How LibreOffice Writer Tops MS Word: 12 Features: Page 3

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


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9) Paragraph by Paragraph Hyphenation

How a document is hyphenated strongly affects its final appearance. Word treats hyphenation strictly on the document level. You can hyphenate manually, making decisions for yourself, or automatically. For automatic hyphenation, you can choose to limit the number of consecutive hyphens at the end of lines, and the "hyphenation zone"or the space in which hyphenation may occur at the end of the line.

In Writer, hyphenation is a feature of paragraph styles. This orientation has the advantage of letting you adjust hyphenation according to the format, letting it be looser on a line with a ragged right alignment, or tighter on a line with a justified alignment.

Just as important, instead of using the ambiguous concept of a "hyphenation zone," Writer lets you adjust hyphenation in the much more meaningful unit of characters at the end and start of a line. Writer does include a document hyphenation tool as well, but that is mostly a finishing touch, like spell checking to clean up what the paragraph settings have been unable to handle as you've rearranged text.

10) Improved Table of Contents Options

Word generates tables of contents quickly, using existing templates. However, the result is uneditable, and invariably runs leader dots between the title and page number -- a sure sign of failed design to any typographer.

Writer provides a far wider arrange of possibilities. You can adjust the position of all the components of a table of contents entry, or whether they appear at all. Each level of the table includes its own editable paragraph style, and, while Writer, like Word, assumes you will use heading styles to create entries, you can also manually enter other markers as well.

The result is a far richer set of design options than in Word, a set that is far more easily updated.

11) Advanced PDF Options

Both Writer and Word support saving a file as PDF. However, Word provides only basic options. Either you can choose to produce a minimal sized or print quality PDF, or you can chose from a handful of options, such as page range, and whether to create bookmarks or password protect the PDF.

As free software often does, Writer's Export to PDF provides an exhaustive set of options for those who want them. Instead of Word's vague options for quality, Writer lets you set the image quality and resolution.

Similarly, you can decide exactly how links in the original are handled and exactly what is password protected. In addition, it lets you set the details of the initial view for the PDF and the window in which it displays. Short of going to Acrobat itself, you won't find a more complete set of options for PDF creation.

12) Stability, Long Documents, and Recovery

MS Office 2010 is generally credited with having the reputation of being far more stable than earlier releases. However, a service pack has been released, and stability remains a relative concept.

Rearranging material can still leave a document in hopeless confusion, and, in general, the use of word should be confined either to documents that contain only text and are under about thirty pages, and documents with graphics, tables, and other objects of under twenty pages.

The verdict is also out on whether master documents in Word are reliable -- mainly, from what I can figure, because experienced users have developed such a phobia about master documents corrupting their files that they never use them.

The situation in Writer is much different. From first-hand experience, I can say that two gigabytes of RAM is enough for tolerable performance while editing documents of up to five hundred pages without documents. And while I have had master documents (and one or two other large files) crash LibreOffice, I have always recovered them without them being corrupted, and almost always without a recurrence.

The main reason for crashes in LibreOffice appears to be system memory. With sixteen gigabytes of RAM, Writer has yet to crash any document that I have opened -- something that I can't say about Word.

The Difference in the Design

These twelve features are not cherry-picked. Rather, they are a result of going through the menus item by item, ignoring cosmetic differences and concentrating on the major functional ones.

To be fair, you could make a similar (if probably shorter) list of Word's advantages that would include superior outlining and cross-reference systems, as well as grammar checking. Word also comes with a larger selection of templates, although a few dozen downloads of Writer templates would soon remedy that.

Moreover, the discussion could be complicated immensely by considering all the available add-ons. For instance, as Word installs, it lacks Writer's hidden sections and paragraphs, offering only the much more cumbersome hidden text. With an add-on, it achieves parity.

In the same way, LibreOffice's extension PDF Import gives it an ability utterly lacking in Word. However, since many users are unaware of these extras, I have left them out for simplicity’s sake.

However, when all these considerations are taken into account, what is striking is not just that Writer more than holds its own, but the pattern that its advantages fall into.

Features like the Navigator emphasize that Writer is a mid-level desktop publishing app as much as a word processor. In fact, as I proved to myself years ago, LibreOffice makes a more than adequate substitute for FrameMaker, which is intended for long, text-oriented documents.

Further proof of Writer's design is its emphasis on styles, and its ability to fine-tune features whose defaults a Word user often has no choice except to accept. The closer you look, the more Writer seems designed for those who frequently write documents of over twenty pages, and who want the option sometimes to control layout closely, sometimes down to the last millimeter.

By contrast, Word's design favors shorter documents, and users who are less concerned with layout and exactness than getting a task done with a minimum of distraction.

Moreover, while a bit of preparation can make Writer suitable for light users, little can be done to make Word suitable for more demanding users.

Really, the superficial conventional wisdom has the wrong view entirely. It's not LibreOffice Writer that needs to catch up to MS Word. From an expert's perspective, it's frequently MS Word that needs to catch up by LibreOffice Writer.

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


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

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