Will Linux Users Ever Be Able to Ditch Microsoft Office?Will Linux Users Ever Be Able to Ditch Microsoft Office?
We all have dirty secrets. Mine is this: Although I run Linux exclusively on all of my computers, I still use Microsoft Office. Why? Because LibreOffice -- even if it's through no fault of its own -- doesn't always get the job done for me. And sometimes I wonder if it ever will.
January 25, 2012
We all have dirty secrets. Mine is this: Although I run Linux exclusively on all of my computers, I still use Microsoft Office. Why? Because LibreOffice — even if it’s through no fault of its own — doesn’t always get the job done for me. And sometimes I wonder if it ever will. Here’s why.
To be clear, I don’t use Microsoft Office exclusively. I process my words in LibreOffice whenever possible, since it runs natively and has a lot of features that I miss in MS Office. I especially like the autocomplete functionality and built-in support for exporting to PDF.
Thanks to the wonders of the Wine emulator (actually, Wine is not an emulator, but we’ll call it one for simplicity’s sake), however, I can run Microsoft Office — in my case, Office 2003, since that was the last copy I bought — just as easily as LibreOffice on my Ubuntu system. As a result, I’ve had it installed for years and keep it updated regularly.
LibreOffice and Microsoft Office Compatibility
And that’s a good thing, because there have been many days when having Microsoft Office so readily accessible has been vitally important for doing my job — usually because I’ve found myself in situations where LibreOffice has been unable to handle Microsoft Office files correctly.
In general, as most of its followers know, LibreOffice can open Word, Excel and Powerpoint files pretty well. It also can save data in those formats without problems most of the time. But occasionally — especially when the documents involved have complicated content such as comments or embedded files — LibreOffice just doesn’t cut it. In other words, it’s good, but it’s not perfect.
In most cases, that would be fine. I’ve been using computers long enough at this point to know there’s no such thing as perfection in the world of software. All the same, the problems with LibreOffice become untenable when they involve sharing files with other people for whom I do need things to be perfect. In my professional life, I can’t send Word files to others and just keep my fingers crossed that they’re not going to see a mash-up of jumbled nonsense when they try to open the file. So instead, I have to use my own copy of Microsoft Office to make sure things look alright before passing the data on.
The root of the problem, of course, is not the fault of the LibreOffice developers or the open source community. It stems from Microsoft’s clinging to proprietary file formats, or obfuscating its implementation of those which ostensibly are open. It all boils down to Redmond being nasty and evil.
But while that may be an excuse, it’s not a solution. Nor is it realistic — at least outside of the universe of the Church of Emacs — to refuse to deal in file formats that LibreOffice cannot read and write natively. An unfortunate fact of life is that the vast, vast majority of humanity opens and saves its documents in Microsoft Office formats, and will probably continue to do so for a long time to come.
Because of these things, I wonder whether LibreOffice will ever be a truly complete replacement for Microsoft Office — and, by extension, if Linux will meet the needs of general computer users as well as proprietary platforms. It’s not that I don’t want it to — I certainly do — but even if it’s unfair, I can’t foresee the total disappearance of compatibility issues in LibreOffice to the point that people who need to do real work in a Microsoft-dominated world will be able to ditch Microsoft Office entirely.
Of course, cloud-based office productivity holds promise for resolving this dilemma by making Microsoft Office and LibreOffice alike obsolete. But the cloud revolution seems to be coming more slowly than promised. Until it achieves its full effect, I’ll have to keep a launcher for Word in my Wine menu, sad as that makes me.
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