What's new in the latest release of the free LibreOffice suite

Give me 5

© Lead Image © kbuntu, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © kbuntu, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 181/2015

The Document Foundation released LibreOffice 5.0.0 at the beginning of August, and the first update 5.0.1 appeared just three weeks later. In addition to several fixes and new features under the hood, Version 5 provides some very visible improvements.

A lot has happened since the founding of the LibreOffice Project [1] in 2010. The fifth version, published in August, is the tenth major release of the free office suite, and it also introduces the third development cycle [2].

After the fork from the OpenOffice suite, the LibreOffice 3 process was mainly fraught with legacy issues, and the makers focused on cleaning up the code base. The 4.X series introduced significant performance benefits and improved the exchange with external formats. The latest member of the family focuses on usability.

LibreOffice 5 comes with smarter menus, a new preview for styles and formatting, and more polished sidebars and toolbars. The developers also revised the import and export functions, meaning the office suite can now cope better with Microsoft formats. You'll find a brand new filter for Apple productivity app pages and numbers. 64-bit Windows users are no longer sidelined – LibreOffice 5 is available for them now too.

New Coat of Paint

Our test team took a look at the new LibreOffice 5.0.1 in Ubuntu 15.04 (64-bit). We fed the office suite with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as pages and number files created using iWork in OS X 10.10.4, to put the new filter functions for external formats to the test. The results were mixed: The MS formats didn't cause any issues; the Apple formats did.

The redesigned menu is the first thing you'll notice after launching. Users can now remove entries from the preview in the recent documents view by moving the mouse over the thumbnail and clicking the small cross in the top-right corner (Figure 1). As always, File | Recent Documents | Clear list deletes the whole list.

Figure 1: The redesigned Start menu: Users can now remove documents from the preview.

The layouts in Writer, Calc, and the other tools seem tidier; the developers analyzed statistics for frequently used commands and adjusted the Standard, Formatting, and Drawing toolbars. The programmers have also tidied up the context menus that appear when you right-click images, shapes, or Writer tables. Functions that were barely used in past versions are gone and replaced with more popular options.

The sidebar on the right now contains additional features in some LibreOffice modules, which means more space for working on documents. The developers changed the order of the sidebar tabs in Impress and also redesigned the Slide Show tab. The developers removed the Alignment section from the Properties tab of Calc tables and rearranged the remaining elements.

The most striking changes are in word processing. The sidebar now displays a preview for the selected template on the Styles and Formatting tab (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Styles and Formatting sidebar now displays a preview.

Figuratively Speaking

Writer, Calc, Impress, and Draw now let you crop images using the mouse – this new cropping feature means you don't have to use an external graphics program. Users can enable editing mode via the Format | Image | Crop Image menu. Red drag points now appear around the object (Figure 3). The middle points cut horizontally or vertically up to the mouse pointer. To cut both horizontally and vertically up to the pointer at the same time, touch one of the corners. Holding the Shift key will keep the proportions as they are.

Figure 3: LibreOffice 5 integrates a new function for cropping images into all the modules.


The spreadsheet has a number of new functions, and the developers have bug-fixed the existing ones. Almost all the changes in Calc are aimed at improving the exchange with Microsoft Excel. You'll also find some improvements with conditional formatting and number representation.

The developers have added import and export filters from other LibreOffice modules. An annoying bug that misappropriated highlighting and shadows when saving in MS Word format has now been fixed. Users can decide how LibreOffice should export the backgrounds by clicking a checkbox in the program settings (Tools | Options | Load/Save | Microsoft Office).

The import functions for iWork files are brand new. LibreOffice 5 can now open pages and numbers files (Version 09 and older) thanks to the libetonyek library. Although reading simple texts and tables worked without any issues, transferring documents with colored tables and charts wasn't so successful. Only the numbers from a file with a simple bar chart and a three-column table remained in the test – developers still have a lot of work to do with the document transfer features. Anyone who wants to pass on iWork documents to users of the free office suite should continue to choose the detour of exporting to Microsoft format.

The extension of the PDF export feature, on the other hand, has turned out well. Users can now set the address for a time stamp authority in the program settings in the Security tab. When saved, the certificate and time stamp authority are prepared on the new Digital Signatures tab.

In the release notes, the LibreOffice developers warned that the fifth edition might still contain bugs. Anyone who would prefer to use a stable edition should probably stick with version 4.4.5 for the time being. Having said that, our test team did not experience any crashes when working with the individual program modules – LibreOffice 5 even proved stable when faced with intensive importing and exporting of external formats.

For now, you'll need to bear in mind the fact that the announced exchange with Apple's pages and numbers is not working yet. Future releases will certainly deal with this problem. The improved user interface, the new look, the redesigned menus, and the bars are impressive in every respect.

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