Whether you are job hunting, running a home business, freelancing, or starting a small business, there’s news from a variety of office software projects that will help you get your work done and save you money.
LibreOffice 4.4 Released
The Document Foundation released, just this morning, LibreOffice Version 4.4, the latest version of their free office software suite.
The upgrade’s changes appear to be mostly small interface improvements, including better looking task bars, icons, rulers and a slightly better color selector. Additionally, templates will now be accessible from the Start Center (the startup selector, unique to LibreOffice).
The new version makes it easier to save documents to the cloud via Microsoft’s OneDrive. This should facilitate sharing files between Microsoft and LibreOffice and — down the line — sharing documents with Android. If you think it strange that LibreOffice, an open source project, would coordinate with Microsoft applications, note that LibreOffice already works with SharePoint and other corporate file management systems. (Microsoft Office also allows you to save their documents in OpenOffice formats, too.)
Other announced improvements are the ability to import Adobe PageMaker files as well as MacDraw, MacDraw II, and RagTime files for the Mac. This continues LibreOffice’s ability to import legacy files from older Mac programs (including MacWrite and outlining programs, like More), and PC files from Microsoft Works, Microsoft Publisher, Lotus Office files, and other programs. In turn, this improves LibreOffice’s use both as a productivity tool and as a means of transferring legacy files from out-0f-date proprietary file formats into standard open file formats (especially important for governments and companies who need to keep files accessible for decades or longer).
LibreOffice 4.4 is free to download and use.
As soon as I have time to download and try out the new LibreOffice, I’ll offer my impressions. Interestingly, when I tried to download the new version, The Document Foundation’s servers were down. (Hopefully because demand was higher than expected.)
New Beta Android Viewer for LibreOffice
The Document Foundation recently made the test version of their document reader for Android available to the public, courtesy of work done by Collabora. Updated weekly, you can download it for your Android device at
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.collabora.libreoffice or just search on Google Play.
You can’t edit these documents, yet, but you’re supposed to be able to read LibreOffice Writer, Calc, and Presentation files as well as Microsoft Office Word, Excel and Powerpoint files (from Office versions ranging from 1997 to 2013 – meaning both DOC and DOCX files).
This is a test beta program, and it is being released to actively search for bugs and other issues, so don’t expect a smoothly running product yet. The goal is, of course, to later have an Android program that can not only read but edit documents. How long will it take to develop a full editing version? Nobody knows, but the current release is encouraging.
If you need to edit files on Android right now, though, see the news about SoftMaker Office for Android, below. Also, Office for Android should be released Microsoft later this year. Clearly, LibreOffice has some catching up to do.
Open Source Online Apps Through rollApp
If you prefer to work in the cloud, want to experiment with some open source software, or have a file that you need to open but don’t want to install the specific program, take a look at rollApp, which is still in beta testing.
Note that the versions adapted for online usage are not necessarily the latest versions of the software. For example, their version of LibreOffice is 3.3; and their version of Apache OpenOffice is 3.4.1.
RollApp also has a variety of open source software for the office, for programmers, gamers, project managers, and students. For example, writers might want to also try FocusWriter, Tomboy, Freemind, Freeplane, and Xmind, Notepad++, Scribus, Gedit, and ReText. Other graphics programs include Dia, Gimp, Inkscape, MyPaint and LibreCAD. They also offer the Calligra suite of programs (created for Linux) and many other productivity, educational and other programs.
Since most of these programs were intended to be installed onto a PC or Mac, the software might respond sluggishly unless you have very fast internet access. You can, however, open files you get on the web with programs you don’t own, share files online, and try out Linux and other programs that are not available for Windows or Macs. Basic use is free; the Pro version is $6.99 / month ($5.99 / month or $71.88 if paid annually).
I tried out their OpenOffice choices online several months ago. I was disappointed with the sluggish response of the programs I tried. However, if they can improve that (it is a beta test site, after all), rollApp may be a useful option.
AOO is now up to version 4.1.1.
At the moment, there are no new announcements from The Apache Foundation about upcoming improvements to Apache OpenOffice, but there is a nice roundup of OpenOffice news for 2014 on their Apache OpenOffice Blog, including presentations from their recent conference in Budapest, Hungary.
Apache OpenOffice is free to download and use.
For a detailed comparison of LibreOffice, Apache OpenOffice and Microsoft Office, see my Frugal Guidance 2 post What LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice Have Taught Me.
AbiWord is the Little Engine That Could of writing software. Writers who just want to write and don’t need spreadsheets and the other tools in LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice (or who are using older, slower computers), might want to take a look at AbiWord, another open source project. It’s free.
AbiWord has a smaller feature set than the OpenOffice twins and it won’t win lots of points for design flair. But it is capable of doing good work while requiring much, much less memory and hard drive space. It starts up much more quickly, too. The new LibreOffice 4.4 includes importers for AbiWord, so you can have the best of both worlds.
Microsoft Announces New Small Business Plans
Microsoft just recently announced lower fees for Office 365 Small Business Plans, which are now priced to compete better with Google Apps.
Frugal Guidance 2 readers, job hunters and other individual users were already able to subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 for as little as $6.99 per month ($69.99 for a year commitment) for the installed versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Access) or $9.99 / month for a family plan ($99.99 / year).
Microsoft also just announced reduced prices for its small business plans to better compete with Google Apps for Business. The cheapest plan is the Business Essentials offering at $6.00 / month / person (or $60 / person for an annual commitment), which includes all their cloud applications. The full installed suite for small businesses costs $10 / month / person or, with an annual commitment, $8.25 / month / person. Explore the Microsoft Office Business Plans for more info.
This compares with Google’s business offerings at $5 or $10 / month / person, depending on the plan.
Note that OneNote became free last year and can be used without the rest of Microsoft Office. See our article Microsoft Announces Free OneNote for Macs & Windows on comparing OneNote and Evernote.
Chrome and Google Apps are still available for individuals for free.
Softmaker Office for Android, Windows and Linux
If you have the need Android support for documents, spreadsheets and presentations RIGHT NOW, you can get full working applications with SoftMaker Office Mobile for Android, which is now free!
The Android apps should be fully compatible with SoftMaker Office 2012 for Windows and for Linux. Softmaker Office 2012 includes 3 excellent office apps (installed, not in the cloud): TextMaker (word processing), PlanMaker (spreadsheet) and Softmaker Presentations (equivalent to PowerPoint) for US $80. Add the Outlook-like eM Client Pro for $100. That’s a one-time fee, of course, not a monthly rental.
The free open source office applications, LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice, continue to improve their stability, features and user interface, making them useful options for home, school or offices. In particular, the new LibreOffice, just released this morning, should be worth a look.
There is also a beta test site online for trying many open source apps without installation called RollApps.com.
The test reader of LibreOffice for Android is also encouraging news for the future of the applications, too.
Apache OpenOffice doesn’t have any new announcements, but it’s not going away, either.
For those who need (or prefer) Microsoft Office, the continuing competition between Google and Microsoft is making pricing more attractive for home and small office users. Office 365 – with or without the installed applications – is now standard and the rental model appears to be here to stay.
If you just want a lighter word processor, try AbiWord. It’s small, quick, and spright although its interface is nothing to write home about.
And for Android users who want to read and edit word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files on their phones and tablets, take a look at the free Android apps of the German Softmaker Office. You can also download and install their commercial office programs for Windows and Linux at a competitive price.
Smiling typist headline photo is “The Stenographer,” photographer unknown, taken 1923, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Photo lightly cropped and adjusted for web display using Photoshop and Topaz Adjust.
Photo of a room full of office workers is by Harris & Ewing, taken 1936. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Photo cropped and adjusted for web display using Photoshop and Topaz Adjust.