I am not really much of an “Office Snob” but in recent weeks, I have heard people hammer and clammer about this FreeOffice for both “in favor of” and “against” it. In full disclosure, I mostly use LibreOffice and I still use Microsoft Office 2007 for certain very specific reasons. That said, I am obviously not an open source purest. Back to the reason for this write up, I use office products a lot for the purposes of creating product for home educating my kids as well as for many administrative things that I do as a part of my employment. For the most part, I don’t do anything terribly complex but I do like a certain uniformity and bits of information on things to keep me organized.
Bottom Line Up Front, FreeOffice is a fine, well polished, very complete application. I am only using the “Free version” and I am very impressed with it. The user interface is flexible to your liking, looks clean and modern, most things work fantastically well and I am not sure how they get away with the look of the UIs similarity to Microsoft Office. Although this would likely serve all my needs, I will stick with LibreOffice because it is what I am most accustomed and I don’t gain anything by switching to FreeOffice. At a minimum, I would have to keep LibreOffice Draw for a few specific tasks.
The installation process for openSUSE is very straight forward. You can read their directions here:
They also have other distros there too if you are interested but since I am writing this specifically as a user with an almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project. I will summarize the process here because I need to feel like I am actually doing something.
There are two ways you can go about doing this. First would be to download and install the RPM which will give you the shell script to add the repository. Alternatively, you can hop into the terminal, my favorite place (sometimes), to use the fantastic Zypper command to do all the heavy lifting for you.
For simplicity, I’ll break this down into steps using a terminal. If you don’t like the terminal… you should like the terminal because it is pretty awesome once you understand it.
Import the Public Key
Arguably this is an optional step, you could really just ignore the warning you would get other wise but for the sake of completeness, download the public key here. By default Firefox will put it in your “Downloads” folder, navigate to it and this is how you will import the key, using the terminal:
sudo rpm --import ./linux-repo-public.key
You’ll see some output, read it, then move on to the next step.
Add the repository
sudo zypper ar https://shop.softmaker.com/repo/rpm FreeOffice
Agree to whatever is necessary to move forward to the next step.
Refresh the repositories
The next step is to refresh the repositories. Depending on your inclination to install the public key or not, you may have to select ignore to continue.
sudo zypper refresh
Install the application
The last step will be to install the application. This does seem to take a while. I am note really sure why but the installation process seemed to take an unnecessarily long time.
sudo zypper install softmaker-freeoffice-2018
Once complete, you will have the application links in your menu and the associations with your mime types so opening a document from the file manager into FreeOffice works as expected.
First Run and Impressions
Office productivity applications are not exactly the most exciting activity to dig into but I do find them to be an important staple in the refrigerator that is personal computing. Most people I know have office applications on their systems as a necessity. I do realize that it has also somewhat become in vogue now to use online office productivity suites too so perhaps this not relevant.
In order to really use and evaluate FreeOffice, I decided I would take the time and see how working in FreeOffice would be, instead of using my typical preference, LibreOffice. Therefore, I left the automatic file associations defaulting to this, essentially forcing myself to use it.
When you first start it up FreeOffice, you are given six options to set the user interface to your personal design preference.
The top row are three Ribbon menu and the bottom three are Classic menu toolbars options. I went for the Ribbon Dark Theme. Interestingly, there is a “Touch mode” that has larger icons and menu entries. I didn’t try that as I am not using this on a machine with a touch screen interface.
Next you are going to be greeted with entering your user info and you are off to the races.
My initial impression of FreeOffice is the professional feel about it. Very nicely, there is a convenient side bar welcome to get you started. It just feels like the kind of application for which I would have had to shell out some cash on any operating system.
I tend to use one open document formats so I loaded up one. After all, it is one thing to stare at a blank page, it is another to actually use it so I decided to open up and do some of the “work” with it. In this case I was working on product for my home education board for my kids’ weekly memory work.
Using the application, I find that the layout of of the ribbon menu looks very familiar to another, offering by our friends from Microsoft with one caveat, this has a fantastic dark theme. On Microsoft Office 2007 there is a gray theme but nothing dark so this is also a welcome design choice.
In the weeks I spent using it, I did run into one issue with FreeOffice, it seems that the crop performed on an image using LibreOffice isn’t necessarily respected in FreeOffice. This does seem to be a consistent issue. I am showing one example below but this does appear to be a consistent problem. This was only an issue where I cropped images.
There is one specific feature that not having is a kind of deal breaker. That feature is the ability to “Export to PDF.” In FreeOffice they give you a kind of print dialog which is, in my opinion better than just having the save dialog you are given in LibreOffice.
I haven’t used any of these options, I don’t have a particular need for it but I do appreciate having the options there. It would be important if you have some publishing requirements, I suppose.
The thing that I found that was rather lack luster with FreeOffice was the file picker dialog. It is okay, but not nearly as nice as the Plasma File Picker and certainly better than the default GTK file picker.
I would say this is the most disappointing part of my FreeOffice experience. Though, it is probably not very fair because I have been incredibly spoiled by Plasma and the niceties that come with it. It would be nice if there was some option to select to utilize desktop native file picker.
Just to see a side by side of the different office applications I use, I thought I would throw it here. Not for any particular reason other than just to compare the look of the UI. What is interesting to me is that Microsoft Office 2007 (yes, I know it is old but I prefer the look of it), has more screen real estate for the cell display, by default.
I happen to like LibreOffice the most in looks, but I still prefer to use Microsoft Office in the spreadsheet department. I just happen to find it more usable and I do like the built in Visual Basic for some of the fun things you can do with it.
Looking at the free versus paid versions of FreeOffice, there aren’t too many features I would say I would need. The only features that may be missed would be mail merge, not that I have used it in a long time and perhaps the “Presenter View” for the presentation software. The annual cost of $29.90 for the home use license for up to 5 computers is really not a bad deal and it keeps the project going.
For more information, visit the site here:
What I Like
The interface is familiar to anyone using Microsoft Office. The layout and look of the ribbon is comfortable and logically laid out which is welcoming. Since this seems to be what is normal and expected, I can see very clearly, why many people use this office application suite over some others.
The application appears to be just as responsive as LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. I have no complaints as to performance, whatsoever. It is surprisingly enjoyable to use
The specific feature that I use most and is readily available is the PDF Export. This is important because when I create “product” for my home education board, I want to “freeze” it to make it easier to share. The whole PDFs this is, um well, portable… Not having this would be a deal breaker for me so I am glad this is there.
What I Don’t Like
The file dialog box is irritating to use. It is functional but not at all what I like. I could be spoiled by the Plasma file dialog and since everything else is just not nearly as good, I am much less tolerant of this. I can understand a need to be desktop agnostic so this might be a necessity. I would like to see if it could somehow detect the desktop environment and use that desktop resource, much like LibreOffice and Firefox do. Although, that could be an openSUSE thing.
There seems to be a bit of a compatibility issue with LibreOffice where it will mess with size and ratio of the pictures in the word processing document. I am thinking, if I just use one or the other, it would be fine but this is an area I would like to see properly working.
Outside of that, I think it is pretty great.
FreeOffice is a great office solution that is very familiar feeling, nicely laid out with a clean interface. Installation is very straight forward and they support openSUSE so that is a huge plus. I absolutely appreciate they have taken time to support it. This was also much of the reason I decided to give it a try.
If I were to set up a machine today for someone, totally unfamiliar with Linux, used to the Microsoft Office suite, I think I would set up FreeOffice for them. If they have been using LibreOffice, I would still default to that.
In the end, for me, I am going to keep FreeOffice installed. I like it. I have the repository set up, and it isn’t a drain on my resources to have installed. I have adjusted the the file type options to make LibreOffice my default application for office documents. I will periodically check in on it and use FreeOffice to stay familiar with it and to check for any improvements. I am very glad I took the time to try out FreeOffice and evaluate it. If you have any inclination on trying office software, this should be on your list.