Today, August 5, 2020, we saw the announcement that LibreOffice 7.0 is now released for all platforms, though it may take a few days to roll out, and for those of us on Linux platforms it may be a while longer before it shows up in our repos. Nevertheless, this is an exciting milestone release. I personally tend to lag a bit in getting new releases because I use Kubuntu LTS releases, and those only update slowly. So right now I am using LibreOffice 6.0 from 2018 on my Kubuntu 18.04 release. I expect that I will be offered a chance to upgrade my Kubuntu version pretty soon since that typically happens after the first major update, and that is scheduled for the base Ubuntu platform tomorrow (August 6), and it may take a few days for Kubuntu to follow suit. But we can get some ideas of the new LibreOffice release from the press release, and here are some of the major points of interest.
The new version of LibreOffice includes support for ODF 1.3. ODF stands for Open Document Format, and it specifies an XML-based file format for all of the documents containing text, spreadsheets, charts, and graphical elements. What an XML-based file format means is that what looks like a single file containing your document, spreadsheet, etc. is actually a container, and you can see this by opening the document with a utility like Ark or some other zipping/unzipping utility. I did this with a Writer document, and had this result.:
So my XML-based file is 7 files at the top level, and 6 directories with sub-directories and files inside them as well.
ODF1.3 was approved by the Open Document Foundation as an OASIS specification. OASIS is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, which began as SGML Open in 1993. It exists to promote the development. convergence, and adoption of open standards for security, Internet of Things, energy, content technologies, emergency management, and other areas. So OASIS is much broader than just office software, but it is an important body for promoting open standards.
Some of the features of the ODF1.3 specification are:
- Digital signatures for documents and OpenPGP-based encryption of XML documents.
- Improvements in Change tracking.
- Improvements in the description of elements in first pages, text, numbers and charts.
Skia graphics library
The Skia graphics library is an open-source 2-D graphics library that provides a common set of APIs that work across a variety of platforms. It is the graphics engine for Chrome, Chrome OS, Android, Flutter, Firefox, and Firefox OS, among others. It is sponsored by Google, which is the lead developer, but is licensed under the BSD Free Software License. It is available on platforms such as:
- Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10
- macOS 10.10.5 or later
- iOS 8 or later
- Android 4.1 (JellyBean) or later
- Ubuntu 14.04+, Debian 8+, openSUSE 13.3+, or Fedora Linux 24+
Skia can be used for drawing text, shapes, and images, and is now the default on Windows for faster performance. The implementation in LibreOffice is due to sponsorship from AMD.
The other big graphics news is that the Vulkan API is supported. Vulkan is an alternative to other graphics APIs such as DirectX and OpenGL. It offers high-performance 3-D graphics with low overhead and supports better parallelization on multiple cores.
So between Skia and Vulkan, some pretty good graphics improvements for both 2-D and 3-D graphics.
It is no secret that Microsoft Office is the largest player in the Office space, and interoperability is key. I have mostly not had any problems for sometime now moving between MS Office and LibreOffice, but there are always corner cases where things can get ugly. The latest LibreOffice handles things even better. If you want to save a Writer document in the Microsoft Docx format, you can now save in native 2013, 2016, and 2019 modes, whereas previously you were restricted to a 2017 compatibility mode. In Calc, you can export to Excel with sheet names longer than 31 characters now. And the Powerpoint Import and Export filters were improved as well.
LibreOffice is really the only choice if you want interoperability across platforms and applications. They are not trying to lock you in, unlike Microsoft.
Summary of Other New Features
- New icon theme, the default on macOS: Sukapura
- New shapes galleries: arrows, diagrams, icons and more…
- Glow and soft edge effects for objects
- Navigator is easier to use, with more context menus
- Semi-transparent text is now supported
- Bookmarks can now be displayed in-line in text
- Padded numbering in lists, for consistency
- Better handling of quotation marks and apostrophes
- New functions for non-volatile random number generation
- Keyboard shortcut added for autosum. Autosum is probably the single most used function in spreadsheets, so this is a welcome development.
IMPRESS & DRAW
- Semi-transparent text is supported here too
- Subscripts now return to the default of 8%
- PDFs larger than 500 cm can now be generated
Who to thank
This new release of LibreOffice contains work from a number of companies. 74% of the commits come from companies on the Advisory Board, of whom Red Hat may be the best known, but also heavily involved were Collabora and CIB Software. I mention these companies because they are great examples of how an ecosystem can grow in open source. Both of these companies built a business around LibreOffice technology and both are giving back and helping it grow. Collabora is the home of Michael Meeks, and any long-time followers of LibreOffice should recognize him as a major developer in this project. Now he is the Managing Director of Collabora, and they are making money by selling a service, LibreOffice in the cloud.
CIB Software is located in Munich, and provides integrated document management solutions that include LibreOffice. And I find it interesting that Munich has reversed course yet again and is now planning to move back to open source software. The coalition agreement between the Green Party and the Social Democratic Party in Munich was finalized in May and says: “We will adhere to the principle of ‘public money, public code’. That means that as long as there is no confidential or personal data involved, the source code of the city’s software will also be made public.” And since the coalition should be in power until 2026, there is a good chance for significant progress there. And then in June Hamburg joined the movement to open source as well, adding to a growing movement in German cities and states.
Of course, companies are not the only supporters. 26% of commits came from individuals. And even if you are not a coder, there are ways you can help. I have also participated in the documentation area (writing, proof-reading, updating, etc.), and I know they have volunteers helping with publicity. Personally, every time I download a new version of LibreOffice I donate $10 to the Open Document Foundation, which sponsors LibreOffice development. I mean, ten bucks for a full-featured office suite? That has to be the deal of the century, right? So I encourage everyone else to join me in this.
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