The first full stable release of the Document Foundation’s LibreOffice (news, site) -- a competitor to OpenOffice and Microsoft Office -- has been released as version 3.3 and already looks set to cause a stir.

The release comes after only four months -- and a number of beta editions -- and has seen the number of hackers joining the project grow from less than 20 in September, when the Document Foundation announced the OpenOffice fork, to over 100 as of this week.

Support for the project is also growing from open source fellow-travelers like Red Hat and Novell, while Ubuntu has announced that in its upcoming release of v11.04 of “Natty Narwhal” it will replace OpenOffice with LibreOffice as its office suite.

Significant Release

Whatever the reaction around the web, the Document Foundation is calling v3.3 -- labeled version 3.3 so that users don't think this is completely new -- a significant achievement on three levels:

  1. The developer community has been able to build it in double-quick time, given the size of the code base and the project’s ambitions, using their own and independent processes.
  2. Because of the high number of new contributors, the source code for LibreOffice can be cleaned up very quickly so as to build a better foundation for future versions.
  3. The Windows installer has been integrated into a single build, containing all language versions and cutting the download size from 75GBs to 11GBs.

. . . we are eager to get user feedback, which will be integrated as soon as possible into the code, with the first enhancements being released in February. Starting from March, we will be moving to a real time-based, predictable, transparent and public release schedule, in accordance with Engineering Steering Committee’s goals and users’ requests . . .” Caolán McNamara from RedHat, one of the developer community leaders said.

LibreOffice-Lotus Importer.jpg

LibreOffice's Lotus Importer

V3.3 Features

Like the beta and release candidates, there are numerous upgrades and improvements in this version. However there are four that will be of interest to business users. These include:

  • Writer: Writer is the word processor inside LibreOffice. As well as everyday write functions it is also powerful enough to deal with many desktop publishing tasks like brochure creation or multi-column news letters.
  • Calc: Calc is for numbers and provides charts and analysis tools as well as the ability to add data from external sources including SQL or Oracle databases. Using graphing functions, users can produce 2D and 3D graphics from13 different categories.
  • Base: Base is the database front-end of the LibreOffice suite. With Base, users can seamlessly integrate existing database structures based on imported and linked tables and queries from MySQL, PostgreSQL or Microsoft Access and many other data sources
  • Impress: Impress is for creating multimedia presentations with animations and other special effects
  • Draw: Draw enables users to build diagrams from scratch -- even dynamic 3D illustrations


LibreOffice Writer

It also comes configured with a PDF file creator, the ability to import and work with SVG files, an easy way to format title pages and their numbering in Writer and Microsoft Works and Lotus Word Pro document import filters.


LibreOffice SVG

Future Releases

While there aren’t a lot of obvious differences at this stage between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, the Document Foundation says that once the next point release is made, the differences should become clearer.

Dates for those releases are approximate, but all going well, the full version of 3.4 should be ready on May 2nd, with a number of RCs in the intervening period.

If you can’t wait until then, LibreOffice hackers will be meeting at FOSDEM in Brussels on February 5 and 6. There, they will be presenting their work during a one-day workshop on February 6, with speeches and hacking sessions coordinated by several members of the project.