LibreOffice Online and ownCloud

Pulling Together

© Lead Image © Kiam Soon Jong,

© Lead Image © Kiam Soon Jong,

Article from Issue 191/2016
Author(s): , Author(s):

Cooperation between the private company Collabora and the open source ownCloud project takes LibreOffice into the cloud. We tested the developer version and reveal what the online office solution holds for users.

Teamwork in enterprises and community projects no longer means sitting around in meeting rooms or listening in on lengthy telephone conferences. Modern cloud solutions allow decentralized work – whether in the office, home office, or the café on the beach. Most in demand are standard office applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools. Ideally, the programs should look the same in the web browser as on the desktop and offer simultaneous document editing and version control in addition to the basic functions.

Microsoft Office Online [1] and Google Drive [2] have established their position in the market in recent years. The big players are now in for some competition from Collabora [3]. The Cambridge, UK, company integrates LibreOffice Online into its ownCloud Server [4], putting the free office suite on a solid file-hosting basis. In December 2015 [5], the partners announced their cooperation and shortly thereafter released a first version of the developer platform and device-independent software. The Collabora Online Development Edition (CODE) is aimed at developers and advanced users who are interesting in testing.

To Work

The developer version is available for free as a virtual machine [6], but without support by the manufacturer. Users need VirtualBox [7] to run CODE. As the template for the new VM, you choose openSUSE (64-bit) and then mount the VMDK file as a virtual hard drive. In the network settings, select the Bridged Adapter. After that, the system is ready to go. After booting, the system reveals the URL under which ownCloud, and thus the Collabora cloud suite, is accessible.

The test team accessed different clients via the web interface. We used the latest Firefox and Chrome versions on Debian 8.4 and Ubuntu 16.04 (both 64-bit) under Windows 10 (32- and 64-bit) and Windows 7 (64-bit), as well as OS X 10.11.4. The mobile devices we used were an iPhone 6 Plus with iOS 9.3 (Safari browser) and a Tolino Shine 8.9 with Android 4.2.2 (default Android browser and Google Chrome). The Collabora Cloud Suite allows basic editing in the three office modules – Writer, Calc, and Impress – in this early version. Upcoming versions will support advanced editing functions and collaborative work on documents.

In addition to the open document file types, ODT, ODP, and ODS, LibreOffice Online also supports the Microsoft Office formats DOC(X), PPT(X), XLS(X). Support for Apple Pages and Numbers, as well as RTF is already listed in the features, but we failed to open these documents in our lab.

The system administrator logs in to the web interface with username admin and password admin. The menu at top right provides access to personal settings and to the administration interface for managing users and groups (Figure 1). Unprivileged users also have access to the menu at top right, where they maintain their personal settings, access the online help, and log out.

Figure 1: In user management, the admin adds new users and groups, group administrators, and a storage quota for each user.

The menu at top left provides entries for the list view of all files and folders (Files), your own or all activities, as well as the gallery. The Collabora Online item takes you to the virtual office. The developer version includes some example documents. Buttons on the left side create new Writer, Calc, and Impress documents, and the Upload button sends files from the hard drive to the cloud.

In the icon view (Figure 2) it is impossible to rename or delete objects, although you can access these features in the list view by clicking on the three dots to unfold the details, where you can assign new names, download objects, or move objects to the trash (Deleted files at bottom left). Functions for creating copies or shortcuts are missing.

Figure 2: Collabora Online reveals existing documents and buttons for creating new documents.


We succeeded in creating new documents in the word processor in the test and also managed to edit existing ones. Collabora Cloud Suite did a good job of importing DOC(X) files; the software even handled headers and footers and documents with images with no problems. To insert text, you click in the document. A double click marks a word, and triple clicking selects the row. Alternatively, you can select sections of text by dragging the mouse. The text selected in this way has two slide controls, which mark the start and end of the selected range (Figure 3). Using these handles, you can decide exactly where to put the markers.

Figure 3: The Writer word processor currently only offers basic formatting options, just like the other modules. Selected text is clearly visible.

Writer offers some basic formatting settings as icons in the toolbar: bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, font color, and highlights. Additionally, you can define the font type and size, text alignment, and bulleted and enumerated lists. Styles are only available in the drop-down menu if you created the document in the web interface or in the desktop version of LibreOffice. You cannot retroactively assign any other styles to imported DOC(X) files.


Clicking on the icon with the question mark at top right opens a dialog that lists all shortcuts. The general keyboard shortcuts (e.g., Ctrl+Z for undo, Ctrl+Y for restore, and Ctrl+X for cut) work as in the desktop version.

Also, the format shortcuts (e.g., Ctrl+B for bold, Ctrl+I for italics, Ctrl+U for underline, Ctrl+1 for heading 1, Ctrl+2 for heading 2, etc.) have been taken from the desktop version.

Not all shortcuts always worked on every platform – some operating systems and work environments used shortcuts for their own purposes and intercepted the keyboard shortcuts of the online suite. This applied equally to working with the mouse: No harm in a little patience. Some format changes and input only appeared after a noticeable delay on various test computers.

Using the icon next to the question mark, you can insert graphics from your local disk into your Writer files. Unfortunately, it is not possible to use images from the ownCloud Gallery, so they are currently left hanging around in the interface. In the online word processor, you click on a graphic and drag the handles to define the size; you have no other options, such as picture frames or changing the text flow, in the current version.

LibreOffice Online stores the changes while you are still working on the document, so clicking on the icon to close the file has no unpleasant consequences. If you want to save manually, click on the floppy disk icon on the left side of the toolbar; however, you cannot store a modified document under a different name. The File menu, where you would suspect a suitable entry, only supports downloading the Writer file in the PDF, ODT, and DOC(X) formats.

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