Battle Of The Office Suites: Microsoft Office And LibreOffice Compared

Battle Of The Office Suites: Microsoft Office And LibreOffice Compared

Microsoft Office occupies a dominant position when it comes to office suites, but it isn’t the only choice if you want a runs-on-the-desktop suite on multiple platforms. How does it compare to its most visible rival, LibreOffice? Let’s take a look at how the two compare for individual use.

Our focus in this comparison is on the three core elements which most people think of as comprising an office suite: word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. On both sides of the fence, there are other elements included: Office includes OneNote and Outlook, plus additional storage options and added software depending which version you buy. LibreOffice includes the Base database, which isn’t part of the cheaper Office releases.

We’re also not looking at web-based alternatives. In that space, you have two obvious choices in the form of Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, as well as other more specialised tools. Those options are free and capable of basic tasks, but lack the extra frills of desktop software (and work poorly or not at all in offline mode).

It’s worth pointing out that you won’t see many job vacancies advertised listing “Libre Office” as a desired skill. Gaining experience in Office is still useful for many jobs. However, if you’re cash-strapped, it’s worth weighing up the free LibreOffice alternative. (LibreOffice itself comes from the same core as OpenOffice, and is generally regarded as the more frequently-updated open source office platform.)

In what follows, we’ll compare the most commonly-used features of each platform, but we don’t claim this is an exhaustive list. If you’re interested in looking for a specific feature, head to this page and search for it on the table. It should give you a good idea of exactly which features are in which suite.

Word Processing: Word versus Writer

Battle of the Office Suites: Microsoft Office and LibreOffice Compared

LibreOffice Writer and Microsoft Word are both very capable word processors. In terms of basic features, Writer and Word are incredibly similar. Writer has all the major features of Word, including a fantastic grammar checker, a solid autosave system, and support for a huge variety of formats. If you’re a Word user, you’ll have no problem making the jump to Writer because the two operate and look the same.

For years, one of Word’s killer features was a variety of editing options and change tracking, but Writer also offers those options as well. Word does have a broader range of formatting and customisation options.

The Bottom Line

After using both for a couple weeks, I didn’t notice any major features missing in either. If a word processor is all you really need, then Writer will do everything Word can do. That said, if you have Office anyway, Word is a familiar and well-executed package.

Spreadsheets: Excel versus Calc

Battle of the Office Suites: Microsoft Office and LibreOffice Compared

Spreadsheets are a major part of an office suite and Microsoft Excel has long been the king. Depending on how you use spreadsheets, LibreOffice’s Calc may very well be enough for you, but you’re heavily invested in Excel’s ecosystem, switching could be tricky.

For the most part, Calc and Excel work the same way. If you’re a light spreadsheet user, you probably won’t notice much difference between the two. Both can do basic calculations, handle light maths, and organise tables in a variety of ways. However, if you use a lot of Excel macros, programming and specialised functions, then you’re going to struggle with Calc.

The reason is that Calc has its own macro language and it’s not always compatible with Excel’s VBA format. This means if you’re trying to switch over to Calc from Excel, you may need to redo a lot of your macros. Calc macros do translate well to Excel — just not the other way around — so if you’re just sending off your own spreadsheets to other people, Calc may suffice.

The Bottom Line

If you’re new to spreadsheets or just a light user, Calc gets the job done. However, if you’re working in an environment where you’re sharing a lot of macros or complex files then you’re best off sticking with Excel.

Presentation Software: PowerPoint versus Impress

Battle of the Office Suites: Microsoft Office and LibreOffice Compared

PowerPoint has been synonymous with presentations for a long while, and with good reason: it’s a powerful piece of software and produces presentations easily. LibreOffice’s presentation software, Impress, is capable enough, but it’s not going to convert any naysayers.

The main issue with Impress is that it still struggles occasionally when importing presentations made in PowerPoint. I had issues with some missing fonts and other rendering problems. That said, if you’re creating presentations from scratch, Impress does it pretty well, albeit without quite as much flair as PowerPoint. Impress has fewer animations for slides, lacks animated diagrams, doesn’t offer the same range of video exports and lacks the ability to collaborate on presentations as a group.

It’s not all bad news for Impress, though. Impress can export presentations in lots of different formats, which can make sharing presentations easier. While neither will magically give you an Academy Award-winning presentation, they’re both equally easy to start.

The Bottom Line

LibreOffice’s Impress is a perfectly capable program, but if you’re working with people who usually use PowerPoint you might run into some compatibility issues still. If you’re just making presentations for your own purposes, then Impress should work for you.

Which Suite Is Best For You?

If money is tight or non-existent, LibreOffice may be the office suite for you. If you’re regularly sharing files with others, need a support infrastructure or rely on advanced features, Office remains the obvious choice.


  • The bottom line isn’t whether Libre will do a job “as well as Office”. Rather, it’s whether a company using Office can open and use a document created by Libre. This includes Office documents, edited by someone using Libre.
    Last I checked, Libre STILL screws up formatting. Turning a professional looking product into a Buddha-awful mess.

    • Bug report, with sample document showing the flaw, or it didn’t happen. Help->Send Feedback. Off you hop!

  • While I fully understand the reasons, MS Office is the default after all, it does seem very unfair to me that Libreoffice is criticized for not fully handling MSOffice formats, but MSOffice is never ever criticized for not handling Libreoffice formats.

    • Yep. MS Office garbles my *.odt files every time. This is confusing because LibreOffice has to support MS formats with no specification and reverse engineering being the only option but “odt” is a public spec and they still can’t get it right. Actually forget that, MS can’t even keep their own formats consistent between versions of Office….

  • The strange thing about the comments in such articles is that they always complain that the other suite (Libre in this case) is not fully compatible (cannot render) MS documents.

    The fact is MS has a poor record in maintaining proper compatibility among its own products, with formats keep changing between difference versions; hell, MS word on Mac fails to properly render an MS word document created on Windows.

    • MS is really bad at supporting open document formats but that is rarely if ever mentioned.

  • Gee, coincidence – Apache OpenOffice was just released. It has adopted Lotus Symphony side panels which were donated by IBM (like Apple inspector). So I guess this means IBM is giving up on Symphony. Would be good to see a comparison of AOO & LO. I have tried just about every suite and keep going back to MS. The closest replacement has been iWork. If Google Drive worked offline that would also be a strong option.

  • One massive positive for LibreOffice is cross platform compatibility. The lastest version of LibreOffice is available for Windows, Mac OS & linux MS Office isn’t even compatible properly between the windows & Mac OS versions

  • LibreOffice is an excellent piece of software. Having worked with both, MS Office XP-2010 and LibreOffice (since it was still StarOffice/, my conclusion is following:
    * Writer is much superior to Word. Writer’s layout is stable, graphics handling superbe, long documents no problem, graphics import much better (e.g. SVG files), reliance on styles is perfect for long structured documents…..
    * Calc is very much comparable to Excel. Both have their advantages, but both also can do 10000% of what normal users need. Calc is also improving lots of things in upcoming LO 4.2!
    * Impress is a good piece of software, but Powerpoint has some more strenghts. All in all, they are equivalent.
    * Draw (the drawing software in LibreOffice) has no real equivalent in MS Office. It can do some things (e.g. precise drawing, object manipulations) much better than Powerpoint could ever do. And yes, Powerpoint is not a drawing application by definition.
    * Base does lots of things good, but Access is a better application.
    * When looking at features of the entire suite (not the single applications), I’d rate LibreOffice much better than MS Office. LO applications are much better integrated, import/export filters are many and files can be opened independently from the application where you are in at the moment. LibreOffice runs on Mac, Windows, Linux on the same codebase (!), so there are no conversion problems between the platforms…..

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