LibreOffice 3 vs Office 2010

Hey fellow serfs,

The Microsoft Tribe forum has been inundated by Windows Phone 7 posts recently so I figured I'd try and break this trend with something different. There was an article in my local newspaper the other day about how Microsoft Office is garbage and people should instead consider one of the multitudes of free and open-source alternatives out there. Mentions of LibreOffice, Apache's OpenOffice and even the much-lauded Google Docs were casually suggested by the commenters as viable choices.

This got my panties in a twist. It was pretty worrisome to see so many people passionately lambaste a software that I use pretty much every day without problems. Was everything these anonymous crusaders complained about true? Was Office so bad that it deserved to be forced to its knees and have its brains blown out? How much of a magnitude better were these alternatives? Surely Microsoft could just release an update that addressed all of these criticisms!

I decided to do an experiment. I pitted two of the most popular word processors against each other to determine which was the better programme. In particular, I wanted to test which was slower and which more difficult to use (especially after Office's UI overhaul).

As I wanted to clear its name, I obviously picked Microsoft Office 2010 as the first contestant in this contest. Millions of people use Word, PowerPoint or Excel every day and I felt like it was up to me to validate their choice in software.

The second challenger was a bit more difficult to choose from. It was originally going to be Google Docs but, however much people love it, it honestly isn't as full-featured as a typical desktop programme. Furthermore, as it is a cloud-based service, it is also woefully unreliable. Microsoft Office would've crushed it like that pathetic bug it is. Instead, I decided to go for the FOSS community's current flagship word processor (or at least until they jump ship again), LibreOffice 3.

These are my results.

Performance

One of the main criticisms of Microsoft Word is that it's slow and bloated so that was the first thing I wanted to test out. Now I'm not a professional reviewer or anything so I don't have any of those cool tools -- those so-called "benchmarks" -- that people use to determine performance or whatnot. Instead, I just recorded a couple of values from both programmes and then compared them to one another.

Boot-up

The first performance test was how long both programmes took on the first run through. This means that they haven't been launched at all since I restarted my computer. I started recording the time as soon as I clicked on the software's tile on the Start Screen and stopped when the programme finished loading (i.e. it finally became usable). The one that takes the less time to load is considered the faster one.

I had high hopes for LibreOffice Writer. A programme where anybody is able to contribute to its development would surely meant that some genius developer would have found a way to make it load almost instantaneously. Unfortunately that was not the case at all. It took approximate twenty-three seconds for it to load. And that's not including it reaching a usable state!

I took the following screenshot about fifteen seconds into the software's start up.

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Given Word's reputation, I expected it to take forever (and possibly even lock up my machine). Perhaps it would even download a virus or two! However, this all turned out to be misinformation as it only took about three seconds to reach a usable state! That's twenty seconds less than Writer! I didn't even have enough time to do something stupid like stand up and then sit down again! This experience has totally shattered my belief in the authority of anonymous comments on the internet.

Unfortunately, I was unable to take a screenshot of Word's splash screen because it was too quick to load.

Memory usage

My next stop to determine whether Microsoft Word was truly bloated or not. The general consensus was that it is but nobody I know has ever offered visual proof of it... until now. After writing a couple of paragraphs of the same text in both Word and Writer, I fired up Task Manager to see which was consuming more memory. What I found astounded me.

You would think that Microsoft Word would be a resource hog, probably even eating up to a gigabyte of RAM. However, you'd be wrong. It actually averaged around 13 MB of memory usage for the entire duration in which I used it.

LibreOffice Writer, on the other hand, clocked in at a whopping 110 MB. It's not that big of a deal but the fact that it takes almost ten times the amount of RAM to run than Word implies that Word may not be as bloated as people perceive it to be.

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On a side note, I also opened up a Google Docs up in Chrome to see how it would fare against its desktop brethren. Given both Google Docs and Chrome's reputations as resource efficient, I believed it would be a good indication of how lean Microsoft Word truly is. Guess what? It ended up using around 49 MB of memory. That's almost more than Word!

I was pleasantly surprised at Word's performance. It loads quickly and uses next to no RAM. On the other hand, I am very disappointed that LibreOffice was not all it was cracked up to be in terms of performance. Maybe with its old-school toolbar-based interface, it would fare better when it came to actually editing documents.

Editing

Many people have berated the new Ribbon interface because it apparently takes more effort to edit stuff than with toolbars. Apparently where people would once only have to click three or four times to get something done, they now had to click more than ten times! However, is that really the case? That's what I'm here to find out.

Default style

I've heard mentioned a couple of times that LibreOffice documents just look better than Office 2010. My next test was to determine whether this is true or not. I copy and pasted (without its original formatting) an extract from a document that I stole from the internet. I then compared and judged which programme's default style was superior. Keep in mind that this is all personal preference and that you can probably change the default styles in both software.

Since Office 2007, Microsoft Word has used Calibri as its default font. Whilst I personally don't like the look of it on screen, it's pretty sexy on paper. For headings, Word uses an amazing serif font called Cambria. It goes great with Calibri and, in addition to being blue, it it really stands out. Another unique aspect to newer versions of Word include the extra padding at the bottom of paragraphs. I also really like this. It doesn't use as much space as making a new line but there's still enough of it for people to determine that it's a new paragraph.

LibreOffice 3 on the other hand continues to use Times New Roman as its default font and Arial for headings. It's a pretty boring style and I'm honestly not feeling it anymore. Furthermore, there is no padding at the bottom of paragraphs. You instead have to do that old-school thing where you have to make two new lines. Microsoft also did this up until Office 2003 so people who haven't migrated to the Ribbon interface will feel at home here. However, I feel like it's just another one of those unnecessary tasks that users shouldn't have to worry about.

This is all really a matter of personal preference and, in my honest opinion, Microsoft Word is not just more modern but just looks better in general.

Formatting

Most people use word processors to simply write out documents with a bit of formatting in them.[citation needed] Furthermore, whereas power users would use keyboard shortcuts, normal people will just click all over the place.[citation needed] In this test, I reformatted the document from before to its original state using nothing but my mouse. The programme that requires the least clicks is considered the winner.

I tested Microsoft Word first. With so much naysay about the Ribbon interface, I was certain in the belief that it would take a million steps to recreate the KeePass software requirements specification. The fact that it only took 23 mouse clicks was a pleasant surprise. Everything I needed to format the document was all there in front of me. All I had to do was select the string that I wanted to change and then click on the required button.

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One cool feature unique to Office is the mini-toolbar thing that fades in whenever you make a selection. It contains all of the most commonly used formatting functions, e.g. change font, add indent, emphasise, etc. This significantly reduces the distance that you have to move your mouse for the most common of tasks.

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On the other hand, it took me forty-nine clicks to fully format the text in the free and open-source LibreOffice Writer. Everything was hidden in various drop-down and context menus scattered throughout the software. I spent a good one minute looking for how to set a word to bold before realising that I had to right-click. I even contemplated using the keyboard shortcut. That's how frustrating it was!

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I'm also still pretty disappointed at how ugly the stock styles are. Professional, my arse. Look at how disgusting that looks.

Tables

Another important aspect of word processing is table management. Every once in a while, a user will want to organise a bunch of data into something legible. A table has historically been the way to do this.

Inserting a table in Word 2010 was pretty intuitive in my opinion. You click on the Insert tab at the top and then click on the Table button. You are then greeted with a cool interactive grid thing where you can pick how many columns and rows your wanted your table to be.

In the document itself, a preview table appeared that dynamically updated depending on your selection. It was very fetch.

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LibreOffice does table management a little bit differently. There's a Table menu item that you have to click. Following that, you have to select the Insert Table submenu item. Like pretty much everything else about LibreOffice Writer, it's pretty basic if not a little boring.

A table pops up asking you how many columns and rows you want your table to be. The table is generated as soon as you click enter.

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Whilst I can understand how many people think a dialogue window where you enter in the number of columns and rows is easier than an interactive table generator, I have to go with Word on this one. It is obvious that some work went into making it as cool as it is (whereas I have a fleeting suspicion that not much as much thought or effort went into LibreOffice's version).

Equation editor

Microsoft Word 2010 has hands down the best equation editor outside of a dedicated mathematical markup language. You can either type in the equation manually or you can use the graphical editor. Both are good and automatically update the equation for you.

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I honestly didn't know how to insert an equation into my LibreOffice document. I think it involves actually going into LibreOffice Math (sic), saving that document and then importing it. I've used LibreOffice Math before and, to be brutally honest, it was garbage.

That said, I believe Office 2010 is once again the winner of another category.

Cross-platform support

The predominant reason why people recommend LibreOffice over Office (besides the hooha about how it's free and open source) is that it is cross-platform. LibreOffice is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. A port for Android, iOS and the web are currently in the works. Meanwhile, if you want to use the latest version of Word, you apparently need a legitimate copy of the latest version of Windows.

Unfortunately, this is not true. Office has dedicated software applications for Windows, Mac OS X, Windows Phone 7 and Symbian. There is also a cloud based version of Office -- called Microsoft SkyDrive -- for people who don't have any of the aforementioned platforms. This is available in both desktop and mobile flavours. Furthermore, Linux users can use Office through Wine.

So yeah, not true at all. Stop lying!

Wrap-up

I really wanted Word 2010 to succeed. However, like Microsoft's much-maligned Windows Phone 7, it suffers from what a great man once referred to as a "death from a thousand cuts". Despite its beautiful and thoughtful design, all the little problematic things end up causing a kind of snowball effect that results in your hating of the software.

For example, the scrolling felt bit wonky. Don't ask me for exactly for exact details however. It's honestly just the vibe of the scrolling that I don't like. I dunno -- you just gotta believe that it's not good.

The ecosystem for Office is also pretty lacking. Whereas LibreOffice is open source and probably has millions if not billions of plugins ready to be installed at a moment's notice, Office is the epitome of a barren wasteland. Don't like the way something works? Well unfortunately there's no app for that.

The killing blow, however, is that Office has no respect for standard keyboard shortcuts. For example, copying a string isn't activated by the usual Command + C that everybody has grown to know and love. It's some weird thing that I have yet to figure out. I even tried the vim command of y but that didn't work in the least!

So despite Office exceeding expectations and actually dominating every test I threw at it, all these little things have forced me to proclaim that LibreOffice Writer is the better word processor. I would not recommend anybody use Office 2010 at all.

Next week I'll be discussing about how Visual Studio doesn't compare to other professional developer tools (like Xcode or eclipse) despite my really wishing for it to succeed.