Vendor-bender LibreOffice kicks out 6.4: Community project feel, though now with added auto-█████ tool

Performance-focused release with a few new features

LibreOffice Calc 6.4 in its online guise
LibreOffice Calc 6.4 in its online guise

The Document Foundation has updated its free and open-source LibreOffice suite to 6.4, which it describes as "performance focused", though there are also new features.

LibreOffice is a large office suite, and there are seven applications included: Writer for word processing, Calc for spreadsheets, Draw, Impress for presentations, Math for creating and editing mathematical expressions (with support for MathML, Base for database management, and a largely pointless LibreOffice Start Centre where you can launch the other components. There is also an online version which you can download pre-installed in a Docker container, or use a hosted version from Collabora (a key LibreOffice contributor).

Given the size of the suite, the list of new features in 6.4 is relatively small. One that caught our eye is auto-redaction. The redaction feature was new in version 6.3 but is now enhanced with a dialogue that automatically redacts text based on a text string or regular expression.

Auto redact in LibreOffice 6.4

Auto-redact in LibreOffice 6.4

Another notable feature is Insert QR code, a specialist requirement but handy if you need it. A common use is to put up posters that allow users with mobile phones to navigate to a website without having to type in an URL – provided they have installed a QR code reader.

There is improved table handling with "Paste special" options for pasting data into tables and a new sidebar panel for formatting and editing.

You can now attach comments to images and charts as well as to text, and all comments can now be marked as resolved. Users can also prevent shapes from overlapping in Writer by unchecking "Allow overlap" in shape properties. Previously all shapes were allowed to overlap.

Calc has faster calculation on multi-core CPUs thanks to better use of parallelism, and there is an option to export Calc files to PDF with all pages on one sheet.

LibreOffice is free software licensed under Mozilla Public License 2.0. The scope and rich range of features in the suite is impressive, and it runs on Linux, macOS and Windows, with a version for Android as well. In our experience it works well, and as the 6.4 announcement says it is ideal for businesses that want to "free themselves from vendor lock-in."

That said, the suite still has the feel of a community project in places. Hit help in the auto-redact dialog, for example, and nothing comes up; you are dumped in the home page of the Writer documentation. In fairness, the company also says that "LibreOffice 6.4 represents the bleeding edge in term of features for open source office suites" and recommends 6.3.4 for "users whose main objective is personal productivity". The Liberation Serif font, which is the default, does not look good on screen, in Windows at least. The kerning is not quite right, which affects readability.

Nitpicking perhaps, but things like this are why the suite is less professional in feel than Microsoft Office, even though there are certain areas (MathML for example) where LibreOffice has better support.

The 10th anniversary year of LibreOffice is kicking off with a release that has some small but welcome improvements. ®

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