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Overcoming Minor Hurdles with LibreOffice Writer

In my post about using refurbished laptops for kids, I mentioned LibreOffice as a good alternative to mainstream office suites (Microsoft, Google). In this post, I'd like to delve a bit deeper into LibreOffice Writer and look at a couple of small differences I had to adjust to as a new user.

Downloading and installing LibreOffice is straightforward. Visit their download page and select whatever the older, stable version is. At the time of writing it was this one:


Most Linux users will choose 'deb'. MacOS 'Apple Silicon' is only for certain more recent devices (check here), and Windows '32 bit' is only for very old computers. Many Linux distros will have LibreOffice pre-installed.


Let's get into some of the small differences I had to get used to as a Word and Google Docs user.

Creating a new file works the same as in other editors:

File - New - Text Document 

You'll notice that there are other file types you can choose from; selecting these will open the relevant software within the LibreOffice collection. 'Spreadsheet' opens LibreOffice Calc, 'Presentation' opens LibreOffice Impress, and so on. You can open any of the file types from any of the suite's apps, and it will open the relevant software for you. This flexibility is a pleasant surprise, and everything starts up fast, even on older computers.

To import a Word document, just open it with LibreOffice. LibreOffice Writer documents end with an .odt extension, but you can always choose:

File - Save As 

and select a range of file types, including different Microsoft Word extensions, like .doc and .docx.

Page setup took me some time to find. Go to:

Format - Page Style

and there you'll be able to toggle between Portrait and Landscape.

Inserting a horizontal rule is strangely complicated, but you only have to change this setting once:

Tools - AutoCorrect - AutoCorrect Options

select Options tab - select Apply border

Now, you can add horizontal rules after starting a new paragraph like this:1

Inserting tables is similar to Word and Google Docs. You can select

Table - Insert Table

and enter the desired number of rows and columns, and choose your template. The quick insert table icon took me a while to find: the icon is a square grid with a small green plus in the corner and looks like this:


Word count and spelling are under the Tools tab as with the mainstream counterparts. If you are bilingual or multilingual, you can change the language per document to avoid having every word auto-marked with red squiggly lines, but this was a bit complicated if the dictionary was not already downloaded (see Problems below).

The above is a summary of the handful of small issues I ran into moving from Word and Google Docs to LibreOffice. The reason for this post is that I know little annoyances like this can sometimes enough of a reason for someone to quit using new software, despite its advantages. I'd say that the horizontal line quirk is the only puzzling one. Other than that, LibreOffice Writer is a fantastic editor, and it is free and open source.


In order for the spell-check to work in other languages, you need to have the dictionary for that language downloaded. I found this process unnecessarily complicated for one language and had to search online for help.

This may be a Linux-only problem, but on my computer, LibreOffice creates a series of temporary files when you are working on a document. It does this in the same folder where you save your file, apparently to stop two collaborating writers from saving changes simultaneously. This feature caused some harrowing moments for me when I was working on a larger text document directly in my pCloud online folder. The document would occasionally show up as a 0kb file and the pages would be empty when opened. I found a temporary fix was to move the file to another location within pCloud and open it again, but pCloud's Tech Support were very helpful and showed me the following solution:

- Tools - Options - Advanced 
- press Open Expert Configuration button
- Search: 'UseLocking' 
- double-click on 'true' to change it to 'false'
- press 'OK'

Finally, if you are used to Google Docs, then you'll miss the cloud features, such as sharing links to documents via email, and inviting collaborators to a document with different levels of permissions. I will explore Nextcloud for file sharing and collaboration in a later post.

Current use and looking ahead

There is a lot to explore in LibreOffice Writer. An example of an interesting advanced feature is the use of master documents with sub documents. This is useful when you are working with several chapters in a longer work, where each chapter is saved to its own file. The master document connects to all of these files with a hyperlinked table of contents. Printing the master document prints the entire complex document or book to whatever format settings you choose. This is a great feature for anyone serious about long-term journal writing, or for anyone needing to writer longer thesis papers for school, or even a novel!

I wish schools would switch to using LibreOffice for students. It is free and sophisticated enough for most high school work.2 My own kids work in LibreOffice on their laptops at home, and have just gotten used to using 'Save As' whenever the school requires work as PowerPoint or Word documents. And as for its usefulness in higher education, a friend who wrote his master's degree papers in LibreOffice Writer was full of praise about the excellent citation features and extensions.


Download LibreOffice here.

Extensive Documentation for LibreOffice.

Help page for using a master document in Writer.

There are lots of video tutorials for LibreOffice online, like this series.

Article on opensource.com "A brief history of LibreOffice".

Discussion: Reddit

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  1. Taken from this source

  2. I have read that LibreOffice Calc is not as sophisticated as Microsoft Excel for certain maths and science tasks.

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