This morning I read a news article about LIbreoffice, which made me reflect of my office suite journey. Reading the article from Makeuseof, and looking at the web based interface brought back a flood of memories. I have tinkered around with open source and propereiraty  office suites since 2000. The 2024 update about LibreOffice, the free and open source office suite, is the latest in this journey.

Extract from my March 2024 Facebook Post

“While with my Words I may get away, I do not Excel in using MS office. At best, can call it presentable, pointed, not powerful. Of course it depends on one’s Outlook. Don’t get Swayed by the fancy features, One Notes they have too many applications, and depending on One’s Drive, I may consider myself a Co-Pilot in case of Playing tech support to the Mrs for all matters MS office. That makes us a Team of two.

On a separate note:
Open source is the way, not the (respectable) Office suite bundled in Jio laptops.
I do my writing in Markdown, but I’ve been using LibreOffice since…. gosh its Staroffice ancestry days in early 2000s. Don’t miss MS office a bit.”

From Staroffice in 2000 to Libreoffice in 2024

I first used Star office in 2001, when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Over the subsequent years, I used different versions of this office suite as I traversed my journey with Linux and Open Source. Many of you may be aware that Libreoffice and Openoffice have roots in Star Office, the office suite that was developed by Sun Microsystems. The development of the Staroffice project has stopped for a long time. Its last version was called Oracle Open Office. Around 2012, Apache Openoffice was released. There are other incarnations, such as Neo Office for Mac, but LibreOffice remains the most well known and actively developed fork (technically, fork of a fork) of Star Office today. Star office project may be long dead, but Apache Openoffice is still around. I was pleasantly surprised to find them discussing issues and making announcements even in 2021 and 2022.

Update: the open source version of Staroffice was called (Thanks to user “angstrom” at Low End Spirit for this clarification). Sun Office on a Windows machine. Source: Internet Archives

Screenshot of Staroffice5.2, blog post on office suite journey by Amar Vyas
Screenshot of Staroffice5.2

Web based open sourced office suites

Obi Won Kenobi in Star Wars, gif used in blog post on Office suite journey by Amar Vyas

I used my “Kitchen Sink” desktop test this open source online office suite. That machine has 24 GB RAM and is connected to the faster network at home. Even then, I found the download and loading of the application to be a very slow process. The post from the post on Makeuseof does mention this part and note that there is about a 300 megabyte download required for the application to run in the browser. During the process, I saw a message which read, “QT for web assembly soffice”. Now that is a name I hadn’t heard in a long time. Source: tenor

What is Soffice and what is its significance?

Some of the code base, including dependencies on Java, and the executable file (called `soffice.bin`) are legacies from the Star Office era. They really show the roots of LibreOffice. I am not being judgemental, but merely reflecting on the legacy of this program. The download and installation of LOWA extension took about ten minutes. Once it was loaded on to my browser, a window similar to the one below loaded.

First Impressions of LibreOffice Online office suite

LibreOffice Web runs version 7.4, which is pretty recent! I used the standard functions of the text editor- the menu and screen were responsive. Highlighting text, changing font or patterns, and I was also able to save and export the document (within the container). The trouble arose when I clicked on advance features, On clicking the “Web” link or while trying to export the document to a pdf, the application crashed and I got the below error.  While saving the document, I got linked to an android menu- probably that’s what the virtualization environment uses? This needs a bit more digging into.

Web Based Libreoffice – Rollapp

A couple of years ago, I had signed up for a service called rollapp which offers web based SaaS versions for some 200 odd Open source tools. I had used audacity and had tested out Gimp. They do have a section for “office applications” and do offer web based Libreoffice. Albeit it was version 4.1 for Libreoffice Writer.

Online Office Suite from Libreoffice: A case of too little, too late?

If one were to look and ask around for web based office applications, some of the common names include Office365, Apple iWork, and Google Workspace (formerly Google Docs). Many advanced users may have heard of Onlyoffice and Zoho (you can read my post on Zoho Docs and Zoho Workspace on this blog) . And the true open source believers may even have tried LibreOffice with Nextcloud (as Collabora). Finally, we have the newer kids on the block- Airtable  and Notion. With so many options available, does an online version of LibreOffice ? Considering we are already in the third month of 2022, Is it a case of too little, too late? Time will only tell.

Some Notable Office Suites

Updated June 2023: There are several noteworthy office suites particularly for document creation, editing, formatting, and collaboration. Here are a few popular options that provide both app and web versions. Note that most of them have proprietary licenses. Even though the theme of this blog post is “Open source office tools”, I thought of including the below section here.

    1. Google Docs: Google Docs is a widely used and highly regarded cloud-based document editor. It offers real-time collaboration, extensive formatting options, and seamless integration with other Google Workspace tools. It has dedicated apps for both Android and iOS.
      Website: Google Docs

    1. Microsoft Word: Microsoft Word is a well-known and feature-rich word processing software. While it is primarily known for its desktop application, Microsoft also offers web-based versions of Word through Office Online. Additionally, there are mobile apps available for both Android and iOS devices.
      Website: Microsoft Word Online

    1. Apple Pages: If you are an Apple user, Pages is an excellent choice. It comes pre-installed on Mac computers, iPads, and iPhones. Pages offers a sleek interface, various formatting tools, and collaboration features. You can also access Pages through iCloud on the web.

    1. Quip: Quip is a collaborative productivity suite that combines documents, spreadsheets, and task lists in one platform. It allows real-time collaboration and offers both a web version and mobile apps for Android and iOS.

    1. Dropbox Paper: Dropbox Paper is a simple and intuitive tool for document creation and collaboration. It offers real-time editing, commenting, and task management features. Dropbox Paper has web and mobile apps available for Android and iOS.
      Website: Dropbox Paper

    1. OnlyOffice: OnlyOffice is a comprehensive office suite that includes a document editor with collaboration capabilities. It supports various document formats and provides formatting tools. OnlyOffice offers both web and mobile apps for Android and iOS.
      Website: OnlyOffice

    1. LibreOffice Writer: LibreOffice is another open-source office suite that offers a comprehensive set of applications, including Writer for document editing. It supports various document formats and provides a range of editing and formatting tools. LibreOffice has desktop versions for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
      Website: LibreOffice

    1. Zoho Office Suite: Zoho Office Suite is a cloud-based software suite that includes a range of tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email, and more. With Zoho Office Suite, you can create and edit documents, collaborate with team members in real-time, and access your work from anywhere, anytime. It also integrates with other popular applications to provide a seamless experience.
      Website: Zoho Workplace

These alternatives provide robust document editing and collaboration features, along with app and web versions for convenient access across different devices.

Summary features of some noteworthy writing apps

App Key Features
Ink – Document creation, editing, and formatting
– Collaboration features
– Desktop, mobile, and web versions
– Focus on digital handwriting and sketching
– Integration with Adobe Creative Cloud
Quip – Document creation, editing, and formatting
– Collaboration features
– Desktop, mobile, and web versions
– Chat functionality
Google Docs – Cloud-based document editing and collaboration
– Real-time collaboration
– Desktop, mobile, and web versions
– Offline editing with automatic syncing
Microsoft Office Online – Web-based Microsoft Office suite
– Document editing, formatting, and collaboration
– Desktop, mobile, and web versions
Apple Pages – Document creation, editing, and formatting
– Collaboration features
– Pre-installed on Apple devices
– iCloud web version
OnlyOffice – Document editing, spreadsheets, and presentations
– Collaboration features
– Desktop, mobile, and web versions
– Integration with cloud storage platforms
LibreOffice – Open source office suite with document editing
– Desktop versions for Windows, macOS, and Linux
– Collaboration with extensions like Collabtive
Etherpad – Open source collaborative document editor
– Real-time editing and version control
– Self-hosted for privacy and customization

Notes and references

1. Learn about the Apache Software Foundation:
2. Star office Forum
3.For those of you who are interested in knowing the history of Star office, you can see this timeline from Wikipedia.

Note: The original text of this post, which was published in March 2022, included the line
” They (Libreoffice) are in the process of releasing web based version. For this, they will use a technology called LOWA. The development is in early stage at this point in time. I learnt that a demonstration was given earlier, during the meet of free and open source software developers meeting (FOSDEM).”

This post on office suite journey was updated on 12 Feb 2024 3 March 2024.