Switching from OpenOffice: Your Best Free Options and Next Steps

Find Personal or Business Alternatives to Writer, Calc, Slides, Base, and More

OpenOffice Math Image
OpenOffice Math. (c) Courtesy of The Apache Foundation

Apache OpenOffice's end is still only a possibility, but if you're someone who uses programs like Writer, Calc, Slides, Base, Math, and other applications every day, this represents a significant potential change for how you get things done. 

As you likely know, Apache OpenOffice is a free alternative to more expensive office software suites such as Microsoft Office. As an open source community, Apache OpenOffice has seen many changes throughout the years, while maintaining a strong user base (as in, millions).

I work with several clients who use OpenOffice across their organizations. If OpenOffice support does end, many people will be affected.

If you are one of those people, here are your best alternatives. Looking into this as soon as possible will help you switch to another software suite more seamlessly.

Context: OpenOffice Security Concerns

Some industry watchers have suspected this software would retire sooner than later. OpenOffice has not been updated in 2016, as opposed to other free software suites like LibreOffice that have.

Apache began investigating OpenOffice's retirement when faced with what appears to be a lack of support and interest from developers, resulting in insufficient resources to address security vulnerabilities in particular, which again, some OpenOffice users have known for some time.

Liam Tung of ZDNet summarized a key incident as follows:

One recent incident backs up Hamilton's concerns about the project's ability to secure OpenOffice. On July 21st a security advisory was issued, which detailed a bug affecting version 4.1.2 that could be exploited to execute arbitrary code. Since neither a patch nor hotfix was available at the time, OpenOffice recommended workarounds included using LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. A hot fix eventually arrived on August 30. Hamilton explains that the bug was reported as Apache OpenOffice 4.1.2 "was going out the door" in October last year. While the developers had "figured out a source-code fix" in March, they had hoped to include it within a full maintenance release, moving it to version 4.1.3 However, version 4.1.3 is unlikely to arrive until at least October this year, again due to a lack of developer resources.

This underscores how important it is to keep software updated for bug fixes. Even then, difficult situations like this occur, unfortunately.

How to Update Your Office Software 

It also means, even though your current OpenOffice installation will remain on your desktop, it will likely lack ongoing support, so you should still look for a possible alternative.

Your Next Steps: How to Transition From OpenOffice

Just to reiterate, OpenOffice could see a resurgence if enough development talent emerges to save it; however, as that does no appear likely, consider the following office software alternatives and resources. Here are key points to understand about this transition, as well as suggested next steps as you prepare for OpenOffice's likely retirement.

  • The good news is, your OpenOffice files should open in other programs. In general, other suites' compatibility with open source document extensions has improved over the past few years.
  • That said, if I was an OpenOffice user right now, I'd start saving duplicates and converting the duplicates to another format than .odt as soon as possible (consider .doc or .docx), because I'm just that kind of person about stuff like this! You should be able to do this with as simple "Save As". I'll admit, It probably isn't necessary, and I wouldn't do this for every file you have (especially if you switch to open source alternative LibreOffice), but when it comes to your important documents, it's better to avoid unnecessary hassle.  
  • Remember that you probably do not have to make a switch immediately. When software retires, support typically continues for a while. I suggest putting a plan in place and working toward an alternative, rather than frantically switching to a new office software suite. Keep in mind you may experience a learning curve with the new software, so consider incremental steps, such as deciding on an alternative, then working in it for at least one hour of each work day, for example. 
  • Start shopping now. Here are other suites you may be interested in:  Best Free Office Software Alternatives. I'm suggesting these options because they should be compatible with your OpenOffice files, while giving you a similar user experience. Top on this list for previous OpenOffice users is the LibreOffice option, since LibreOffice split off from OpenOffice development. User experience will be similar, much of the nomenclature translates, and this suite continues garnering strong development support.  

On the other hand, consider looking at premium suites as well. This may be a great time to jump into something else if it better serves you or your organization:

Find Your Best Version of Microsoft Office - If you use OpenOffice, chances are you've already written off Microsoft, but this is an opportunity to re-evaluate.

Not only has Microsoft Office come a long way in features you may have found frustrating, but it is also available in more versions and price tiers than every before. You might as well take a look at the full product line-up, since you're at this crossroads anyway. 

List of Office Software Options for Windows or List of Office Software Options for Mac - Often, it makes the most sense to search for office software by the operating system you will use it on. This list helps you get a feel for popular options, at a variety of price points.

List of Online Office Software Options - Many OpenOffice users do not use online productivity programs or tools. But even a hybrid approach can add convenience to your productivity setup. Explore your options to create even more flexibility in how you get work done, whether as an individual or across your organization.