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13 October, 2020

Nice Sunset from the hilltop

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Office Suites

Onlyoffice / LibreOffice / Google Docs
Interested to discover the "Onlyoffice (ONLYOFFICE ?) Desktop editors" suite, which is released under a free open source licence. It has a much cleaner interface than LibreOffice and claims to have greater compatibility with Microsoft Office, because it natively saves in the same XML formats developed by Microsoft. The latter is a more important feature than the user interface, and somewhat sets it apart from all the other non-MS office suites that I know. Otherwise, it has less functionality than either Microsoft Office or LibreOffice, but probably has the main features than most people need. It could not be a complete solution for me, because it does not cater to Right-to-Left languages. There is some progress in that but, in my experience, if an application does not begin with RTL support, it's hard to implement later.

Approaching Onlyoffice only from the perspective of usage as a standalone desktop application does it a great disservice, as it actually intended more for online collaboration, at which it no doubt excels, but I currently have no use for that.

LibreOffice, meanwhile, never seems to attain full compatibility with MS Office formats. Google Docs actually does better, in some respects. On the other hand, Google Docs' compatibility with LibreOffice's Ocean / Open Document formats is inferior (again, according to my experience, rather than rigorous testing). There is no excuse for that. As many people complain, LibreOffice's user interface is lousy, and, in some ways has gotten worse. In earlier versions, I found it easier to use LibreOffice Writer's document styles. I still find it easier to use styles than in MS Office, but it might be because I'm more experienced with LibreOffice.

On the other hand, in recent versions, LibreOffice's equivalent of the ribbon interface is showing more maturity. It still isn't the default option and, typical of LibreOffice, there is a confusing variety of 9 different user interfaces to choose from. All of them can show also the standard menu bar, in case one gets lost. The "tabbed compact" interface seems like a reasonable choice. Speaking of tabs, LibreOffice still lacks document tabs, unlike OnlyOffice.

It's been a while since I have looked at the other office suites available. In the past I didn't find any compelling reason to prefer them over LibreOffice; all of them seemed to have a serious flaw, such as use of home grown or proprietary formats, poor compatibility or lack of essential features. So right now, the only office suites I'm using are LibreOffice and sometimes Google Docs - at my workplace we use the latter for collaboration. After all the editing is completed, there is no choice but to export to PDF, in order not to be let down by formatting incompatibilities. This isn't ideal. Everyone, including Microsoft, should be standardizing on OpenDocument Formats by now, but I don't think that's ever going to happen.

For personal use, FeatherPad is adequate for my needs.