsoft Office?”

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