LibreOffice improves Microsoft compatibility with version 7.4

If you absolutely must keep using those proprietary formats, walk this way

Just over six months on from version 7.3, LibreOffice 7.4 Community has arrived, boasting improvements in Microsoft Office compatibility.

File compatibility has long been a significant roadblock for users and organizations seeking an alternative to Microsoft's ubiquitous productivity suite.

"Microsoft files are still based on the proprietary format deprecated by ISO in 2008, and not on the ISO approved standard, so they hide a large amount of artificial complexity," sniffed the LibreOffice crew. "This causes handling issues with LibreOffice, which defaults to a true open standard format (the OpenDocument Format)."

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There are are a lot of Microsoft Office documents out there, hence a considerable amount of tweaks in the release aimed at users sharing documents in Microsoft's formats. "These users should check new releases of LibreOffice on a regular basis," noted the team, "as the progress is so fast, that each new version improves dramatically over the previous one."

Away from pure compatibility, there are plenty of improvements in the release. The spreadsheet application, Calc, now supports 16,374 columns. There is a start of document themes in Impress and support for WebP images among the numerous changes. Text layout performance for cases such as PDF export has also been improved. The GUI remains familiar, although there is experimental dark mode support for Windows 10 and 11.

On the way out is FTP, which is deprecated and will be removed in the future.

We looked at LibreOffice 7.3 when it emerged earlier this year and we're pleased to note that The Document Foundation (TDF) has continued with incremental improvements to tempt users away from Microsoft Office as well as providing a useful solution on platforms upon which Microsoft has yet to inflict its productivity suite.

If you are a die-hard fan of Office, this probably isn't for you. However, if all you do is bang some text into Word or wrangle some numbers in Excel, we'd have to recommend taking a look.

The release will run on anything from Windows 7 SP1 and macOS 10.12 and will like dribble into your Linux distribution of choice at some point (although up-to-date images can be downloaded for the impatient). Version 7.3.5 also remains available and, while it lacks the very latest features, has obviously enjoyed more testing by users.

7.4 is also a community edition, and TDF urged businesses to consider LibreOffice Enterprise. It noted, however, that many enterprises were eschewing the LTS versions maintained by ecosystem companies in favor of the version supported by volunteers.

"Over time," it warned, "this represents a problem for the sustainability of the LibreOffice project, because it slows down its evolution."

Judging by version 7.4, however, LibreOffice appears to be in rude health. It is, said TDF, "the ideal solution for businesses that want to regain control of their data and free themselves from vendor lock-in." ®

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