Open SourceLibreOffice 3.3 Frees Open Source Office Suite

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Stick a fork in it, LibreOffice 3.3 is done.

The Document Foundation today announced the official release of LibreOffice 3.3, a fork of Oracle’s Open Office open source office suite. The LibreOffice project began in September 2010 with the backing of the major Linux distributions, including Novell SUSE, Red Hat and Canonical Ubuntu. The LibreOffice 3.3 release follows Oracle’s Open Office 3.3, which came out in December. While LibreOffice 3.3 has its roots in Open Office 3.3, there a number of key differences, including an improved Windows installer.

“For Windows users, there are a lot of big wins,” Michael Meeks, distinguished engineer at Novell, told “We’ve bundled a number of extensions for Windows that are particularly useful that people wouldn’t have downloaded from the extensions repository.”

Meeks added that the new Windows installer also bundles 55 languages, which are now well supported.

“That contrasts with Open Office, which previously shipped 160 MB files in 55 different languages and we ship one 210 MB file with all the languages,” Meeks said.

Overall, the key differences between LibreOffice 3.3 and Open Office 3.3 that Meeks cited boil down to a long list of bug fixes. He noted that bug fixes have been made all over the place to fix flaws big and small. And those changes are not all necessarily being contributed back to Oracle’s Open Office.

“It’s up to each contributor as to where the changes go, but typically the changes are going straight into LibreOffice and being contributed over to Oracle,” Meeks said. “These changes and fixes are specific to LibreOffice.”

Among the bug fixes in LibreOffice are memory and startup issues that could end up serving to improve performance. Meeks noted that a contribution from Red Hat made a number of fixes to improve memory management in LibreOffice.

“So we actually free memory that we are not using, instead of leaking it,” he said. “It’s great to see some longstanding bugs finally getting fixed.”

Moving forward, the next LibreOffice release (tentatively numbered as LibreOffice 3.4) will bear the fruit of further efforts to improve memory usage.

“They are simple things, like not duplicating icons for no reason and things like that, which really save quite a lot of memory when you add them all up,” Meeks said.

De-Java-izing LibreOffice

Another area where LibreOffice is set to improve is by reducing the program’s reliance on Java.

“Our flat Excel support, which allows you to do all sorts of nice things with ODF (Open Document Format) and XSLT, has been ‘de-java-ized’ in the latest builds and it’s actually incredibly faster,” Meeks said. “That work will be ongoing.”

What ends up in LibreOffice 3.4 will be determined by March 21, when a code freeze is scheduled. Meeks stressed that LibreOffice is aiming to have a low barrier to entry for contributors and is interested in growing contributions overall.

“There is lots of room for new contributors and people that want to get started with free software development and we’re eager to help mentor people,” Meeks said.

While the LibreOffice project is a fork of Oracle’s Open Office, Meeks also noted that the door remains open for Oracle to become part of the effort.

“I think that there is a very real and sincere offer for them to join the community, the only blocker is Oracle,” he said. “They could become a leading light in the LibreOffice community. We’d love that. We’d love to have Oracle. This is not attempt to attack them, this an attempt to do something better.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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