For casual users, one of the strengths of Office is that, for every formatting element, it provides pre-formatted choices, all visible in a click or two down from the editing window.
At some point, OpenOffice.org began to do the same. In Writer, for example, you can select a table Autoformat, and in adding a bullet list, you can opt to choose a graphic bullet. Similarly, in Calc, you can add Autoformats to customize a range of cells or an entire sheet, while Impress has a couple of templates for structuring content.
The trouble is, these features are half-hearted and were never followed through. Today, they are limited and hidden in the menus and dialog windows. But, to make matters worse, from the color palettes, the selection must have been made in the mid-1990s, if not earlier. To a modern eye, they look too drab to be worth using.
These are not the only places where LibreOffice could use improvement. For instance, its cross-reference system is clumsy and requires too many steps -- but the same thing must be said about MS Office. A system like the one in FrameMaker, where users can store cross-reference formats that are a mixture of text and building blocks, similar to the one LibreOffice uses for tables of content, would be an immense improvement.
Another task that needs improvement is outlining. Few users understand why multi-level lists can be created using numbering styles or the Outline Numbering utility in the Tool menu, and how the two are related. The Condition tab in each paragraph style remains a similar mystery.
However, looking back over the functions where Microsoft Office has the advantage over LibreOffice, I see several patterns. Some are features that are simply missing and could be added if anyone was willing to work on them. Others are a matter of increasing ease of use by adding a few resources. A few are the coding equivalent of appendixes and male nipples, retained in the evolutionary rush but with their purposes long lost.
Even with these flaws, LibreOffice has a lot to offer -- more, I believe, than MS Office. Not only is LibreOffice free-licensed, but its features and stability are usually sounder than MS Office's, especially in its word processor, and it’s great for people who want absolute control over formatting and are prepared to take the time to get it.
Still, some aspects of LibreOffice are holding it back. I look forward to the day when these -- and other flaws -- are corrected, and LibreOffice becomes what it should have been all along.
ALSO SEE THE COUNTERPOINT ARTICLE: How LibreOffice Writer Tops MS Word: 12 Features
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