Some LibreOffice and OpenOffice Differences

Regular readers of this blog will note I posted about the ham fisted decision of the Ubuntu world to force in the “O” versions of Linux Libertine fonts instead of the “G” versions which come bundled by default with LibreOffice. Some of my fellow authors and people I “know” on-line asked me to kick the tires on OpenOffice. I had a Ubuntu 18.04 Mate minimal VM set up so I decided to kick the tires.

  1. Install Ubuntu 18.04 in a virtual machine checking the minimal installation box. If you don’t yet have Oracle Virtualbox installed directly from Oracle read this post.
  2. From inside of your VM installation open a browser and visit the Apache OpenOffice site to download the latest.
  3. Open a terminal window and issue the following:
sudo apt-get install default-jdk
sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer

Technically you don’t need the mscorefonts but they do help browsing a bit.

Use the GUI file browser tools of your distro to navigate to Downloads and extract the file you downloaded.

download dir image

It will create the en-US (or whatever your language is) directory in your Downloads directory. Go back to your terminal window.

install commands

Navigate to the DEBS directory under your country and language. Notice there is also a desktop-integration sub-directory.

sudo dpkg -i *.debcd desktop-integrationsudo dpkg -i *.deb

oo install image 2

I always reboot but in theory you should be able to run OpenOffice from the graphical menu now.

I must admit OpenOffice seemed faster. It loaded my 598 page test document complete with images very snappy. A quick tire kicking did spot some obvious differences as the code bases for each product is now diverging significantly.

Libre Office right click menu image
LibreOffice right click menu for selected text

When you select text and right click you see a “Clear Direct Formatting” option. This is handy for when a font or something else got changed within a paragraph. I’ve had to use it quite a bit given the “Linux Libertine O” catastrophe Ubuntu forced on me.

OpenOffice right click menu image
OpenOffice right click menu

I wasn’t brave enough to click “Default Formatting” to see if this is just a naming difference.

LibreOffice page gap image
LibreOffice page gap

Notice how clean the page split looks with LibreOffice. Just the little corner markers to point out the boundaries.

OpenOffice page gap image
OpenOffice page gap

OpenOffice draws boxes around everything. While they are not offensive, I really worry about that blank one underneath the footnote on page 14.

LibreOffice image
LibreOffice image handling

The “image” itself looks much cleaner than in OpenOffice. You will note the gap between the image and top of its frame/box? That can’t be fixed in the current LibreOffice.

OpenOffice image
OpenOffice image

In fairness, I didn’t try to fix the gap while in OO. In truth it may not be fair to point out the icky image handling. LibreOffice was running native on KDE Neon with direct access to the NVIDIA driver. OO was running in a Virtualbox VM with a fake video driver glad handing stuff out. It may be just as good as it gets.

LO Fontlist image
LO Font List

LibreOffice on Ubuntu installs Linux Libertine G font family.

OO Font List image
OO Font List

OpenOffice installed into a minimal Ubuntu installation does not. This alone may make it worth switching.

General observation. OO should have been dramatically slower. Much of it uses Java which is a P-Compiled then interpreted via JIT language. The JVM has a long, horrible history when it comes to memory management, especially when images are involved. Great strides must have been made since LibreOffice forked away. I tried writing books with OpenOffice before the fork and it was physically impossible. After a few hundred pages with running page headers and a few images, things just ceased to be even remotely tolerable. I was pleasantly surprised.

For those who want to run Linux, but don’t want to mess with a minimal installation, you can always run OpenSUSE. The don’t force Linux Libertine O fonts on you either.

LO Fonts on OpenSUSE image
LO Fonts on OpenSUSE

Secret to G fonts in LibreOffice on KDE Neon

The list of people who have been burned by this grows daily and still it won’t get fixed in Ubuntu based distros. Work with Linux Libertine in LibreOffice because that used to be the default font. Finish writing your book or other work which needs to be sent out for editing. Send it out to an editor who uses LibreOffice but uses it on Windows. “No problem” you think. “I used a standard LibreOffice font.” Boy have you just gotten screwed!

I went through this little tale myself this past Sunday. Tuesday afternoon now and I can just now sit down for a while. Two hours on the phone trying to decipher why my 598 page book opened as a 900+ page document with bizarre page breaks on their machine.

In their infinite wisdom the boys and girls at Ubuntu (possibly all the way back to Debian itself) have decided to package “Linux Libertine O.” The LibreOffice package from libreoffice.org packages “Linux Libertine G.” Do you think the font selection logic could say “Hey! Only the last letter is different, use this one?” Noooo. So instead of looking like this:

how it should have looked

It looks like this:

how it actually looked

Not even close.

I ended up burning the entire day setting up VMs with various flavors of Windows and Ubuntu to test raw installs. I deliberately set up a Ubuntu Mate minimal installation so I wouldn’t get all of the extra baggage that could gunk up the works. After that I pulled down the Linux Libertine font file directly from linuxlibertine.org. In the Windows VM I installed 6.3.4 of LibreOffice directly from the LibreOffice Web site.

LibreOffice on Windows

Given the ordeal of the weekend, this is what I expected, the G flavor of the font families. Next I installed LibreOffice in the Ubuntu Mate 18.04 minimal VM.

LibreOffice on Ubuntu Mate

Perfect! Exactly what I expected! So. Move back to my KDE Neon host computer. I uninstall LibreOffice which was installed from the PPA to get a much later version. I use the font management software to manually uninstall all of the Linux Libertine fonts I had installed while troubleshooting the problem. Then I install Libre Office directly from the Web site and reboot. Guess what? No Linux Libertine fonts. (It’s possible I should have rebooted before installing, but still.)

Now I’m ripping my hair out because I don’t want to run in a VM I’ve allotted two CPUs while working on three different books. My editor is going to convert the one he is working on to Liberation Serif and Liberation Sans because thankfully that does match. I just have to worry about the other three.

Oh, I’ve been down a road much like this before. Some yahoo decided to remove FreeTimes from the t1-cyrillic package and I’ve got quite a few books in print which I wrote using that font as primary. &%*&^%*&^ing 12 year old boys being allowed to “maintain” a package for a distro! I used FreeTimes because it looked good and was available everywhere. Not anymore!

Yes, I searched. This has been a looong standing problem in the Ubuntu world. I even found this bug report.

Ubuntu Bug Report

Gotta love a “Won’t Fix” from 2014. Just let the bug rot until it is logged against an unsupported version and you can close it.

So, after much scrambling and diet Mt. Dew consumption I found where LibreOffice gets the font. I pull it down and extract it in my newly rebooted KDE Neon host. I use the font manager to install the font files and vola!

after font install

The only stupid thing I did was not leaving the “O” versions installed. Perhaps it is less stupid than I think right now? The font chooser won’t choose a visually matching font so it should be easy to find scrolling through. I can always use this hack to identify fonts in use. Then use this to search for the place they are used.

Now it is time to write one more blog post then work on those other three books.

 

 

 

Best Linux Word Processor in 2019

Now that The Minimum You Need to Know About the Phallus of AGILE is out for another round of editing, I have a bit of time to experiment with word processor software on my KDE Neon 64-bit desktop. Some of you will remember that I kicked some tires back in January. Regrettably I started a free trial for the commercial version of Textmaker then didn’t do anything with it and it has something stored somewhere so I cannot confirm my suspicions.

I don’t demand that my software be free but that certainly helps. The biggest thing is “how restrictive is the license?” Honestly I paid for a Sublime Text 3 license because I can install it as many times as I want. As a geek with a lot of machines and one who installs different Linux distros at a moment’s notice for some project or other, I cannot abide by an onerous registration process.

LS-120

When I’m writing a new book I will drop back to my trusty ole 3rd generation i5 because that one already has one of my LS-120 drives installed.

i5 with super floppy

If a book is going to be a long project, even if the target market is only 50 readers, I like to have off-site backups. I can copy the directory to an LS-120 and take it with me when I leave at night. No, I don’t trust cloud backup services. Technical recruiters who can barely speak English tell me my OpenVMS application development book is one of the best pirated books in India. They should know. Most of them are calling from there using voice over IP.

FreeOffice

This is a stripped down version of SoftMaker Office. I didn’t play with SoftMaker Office when I started the free trial back in January so I cannot tell if my misgivings about FreeOffice are fixed in the commercial version.

The first thing you will note is that the toolbar appears a bit rough. It’s not unreasonable, just appears to not be as polished as many other word processors on the market. It almost has a Java type look to it. Perhaps that is the language used to write the package, I do not know. I do know that it took a really long time to install the .deb package on this 7th generation i7.

Ugly Font Rendering

Another thing you will notice is the font rendering appears a bit ugly. It’s definitely not the same engine as LibreOffice uses. Notice the frames around the images as well. There is some weird kind of alignment issue when opening an OpenDocument file created by LibreOffice.

The combination of the font and image issues pushed the LA12 image down into the footer. When I tried to move the image I couldn’t just click and drag the image with caption as I wished. I had to try and convert the image to an object and I could move the image but the caption did not follow. After looking at the features list of the commercial version I believe this is something unique to the product.

Could Not Add Caption

In the 5 minutes I spent looking I couldn’t figure out how to add a caption to the image once moved. Again, I believe this is a difference in philosophy. One would have to spend a bit of time learning how TextMaker wants you to create documents. My real apprehension is how well this philosophy would save to an OpenDocument file then opened by one of these other word processors.


The things which bothered me the most is how footnotes look and the fact the free version could not correctly support page styles. I had odd and even page styles so the header would have the page number in the outside upper corner of both facing and non-facing pages.

You can see what I mean in this screenshot from LibreOffice.

Notice the cleaner font rendering as well. Keep in mind this is the same OpenDocument file in both editors. Granted, I used LibreOffice to create it but given it is the same file using the same font on the same machine I would expect the rendering to be very close to the same.

Note the image placement as well. It doesn’t mush down into the footer.

Footnotes look cleaner in LibreOffice as well. They don’t have boxes around them and they are displayed as the links they are.

It’s Fast

I will give TextMaker this kudo. It’s fast. LibreOffice suffers from memory strangulation. Even installing Oracle Java can’t get rid of this problem. I’ve written about some of the various hacks to get around this problem but you really cannot eliminate it.

When editing a large document like a 600+ page book which has lots of images, just resizing a couple of images to make things fit better sends LibreOffice into a crawl. I’ve got 24Gig of RAM on this box so memory should never be a problem, but it is. If you start to apply page styles after you have written your document LibreOffice can hang for minutes while it updates the rendering of the entire document.

AbiWord

AbiWord crashed trying to load the document. It hung on 98% loading and just vaporized. I had heard AbiWord suffered from a lack of developers and was just kind of rotting in repos. I guess the rumors are true.

ZoHo

I tried to open this file with ZoHo. No, I didn’t create an account and load the document to the Web. I tried to open it as a local file because Zoho installed itself as a right click option which it shouldn’t do if it cannot handle local files. It died just like AbiWord. Perhaps the same team of developers are not working on this project while they are not working on AbiWord?

Caligra Words

My hatred for Caligra Words is legendary. The developers took the not horrible KWord word processor and created this abomination. After taking an unbelievably long time to load the document, each strike of the Page Up/Down key took 4 seconds to respond. I’m running this on a 7th generation i7 with a native install of KDE Neon and it took 4 seconds. Thank God I didn’t try this on that 4th gen i5. Might have to wait until tomorrow to see the screen move.

While the font rendering is substantially better than FreeOffice/TextMaker, you can see just how well it handles images with captions.

LibreOffice

This is the one which is most likely installed on your Linux distro. There’s even a Windows version, or at least there was. It appears to have the largest pool of active developers. It also suffers from some initial horrible choices made by the OpenOffice team, notably, using Java anywhere in the product.

There is a growing push to get LibreOffice to become more like Lotus SmartSuite was back in the day. It came back to life again today which is probably what brought about this post. Lotus SmartSuite was phenom. Way better than WordPerfect and I used WordPerfect for many years during the days of DOS and Windows.

FocusWriter word processor

FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor. It doesn’t have page styles, headers or footers. It doesn’t handle images. It does handle OpenDocument files but the target market for FocusWriter is people who want a full screen distraction free word processor just to get the words down.

Let me stress that again. FocusWriter is just a word processor. It doesn’t claim to be an “office” product.

As you can see, it has fantastic font rendering. It supports a bit of bolding and such but, as you can see near the top of the image, footnotes just get stuffed in where ever they happen to be referenced. I do use FocusWriter to bang out the occasional blog post or text only chapter. It’s quick and clean. Very easy on the eyes. Just not something you can use for book creation unless you are working with that ancient “manuscript” format. I always lay my books out completely and send the PDF to the printer.

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice has a very clean look modeled after Microsoft Word’s current look. I only use the desktop version. The company appears to be targeting on-line collaboration and trying to get completely docx compatible. They do “support” OpenDocument format, but . . .

As you can see, they don’t support page styles, have a real problem with OpenDocument headings and more than a bit of trouble with images.

The font rendering is rather excellent though.

They just have a bit of trouble with the basics.

Summary

First Place:   LibreOffice

LibreOffice tends to be my goto word processor even with all its warts. Every Ubuntu based Linux distro (a YABU in technical terms) seems to have it pre-installed and one can do much of what they need. The memory strangulation really sucks! You don’t know you are going to run into it until it is too late. They need to purge 100% of the Java code and write this in pure C++. JVMs (Java Virtual Machines) tend to be absolutely wretched at memory management. If you don’t believe me just visit this link and scroll down to the conversation of about heap sizes.

Second Place:   FocusWriter

FocusWriter isn’t a full featured word processor, nor is it intended to be. It’s target user wants a distraction free full screen mode with incredible font rendering so they can just bang out the words down the center of the screen. I have put a lot of miles on that word processor writing blog posts over the years. Whenever I’m writing something I’m certain will not need footnotes or links, it’s my first choice. I can always open the document in LibreOffice later if I need to get fancy.

Third Place:   OnlyOffice

Despite all of its shortcomings, OnlyOffice is a pleasant experience, as long as you do not need to have page styles, or position images on the left margin. (It can be done it just doesn’t like to do it.

The not being able to keep track of footnotes is rather annoying as well.
I give it passes on this. Being a software developer myself I’m rather impressed that something starting in 2009 for internal use made it this far out into the wild. I also realize their focus isn’t the standalone desktop product. They are trying to sell collaboration services. According to the timeline found here it wasn’t open sourced until 2014. That’s rather astounding.

Follow-up

For what it is worth, I uninstalled all of the other word processors after writing this. I simply could not get around the TextMaker font rendering and the free version not having page styles. Maybe the commercial version had all of the features I wanted, but the font rendering really bothered me. It was like they were forcing in extra bold or something. This caused all kinds of spacing and formatting problems. I also didn’t want to spend $99, install it on one machine and then uninstall it because I couldn’t stand the font rendering.

Note: Before any of you think I’m making too much about font rendering and page styles because only book authors need those, think again. When you are writing research papers for school it is exactly the same as writing a book. You need running page headers so the page numbers appear in the outside corners. No, you cannot get away with that cheap-ass thing of putting the page number dead center at the bottom. Not when you have footnotes and you really shouldn’t ever do that to any document, let along a document 5 ore more pages in length.

Note 2: I did not try the OpenOffice word processor on this machine. The reason I didn’t is that I have tried to install them both in the past. There were too many shared libraries between LibreOffice and OpenOffice. They seemed to be very far apart in compatibility as well. When installing both on the same machine you tend to end up with both being really busted.

Prediction

If OnlyOffice manages to add page styles and clean up their OpenDocument support it will become what gets installed on most Linux distros by default.

  1. It’s fast.
  2. The font rendering is great.
  3. It has a very clean look.

The memory strangulation is a real problem with LibreOffice. If you are just writing a 10 page term paper, you won’t notice it. When you start writing a research paper which becomes hundreds of pages long having lots of footnotes and images, you are going to feel the pain. When you check the system monitor and see that only 8Gig of your 24Gig machine is being used, you will be infuriated. Been there. Done that. Have both the hat and the T-shirt.

Distro Rot

Few things are more annoying in the computer world than trying to keep current on software features while maintaining a stable desktop. It doesn’t matter what OS you are running. Decades ago when I had to maintain a Windows partition because one client wanted me to do testing on it I went through the back-and-forth with Acronis and several other vendors. The Microsoft libraries they were using for development weren’t compatible with the versions which had to be installed for some other thing. Each and every time I got an update it busted my automatic backup and I had to have a differently linked executable sent to me. Built in automatic update feature was a true joy.

 

Lately the Linux world has been hurting big time. Evolution is by far the best all around email client and PIM. For people moving from that icky nasty Windows platform, Evolution is very much like Microsoft Outlook. That said, Evolution is buggy as all Hell. The “stable” versions chosen for Long Term Support (LTS) releases of Ubuntu and other distros are sooooo far behind the community supported versions it isn’t funny. Adding insult to injury the Evolution development community puts on a dramatic set of blinders when it comes to development and testing. It appears the only thing they actually test with is the version of Gnome they choose to like. This may or may not be the current flavor of Gnome. This pretty much means the KDE and other desktop users are left either hanging or installing the bulk of that version of Gnome in order to use it.

 

Putting this in perspective for you: 3.2.3 is the version shipping with Mint 13/Ubuntu 12.04: Current stable and supported version according to package Web site is 3.8.5 while the current development version is 3.9.92. If your email is hosted on an Exchange Web Service, you need the current EWS to make things work well. Things aren’t going to improve here because the boys and girls at Ubuntu chose to make Thunderbird their standard mail package which defies all logic.

 

LibreOffice is another package which tends to kick one in the groin at regular intervals. If some fool sends you a .docx file you most likely need the latest version of LO to open it, especially if you have to save it and return it to them. Earlier versions would let you open, edit, and save, but when you sent it back to the MS user the file would appear “corrupted” to them. You could open and edit it as many times as you liked, but they could never touch it again.

 

Oh, I’m not picking on LO here. Choose your favorite Linux based word processor and the story will be the same. The LTS releases tend to lock you in the past and the “rolling” releases only seem to roll in new kernel and core OS updates, not regular package updates. In particular they need to roll in tested updates for all email, office/word processor, and browsers included in the repositories. This currently doesn’t happen.

 

What most users are forced to do is take the time and the chance of wiping and installing a new release. This is fine for the home hobbyist, but for people who actually need their desktop for something other than porn it’s a big dice toss. Besides being the best email client on Linux, Evolution has a built in backup and restore. When you first start Evolution after a fresh install it will ask you if you want to restore from a backup. This will restore everything except your passwords. Firefox stumbles a bit. You can export or backup your bookmarks, but you cannot backup your Firefox settings complete with site username and password information. That is a major hassle, especially if you are a good little geek using a different account name and/or password for every site. After six plus months of not typing account information in a person tends to forget.

 

A person can “kind of” copy their documents directory, the visible files in their home directory, and their Downloads directory off to a USB drive, wipe, fresh install and restore/import in under an hour. I qualify that because you usually get burned. For Mint 14 and 15 (and I suspect other distros as well) Evolution hasn’t worked with KDE or non-gnome desktops. Evolution does work great in the current release of OS/4, however the XFCE does not support multiple monitors if you want any configuration other than the leftmost monitor as the primary desktop and the bug has been there for quite some time. I really feel sorry for people who made a complete switch to Lotus Symphony from IBM. It had amazing promise when it first came out but now is basically abandoned. The supported Ubuntu version is 8.0.4 and the SuSE version is 10 at least according to the official IBM site and the Ubuntu 12.04 users claiming it won’t install.

 

So, will there ever be a real “rolling distro” which updates the kernel and the major packages on a regular basis?

Linux Mint 13 KDE and LibreOffice 4.0

Those of you who write for a living or simply have people send you nasty DOCX and DOC files you need to edit should be a wee bit excited. LibreOffice 4.0 is here!

I spent some time on Sunday downloading and installing it based upon instructions I found at this site. I can concur with the author of that site that the desktop integration package needs quite a bit of work. On KDE it appears they are trying to use icky nasty Unity. The icons are passable, but some of the menus can be difficult to read. I’m certain there will be a patch soon. As I recall it took about two weeks for most distros to tweak the desktop integration and release either PPA or direct update. Hopefully the repositories supporting Linux Mint 13 KDE will get a shiny new update soon. Until then I will deal with some difficult menus.

Why will I deal with it? Speed, smooth fonts, and better DOCX processing. The very first time you load Writer it is slow. This is normal as it has a lot of files to initialize. After I rebooted I could open a working novel or book file in roughly 3 seconds on my Acer Aspire One netbook. That’s pretty swift for a full length novel or geek book.

It didn’t cheat either. Many word processors on the market will cheat when it comes to “open speed”. They will open the file and read less than five pages of text before displaying. They will then thread off a background task which will continue parsing the rest of the file. These cheats are easy to spot for a geek:

  1. typing may be slow as hell during the first few minutes
  2. if you update a page format which runs throughout the book your computer seems to almost lock up.
  3. You will notice that the total page count magically appears minutes after you start editing.

I did not find any of these cheats, or at least the page count was correct at time of open which means they really did process the entire document. I even tried a few DOCX files which used to look incredibly ugly and they seem much better now.

This brings me to another related topic.

Leach mode vs. Citizen mode.

For many years most of us have been using and not donating to our distros. It was justifiable back in the day. These things had a looooong way to go. That’s not the truth anymore. Yes, I was frustrated enough by the token few clients who send me DOCX stuff that I considered actually purchasing a commercial word processor for Linux. (Notice that I did not say I considered installing Windows.) The one I was looking at was TextMaker from SoftMaker.

I didn’t go so far as to actually get a demo or purchase it. Over my 20+ years in IT I’ve bought a lot of software from vendors which do not exist anymore. Back in the evil Windows days it was nothing to drop $400 on a word processor. I see that professional versions of the packages are still in that price range. It was also nothing to drop a few hundred on a programming editor, especially if you want a multi-platform one. I see those prices have increased significantly.

Where I’m going with this is that it is time for all of us to start being citizens instead of leaches. Yes, we were all “beta testers” for years, but these things have matured. It’s now time to start contributing to the products we use every day. Perhaps this is just my week for doing donations after NPR did a fund drive. Today I donated to Linux Mint and LibreOffice. (I tried to donate to QT Project, but there was no donation link.) It was only $100 each, but if all of us jobs gave even $10 to each of the products we use daily, we would see some massive improvements.