Review: LibreOffice Cleans Up With Version 3.4.4

LibreOffice, the PC productivity software developed by an splinter group, has launched a new version of its applications with bug fixes and added stability as well as a few new features -- the latest in a year of fast and steady upgrades.

The bug fixes come with a long list of improvements, including eliminating crashes in its Impress presentation software, stopping crashes on closing Writer documents with footnotes, and making some search features faster and snappier. Also, LibreOffice continues on its pace to eliminate as many language barriers as possible and version 3.4.4 offers support Scottish Gaelic.

Since January, the LibreOffice community has delivered a number of added features and new code to what is essentially the shell of OpenOffice.Org. Along the way it has become the default productivity suite for Ubuntu, a leading Linux-based desktop distribution, and has begun to pick up the rate and pace of improvements.

Here are elements of LibreOffice that, with Wednesday's release, make it credible to deploy not just as cost-free software but to get work done in enterprises of most sizes.

* Developers have built and begun filling a download center for extensions for LibreOffice, using much the same model as one would download and install extensions for the Google Chrome OS. It's simple and, even though there aren't a torrent of useful extensions there are some nice ones that paint a promising future. For example, we downloaded an extension for LibreOffice Writer -- the word processing application in the suite -- that instantly and easily adds Magenta Lorem Ipsum text for those designing pages. Aptly named the Magenta Lorem Ipsum Generator, it's a free download from the LibreOffice Extension Center. While has offered extensions through its own clearinghouse, and ISVs have been writing extensions for Microsoft Office for years, LibreOffice has streamlined the process for developers to create extensions and submit them to the Extension Center.

* It has greatly improved the ease of use and functionality for its Impress and Calc applications. For example, in a small but significant addition, it's now possible to create a slideshow with Impress and quickly and effortlessly export slides into a number of different file formats including GIF, JPG and BMP. In an environment where sharing data between mobile devices on bandwidth-choked public networks is important, bite-sizing information by allowing for conversion into simple file formats is nice.

* LibreOffice is supported as a “portable software solution” and LibreOffice Portable -- a USB flash-drive installation -- is supported on Ubuntu via Wine, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. This means that regardless of whether the software is installed on a particular PC, LibreOffice can be deployed from a USB flash drive or other portable media.

It supports a full range of file formats, including ODF, .doc, RTF, HTML, XML, .ppt, and .xls.

With the latest round of bug fixes and additional functionality, LibreOffice is solid productivity software and should be considered -- not just because it's free software, but because it's solid, stable, robust, cross-platform and on a path that has improvements on a near continual basis.