OpenOffice is the free, open-source office suite that offers functionality similar to Microsoft Office, though it’s not as refined (or quite as powerful).

Still, for word processor geeks (like me), OpenOffice offers an avenue of escape from the MS Office upgrade path, which threw increasingly bloated software at me (in some cases taking away features I loved), and kept locking up my data in proprietary formats.

That’s why news of a new version (LibreOffice) and a substantial upgrade caught my eye:

The Document Foundation (TDF) and community members are working away at a new suite, and there are signs that users will see much improvement in it, as compared to OpenOffice.

… Most interesting of all, it sounds like the LibreOffice suite is being retooled to put content ahead of ever more features–probably a good idea. We all consume much more content now than we used to, and OpenOffice never really detoured to reflect that trend.

Among other things I’d like to see in LibreOffice is a much improved word processor. I spend most of my day in browsers, word processors and on email, and a truly great word processor would be a great centerpiece for a new overhaul of OpenOffice.

Byfield also reports that the LibreOffice folks are looking closely at new hardware platforms. That may or may not be a good idea. Netbooks, for example, are showing less promise than they once did. Could a retooled OpenOffice have a future on tablets, though?

Recently, the OpenOffice project has come under fire for languishing, and when it was acquired by Oracle (when they bought Sun), a group of developers – unhappy with Oracle’s treatment of the project – forked the software (it’s open source, remember).

I don’t write in OpenOffice Writer as much as I did five years ago, when it essentially powered my business.

Today, 90% of my words are written in programmer’s text editors (this is being written in the powerful-but-bizarre Emacs editor), and I’m thinking the paper-based metaphor embraced by MS Word and OpenOffice hurts today’s online writers more than it helps.

And yes, because Microsoft keeps changing its document format (essentially holding your data hostage) and OpenOffice still can’t deal with .docx files perfectly, I bought the Softmaker Suite (an affordable, cross-platform MS Office clone sans ribbon interface).

Softmaker’s Textmaker word processor looks a lot like MS Office 2003, and even better, document translation (and features like “Track Changes”) work perfectly.

Simply put, the clients who send me MS Office documents (and expect them back) never know I’m using a $39 office suite. Plus, both OpenOffice and the Softmaker Office are available on Linux, which means I haven’t booted my slow, nagging Windows partition in months.

The rise of cloud computing and platform-agnostic data (pretty much everything posted online) is lessening our dependence on specific software platforms, offering even corporate writers options we never truly had.

My business has changed markedly the last five years, and – not surprisingly – the tools I use have changed alongside it.

Keep writing (but give some thought to what you’re writing with), Tom Chandler.