How LibreOffice Writer Tops MS Word: 12 Features

If you think LibreOffice Writer is outclassed by MS Word, you need to take another look.

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ALSO SEE THE COUNTERPOINT ARTICLE: How Microsoft Office Tops LibreOffice: 11 Features


When reviewers look at LibreOffice and its ancestor, they inevitably assume that it’s inferior to Microsoft Office. At the very most, they may grudgingly find it acceptable for undemanding users.

However, when you examine LibreOffice and MS Office without assumptions, the comparison changes dramatically. That's especially true when looking at the word processors, LibreOffice's Writer and MS Office's Word.

For one thing, features frequently have different names in Writer and Word. Although LibreOffice and have a history of conforming to MS Office's name-choices -- for example, in the spreadsheets, data pilots were recently renamed pivot tables to match Excel's usage -- holdouts remain. For example, the equivalent of Word's AutoSummary in Writer remains AutoAbstract.

For another, features are not always in the same positions in Writer and Word. Since Word sports a ribbon interface while LibreOffice remains with a traditional menu, finding equivalent features is even harder than a decade ago, because Word often buries advanced features several levels down, often in drop-down lists.

Once you get to know Writer and Word, the differences become less clear-cut. To a degree, Writer has always imitated Word in the hopes of being competitive. More important, in the last few years the two have been in a mostly unnoticed arms race, with one rarely adding another feature without the other one copying it as soon as possible.

Far from one having an obvious advantage, in recent years the feature lists of Writer and Word have become closer than ever.

All the same, some basic differences remain. Far from being the underdog in every circumstance, Writer has at least twelve major advantages over Word. Together, these advantages not only suggest a very different design philosophy from Word, but also demonstrate that, from the perspective of an expert user, Writer is the superior tool.

1) The Navigator

Word has a pane on the left side of the editing window that uses headings as a tool for moving through a document. However, with Writer's Navigator, you can jump back and forth in a document not just by heading styles, but by any type of object you care to name: tables, frames, graphics, comments, links, or anything else you care to name.

Get into the habit of naming objects instead of accepting defaults like Table1, and the Navigator becomes even more powerful. Moreover, since the Navigator is a floating window, you can place it anywhere on the screen, so that it doesn't reduce the size of the editing window.

And that's not all: the Navigator can be used as a basic outliner and as a table of contents for a master document made up smaller documents. It's a little like KRunner or GNOME+Do -- a flexible, minimalist tool for advanced users. The longer the document, the more powerful you'll find the Navigator.

2) The Styles and Formatting Window

Another floating window, Styles and Formatting is even more powerful than the Navigator. Opened by pressing F11, it places all of LibreOffice's five categories of styles -- paragraphs, characters, frames, pages, and lists -- within easy reach, providing different views of each category, and allowing easy creation and modification of styles. Much of its functionality is also available in Word, but several layers down -- an arrangement that discourages users from adding the elegance of styles to their workflows.

True, Word does have style previews, which Styles and Formatting lacks. But previews are only useful for characters; for paragraphs, they would need to show at least three lines to be useful. Besides, when you can easy apply a style to the document directly as an experiment, then change it just as easily, previews become redundant.

3) Page Styles

In Word, you can adjust all the usual page features, from margins to the number of columns. But different page orientations and designs can only be added as a kludge, and all paragraphs have the same alignment.

Writer's addition of page styles gives you far more flexibility with less effort. By careful use of the Organizer tab, you can set your document to change page styles automatically, so that a First Page style is always followed by a Left Page and a Left Page by a Right Page. Since headers and footers are also attached to page style, you can also use different header and footer styles automatically.

4) Separate List Styles

Although the fact is hidden, Word does allow you to create paragraph styles that include a bullet or numbered list. In Word 2010, you can even create a multi-level style, which was difficult in earlier releases.

However, Writer makes list styles separate, and gains two advantages. First, the same list style can be used by more than one paragraph style, which reduces the number of styles to set up.

Second, because lists are a separate style category in Writer, there is more room in the dialog window for customizing features. Among other things, you can use a text or graphical bullet, and position the text precisely in relation to the bullet or number. You can even use a warning sign as a large bullet in order to add it automatically in an instruction manual.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Office, Word, LibreOffice

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