LibreOffice and Microsoft Office are the two dominant office productivity suites used by millions worldwide. With Microsoft Office being the long-standing market leader, can the free and open-source LibreOffice really provide a viable replacement? In this in-depth comparison, we‘ll examine the key differences between the two suites.
The History of LibreOffice and Microsoft Office
To understand this matchup, we first need to understand the origins of each suite.
LibreOffice was forked in 2010 from OpenOffice.org, which itself originated in 1999 from StarOffice. It is now developed by The Document Foundation and the broader open-source community. Over the past decade, LibreOffice has grown to become the most popular open-source office suite across all platforms with an estimated 30 million users as of 2022.
Microsoft Office originated back in 1989 with the release of Microsoft Word and Excel for Windows. It quickly grew to dominate the office suite market in the 1990s and 2000s by bundling Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other desktop apps. The first version of Office as we know it today appeared in 1990. Microsoft Office has remained the market leader ever since, with current estimates of over 1.2 billion users of its Windows and MacOS versions.
According to market research, Microsoft Office holds about 85% market share globally, with the rest split primarily between LibreOffice, Apple‘s iWork suite, and legacy versions of Office itself. Clearly, Microsoft Office retains dominant mindshare after decades of growth. But can the free alternative eat into its market in a meaningful way?
Pricing – The Cost of Productivity
One of the starkest differences between LibreOffice and Microsoft Office is in pricing.
LibreOffice is entirely free – its software can be downloaded, installed, and used at no monetary cost even for commercial purposes. Users are free to copy, distribute, and modify LibreOffice as well since it is open-source software.
Microsoft Office requires an ongoing subscription. Home users must purchase a Microsoft 365 Personal or Family plan starting at $99.99 annually. Business plans like Office 365 run around $150 per user per year for the premium versions. These recurring subscription costs make Microsoft Office a significant long-term investment.
Over a 5 year period, a 100 employee business could potentially spend over $750,000 on Microsoft 365 licenses. For large enterprises, these costs can run into the millions of dollars per year.
Many users may not need all the advanced capabilities and prefer avoiding this lock-in. For them, LibreOffice provides substantial cost savings over Microsoft Office‘s licensing model. However, businesses get guaranteed support, updates and compatibility assurances by paying Microsoft‘s fees.
Applications and Features
Both suites provide a variety of applications for common office and productivity tasks. Let‘s examine them side-by-side:
LibreOffice offers the core set of office applications for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that cover most day-to-day needs. But Microsoft Office includes more specialized programs that LibreOffice lacks equivalents for like Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Visio.
Office also provides more features and functionality within its core apps:
Collaborative editing – Built-in real-time co-authoring abilities in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to view and merge edits from multiple users. No equivalent in LibreOffice.
Advanced data analysis – More powerful data modeling, forecasting, and business intelligence capabilities in Excel through Power Pivot and Power Query.
Macro programming – Robust Visual Basic macro support to automate repetitive tasks. Limited to Python macros in LibreOffice.
Tight cloud integration – OneDrive and SharePoint integration for seamless online file storage and collaboration. LibreOffice has no built-in support.
Formats – Better compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats like Word .doc files and Excel .xls workbooks.
For mainstream use, LibreOffice provides sufficient features. But Microsoft Office caters better to power users and enterprise needs.
Compatibility and Integration
In terms of compatibility, LibreOffice holds the advantage for cross-platform support. It runs natively on Windows, macOS and Linux with the same feature set on each.
Microsoft Office is restricted solely to Windows 10+ and macOS Catalina+. This excludes users on legacy Windows versions, Linux, and older Macs from accessing the latest Office without upgrades or workarounds.
For file formats, both suites can generally handle the most common types like DOCX, XLSX and PPTX. But Microsoft Office has better compatibility with older formats like .doc and .xls that may have originated two decades ago in older Office versions.
When converting these vintage files to LibreOffice, issues like broken macros, formatting changes, and data corruption are more likely to occur compared to opening them in their native Office environment. This can frustrate users needing access to legacy Office documents.
Microsoft Office also provides tight cloud integration with OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams. Files and documents can be seamlessly accessed from any device. LibreOffice has no built-in cloud support, requiring users to utilize third-party options like Google Drive, complicating online collaboration efforts.
User Support Resources
Microsoft Office comes with extensive official documentation, how-to guides, troubleshooting, and customer support options through Microsoft‘s vast technical resources.
As open source software, LibreOffice offers no official support. Users need to rely on community-based options like forums, mailing lists, FAQs, chat rooms and wiki pages for assistance. The lack of guaranteed backing can be a drawback for enterprise deployment.
Analyst Nick McQuire of CSS Insights says, "For IT considering LibreOffice, the lack of vendor support is an Achilles heel compared to the comprehensive support infrastructure Microsoft has invested in for Office 365 customers."
Third-party companies offer paid LibreOffice support plans, but quality varies widely. Overall, professional help will be harder to obtain compared to Microsoft‘s dedicated help channels.
When Can LibreOffice Replace Microsoft Office?
For many average home users and small businesses focused on everyday word processing and spreadsheet needs, LibreOffice provides a free yet capable alternative to avoid Microsoft Office‘s subscription costs. Students and budget-conscious organizations may also find it meets basic requirements.
However, Microsoft Office remains the best solution for enterprise deployments and power users who rely on specialized features, legacy compatibility, cloud collaboration, and professional support. The subscription fee grants access to capabilities unavailable in LibreOffice.
Individuals should consider whether the advanced functionality is worth the recurring investment. But for most large organizations, migrating fully to LibreOffice remains challenging, leading many to adopt a mixed environment.
LibreOffice offers a compelling free option for core office productivity. But for now, Microsoft Office retains its position as the suite of choice for demanding corporate and business use thanks to its maturity and extensive capabilities.