If you have to work with people who use Microsoft Office using LibreOffice can be a bit of a challenge. By default the programs in the LibreOffice suite save in Open Document Formats (ODF) that older versions of Microsoft Office programs (older than Microsoft Office 365) cannot read by default.
Generally speaking, if you use LibreOffice exclusively, and don’t need to share editable documents with anyone saving in the default LibreOffice ODF formats is preferable since all data about the document is saved.
LibreOffice programs can save in Office Open XML (OOXML – not to be confused with OpenOffice, which was a precursor to LibreOffice but) formats (.docx, .xslx, .pptx) that Microsoft Office programs understand, but sometimes you might lose some formatting in the translation. LibreOffice has gotten a lot better over the years saving in OOXML formats but there are still issues that persist, especially when using Linux since fonts may not be the same (more on this later).
There are a couple of methods that can be used to save documents in MS Office (OOXML) formats:
- Save each document in the preferred format using Save As.
- Set up each program (LibreOffice Writer, LibreOffice Calc, LibreOffice Impress) to automatically save in MS Office (OOXML) formats.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method.
Using the first method you only save the documents you want in OOXML (.docx, .xslx, .pptx) formats. When you click Save in the first method your document will still be saved in one of the Open Document Formats (.odt, .ods, .odp). Only when you click File and Save As then change to an OOXML format will you save as .docx, .xslx, .pptx. Saving in an ODF format is generally preferable since all data in the document will be saved. The down side to saving in ODF format is certain older versions of Microsoft Office may not be able to read documents in the Open Document Formats. This first method would be the method you’d want to choose if you do a lot of writing for yourself and only need to send the occasional document to someone else.
Using the second method is probably best when you share a lot of documents with people who exclusively use Microsoft Office. The second method is also handy because you won’t need to click Save As each time you edit a document. The down side to the second method is that it can be a bit tricky to set up for each LibreOffice program and not all data might end up in the document (ODF is more complete).
Starting with the first method LibreOffice Writer, the MS Word alternate, will be used as an example since word processing is so important for most people.
Saving LibreOffice Writer .odt files as .docx
LibreOffice Writer is a very capable word processing alternative to Microsoft Word. The Internet is full of opinions and die hard fans of particular software. Sadly LibreOffice is frequently looked down upon by people who’ve spent almost no time with it, or are blind-sided by bias (we all love our favourite applications).
Recently I was called upon to help someone import a document into Microsoft Word. The document had been sent to the person via email, and the person was unable to open the document with Microsoft Word 2016. The document was created by a program under MacOS/iOS that saved the document in Apple’s .pages format. Unfortunately the person who emailed the document didn’t have access to the program that created the document, so they couldn’t Save As and choose a Word-compatible format (they only had access to the .pages document). Fortunately the recipient of the email also had LibreOffice Writer installed. Using LibreOffice Writer we were able to open the .pages document and then use Writer’s Save As function to save the .pages document as a .docx file that Microsoft Word 2016 could understand.
By default LibreOffice Writer saves documents in Open Document Text Format (.odt). To save a document in a format compatible with Microsoft Word 2007 to 365 click:
File > Save As
The in the bottom right corner of the new window that opens select:
ODF Text Document (.odt)
And scroll down until you see:
Word 2007-365 (.docx) format
Finally click the Save button in the top right of the window.
Note that if you scroll down the list even further you can also save the document in Word 97-2003 (.doc) format for compatibility with really old versions of Microsoft Word.
The method works similarly in LibreOffice Calc, the spreadsheet program in the LibreOffice suite:
File > Save As
Instead of ODF Text Document (.odt) LibreOffice Calc displays ODF Spreadsheet (.ods).
Click on that drop down and choose Excel 2007-365 (.xslx) then click Save
Saving documents as a PDF is even simpler
Saving a document as a Portable Document Format (.pdf) is even simpler in LibreOffice. To save a document as a .pdf simply click the PDF icon (4 icons in from the left), name your document, and click the Save button in the top right.
A big advantage of saving a document as a .pdf document is that no matter who you send the document to it should look the same.
One of the common issues you might run into saving a document in OOXML .docx or LibreOffice .odt is when a document uses fonts that might not be installed on another person’s system. For example: if someone on a Xubuntu Linux system uses the Ubuntu font throughout a word processing document that document might look a bit different on a Windows system without the Ubuntu font installed. To get around the problem you could install the Ubuntu font on the Windows system or use the .pdf Portable Document Format (which doesn’t require installing anything extra).
A disadvantage to using the portable document format (.pdf) is that most PDF documents are not editable.
Hybrid PDFs, which can be created in LibreOffice, are PDFs that can be edited, however the editor will also need LibreOffice to edit the Hybrid PDF as Microsoft Office does not support Hybrid PDFs.
The second method for saving documents in Microsoft Office/Office Open Document format (OOXML – .docx, .xlsx, .pptx) is to set up each of the programs to save in OOXML by default. This method is a bit of a pain at first since you have to set up each program individually to save in the particular equivalent format. But once you’ve set each one of the programs in the LibreOffice suite to save in the Microsoft document equivalent you won’t have to change the setting again. If you regularly need to send documents to Microsoft Office users this is the method that will save the most time.
There still may be the previously mentioned font and formatting issues when saving in Microsoft Office-compatible formats, but at least the recipient of the document should be able to open the document.
Click the Tools menu option
In the new window that opens click the triangle pointing right beside Load/Save
Click the General option below Load/Save
Next click the Always save as: (ODF Text Document (*.odt) drop down and change it to Word 2007-365 (.docx) and click the OK button
Note: After you do this with LibreOffice Writer if you try to repeat the same process with LibreOffic Calc you may notice it says (.odt rather than .ods). Change the Document type option above the Always save as from Text document to Spreadsheet, then select the Always save as ODF Spreadsheet (.ods) to change it to an Excel 2007-365 (.xslx) document. The same will also hold true for LibreOffice Impress, the document type may not be set as a Presentation document if you previously opened another LibreOffice program.
Reasons to choose LibreOffice
To see some of the differences between LibreOffice and Microsoft Office check out the Document Foundation’s comparison here: https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Feature_Comparison:_LibreOffice_-_Microsoft_Office
The most obvious difference between the two suites is the fact that LibreOffice doesn’t cost any money. At the time I’m writing this Microsoft Office Home and Business 2021 costs $319 CDN and includes Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint. A 12-month license for Microsoft Office 365 is currently selling for $79.99CDN for a single user license.
Another advantage the LibreOffice suite has is that you can make copies for all the family, and use it on as many machines as you’d like. The license for Office Home and Business 2021 and 365 (at the price stated above) are for single users. Office 365 has extra user licenses, but of course those cost more. Being able to share software without guilt is a nice feature to have. With the cost of everything going up these days it’s nice to have software you can use everywhere without incurring extra expense.
Another area I found LibreOffice to be a bit better at is when pasting web data into a document.
Both LibreOffice and Microsoft Office can do things the other suite cannot. Neither suite is perfect. LibreOffice is a great free alternative to Microsoft Office, and because it can import and save into so many different formats it’s a great addition to anyone’s software library.