Open Source Interview Series: LibreOffice

Here at Penguicon, we like to stay connected with our friends in the Open Source community. To that end, we’ve asked Italo Vignoli, founding member of The Document Foundation, the non-profit corporation behind the development of LibreOffice, to answer a few questions.

Penguicon: Can you give us a little background on how LibreOffice got its start?

Italo: LibreOffice was born in the course of 2010 from a fork of OpenOffice called for by the community following Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, which had been supporting the development of the free and open-source office suite. The community was right to believe that Oracle would abandon development of OpenOffice, and so decided to take over development with companies such as Red Hat and SUSE. More than 10 years later, LibreOffice has become the free and open-source office suite of choice in the marketplace, used by large government organizations, universities and research institutes, and businesses of all sizes. Today, development is done by a large community of hackers, either volunteers or paid by the companies in the ecosystem, which have since changed and now go by the names of Collabora, Allotropia, Hypra, 1and1, SIL, NISZ, as well as Red Hat and SUSE. The development model is based on the integration of the contributions of volunteers, who act independently, and those of companies, whom their customers pay.

Penguicon: How has LibreOffice evolved since its beginning?


In a dozen years, LibreOffice has come a long way in terms of functionality, robustness, and interoperability with Microsoft Office’s proprietary document format. Today it is the only real alternative to the market leader, as it offers a similar range of features and can be used for any type of application at both the individual and corporate level. What sets LibreOffice apart from all other office suites is what we call LibreOffice Technology, which is the presence of a single processing engine that is common to all applications and all environments: desktop, mobile, and cloud. This improves the robustness and flexibility of the suite, improves the quality of documents because they are identical – including the XML code – because they are generated by the same engine, and improves security because developers work on a single source code. This is the opposite approach to all other office suites, which are based on a different processing engine for each application and environment. In the case of LibreOffice, only the user interface changes, whereas in the other suites everything changes: the processing engine, the document generation process and the source code.

Penguicon: What makes LibreOffice unique in the open-source world?

Italo: LibreOffice is similar to many other free and open-source software sectors because a non-profit foundation supports it and shares the same principles and goals. On the other hand, it is unique because it is aimed at all PC, mobile, and cloud users and, therefore, has a community with a global reach and downloads from all continents, including Antarctica. It is also unique because it is the desktop software available in more languages than any other application, with 120 language versions released and another 40 in development. Finally, LibreOffice is unique in the office suite space because it is the only software that is free and open source, rather than open core or proprietary. This is in addition to the already mentioned advantage of being based on the LibreOffice Technology processing engine.

Penguicon: Have the advent of SaaS business models changed the philosophy or roadmap behind LibreOffice?

Italo: The evolution of office suites towards the SaaS model was already quite clear in 2010, at the time of the LibreOffice fork. Google had already started to invest in its applications, and Microsoft had begun to shift its business model from selling licenses to subscriptions. So, the idea of adding a cloud version of LibreOffice to the desktop version is something we started discussing after the source code cleaning and refactoring activities were completed about ten years ago, in early 2014. The company in the ecosystem that invested in the development was Collabora, so the cloud version of LibreOffice is called Collabora Online and is, of course, based on the same LibreOffice Technology as the desktop and mobile versions.

Penguicon: What do you think LibreOffice’s legacy in the open-source community will be?

Italo: LibreOffice is the only open-source office suite that protects the digital sovereignty of its users because it is the only one that uses a truly standard document format, and not just on paper, as is the case with Microsoft Office’s document format (DOCX, XSLX, and PPTX), which was approved as a standard but never really implemented. Thus, while LibreOffice users have total control over their content because the document format is independent of any company’s control and, therefore, not tied to commercial objectives, Microsoft Office users are dependent on the company’s commercial strategy, which uses the document format to limit the possibility of switching to another office suite. Unfortunately, this is not understood by users at all levels, with a few exceptions, so the majority of governments, companies, and individuals choose conditioning over freedom of choice, and this is certainly a problem for our digital future.

About LibreOffice

LibreOffice is the only open-source office suite for personal productivity, which can be compared feature-by-feature with the market leader. LibreOffice offers the highest level of compatibility in the office suite market segment, with native support for the Open Document Format (ODF) – beating proprietary formats for security and robustness – to superior support for Microsoft Office files, along with filters for a large number of legacy document formats, to return ownership and control to users.

Based on the advanced features of the LibreOffice Technology platform for personal productivity on desktop, mobile, and cloud, LibreOffice provides a large number of new features targeted at users sharing documents with or migrating from Microsoft Office to ensure their digital independence from the commercial strategy of vendors. These users should check new releases of LibreOffice regularly, as the progress is so fast that each new version improves dramatically over the previous one.

Interested in learning more? Watch their video, “Join the LibreOffice community,” or visit their website at

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