4 Open-source Word Processing Tools

Isaac Mulolani

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this chapter, the reader will be able to:

  1. Identify the various open-source word processing tools for creating OER
  2. Identify word-processing features appropriate for the creation of OER
  3. Describe additional tools that can be used in conjunction with open-source word processing programs

Open-source Word Processing Options

Following on from the previous chapter, we will now look at open-source options. In this chapter, there are a couple of tools that complement the word processing tools that will be discussed. The first tool will be LibreOffice which started as a fork of the OpenOffice office suite. This free suite is used by millions of people around the globe.

The next tool to discuss will be the familiar Google Docs which is a cloud-based free word processing option. These tools allows online collaboration and sharing of documents. The software suite now has the ability to extend the functionality of the software using a number of add-ons.

When creating documents in word processors, there are times when pictures, graphics and photos are needed. As was mentioned in the previous chapter, any graphics to be used in a document need to be either created or brought in from image repositories. This is usually done with external tools. In this chapter we will look at GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) , a free tool that can be used in support of document creation. Another free tool is called Inkscape which is a drawing program. Inkscape  has been considered by some to be an open-source version of Adobe Illustrator.


LibreOffice is compatible with a wide range of document formats such as Microsoft® Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx) and Publisher. But LibreOffice goes much further with its native support for a modern and open standard, the Open Document Format (ODF). With LibreOffice, you have maximum control over your data and content – and you can export your work in many different formats including PDF.

The LibreOffice website describes the software to be a successor to OpenOffice that has a world-wide user base. It contains several applications:

  1. Writer – for word processing
  2. Calc – for spreadsheets
  3. Impress  – for presentations
  4. Draw – for vector graphics and flowcharts
  5. Base – for database
  6. Math – for editing formulae

For the sake of this writing, our interest is to see how many features LibreOffice’s Writer provides in comparison to Word. The following table provides a comparison of the two word processors.

Feature Word LibreOffice
Fonts, Font Size Yes Yes
List Environments Yes Yes
Line & Paragraph spacing Yes Yes
Styles Yes Yes
Editing - Find, Replace, Select Yes Yes
Office Dictation Yes No
Editor - Spell Check, Grammar, Writing suggestions Yes Yes
Pages - Cover Page, Blank Page, Page Break Yes Yes
Tables Yes Yes
Illustrations - Pictures, Shapes, Icons, 3 D Models, Smart Art, Chart Yes Yes
Add-ins - Get Add-ins, Wikipedia Yes No
Media - Online Videos Yes No
Links - Link, Bookmark, Cross-reference Yes Yes
Comments Yes Yes
Header & Footer Yes Yes
Text - Text Box, Quick Parts, Date and time Yes Yes
Symbols - Equation, Symbols Yes Yes
Document formatting - Colors, Fonts, Paragraph spacing, Effects Yes Yes
Page Background - Watermark, Page Color, Page borders Yes No (only watermark)
Page Setup - Margins, Orientation, Size, Columns Yes Yes
Paragraph - Indent, Spacing Yes Yes
Arrange -Position, Wrap Text, Bring Forward, Send Backward, Select Pane, Align, Group, Rotate Yes No
Table of Contents Yes Yes
Footnotes - Footnotes, Endnotes Yes Yes
Research - Search, Researcher Yes No
Citations & Bibliography - Citation, Manage Sources, Style, Bibliography Yes No (only Bibliography)
Captions - Insert Caption, Insert Table of Figures, Cross-reference Yes No (only cross-reference)
Index Yes Yes
Table of Authorities Yes No
Proofing - Editor, Thesaurus, Word count Yes Yes
Speech Yes No
Accessibility check Yes Yes
Language - Translate, Language select Yes Yes
Comments Yes Yes
Tracking - Track changes, Show Markup, Reviewing Pane, All Markup Yes Yes
Changes Yes Yes
Compare Yes No
Protect - Restrict Editing, Block Authors Yes Yes
Ink Yes No
Resume - Resume Assistant Yes No

Table 4.1 Comparison of features in Word vs LibreOffice

A more detailed comparison is provided on the Document Foundation Wiki. This contains a comparison between LibreOffice 7.3.0 vs MS Office 2021/365.

One of the key differences from examining the Writer menu is that LibreOffice has a Form tab with options for creating forms.

Document open in Writer showing form tab
Figure 4.1 Writer editor with the menu including the Form tab

LibreOffice Extensions

A very interesting feature of LibreOffice is the ability to install extensions through the Extension Manager under the Tools tab. The LibreOffice Extensions page has a list of extensions and the ability to search for extensions as well. Clearly, this adds many more features and/or templates that a person can install to use for document creation. One example is that for those needing it, there is an APA extension that can be installed.

Additional LibreOffice Tools

LibreOffice comes with the Draw program which enables you to draw some limited picture elements. This is helpful for creating simple graphics for inclusion in documents. Another included program is the Math program that may be useful for some people. The Calc program is the option for working with spreadsheets similar Excel.

Calc editor from LibreOffice
Figure 4.2 Calc program editing menu

Impress provides the ability to create presentations in a similar manner to PowerPoint.

Impress editor open from LibreOffice
Figure 4.3 Impress editing menu

Presentation created in PowerPoint can be edited within Impress since LibreOffice supports the file formats from Office 365. Some of the features of Impress are described  in the H5P below.

Reasons for lack of Popularity of LibreOffice

The Linux Pro Magazine in their Winter 2020 issue 40, featured LibreOffice in this issue. One question addressed is, if LibreOffice really is totally free and compatible with Microsoft Office, then why hasn’t the whole world moved over to it? Why is MS Office still popular around the world? Here are some key reasons.

What is the OpenDocument Format?

LibreOffice uses the OpenDocument Format (ODF), a fully open and ISO standardised file format that guarantees access to your data forever. (You can, of course, encrypt your documents with a password.) Because ODF is standardised, other office software can implement support for it as well – and many programs have done so. By using ODF, you ensure that your data can be transferred between different computers and operating systems, without having to worry about vendor lock-in or license fees.

ODF extensions

Typical extensions for ODF files include the following:

  • .odt – a text document
  • .ods – a spreadsheet file
  • .odp – a presentation file
  • .odg – an illustration or graphic

What to do if you’re sent an ODF file

If you are sent a file with one of the above extensions, but your software or operating system can’t identify it, then simply download LibreOffice – it’s free and open source software, originally based on OpenOffice.org, and handles all of the above extensions.

Google Documents

Google Docs is an online office suite that allows the creation and collaboration on online documents in real-time and from any device. The following are the features of Google docs.

There are two different options for using Google Docs: free for personal use or Business standard for $12 USD.

  For Personal (Free) Business Standard
$12 USD/user/month
Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms content creation Yes Yes
Drive Secure cloud storage 15 GB per user 2 TB per user
Shared drives for your team no Yes
Gmail Secure e-mail Yes Yes
Custom business email No Yes
Meet Video and voice conferencing 100 participants 150 participants
Meeting recordings save to Drive No Yes
Admin Centralized administration No Yes
Group-based security policy controls No Yes
Customer support Self-service online and community forums 24/7 online support and community forums

Figure 4.4 shows a screen capture of Google Docs editing menu.

Document open in the Google Docs online editor
Figure 4.4 Google Docs editor with menu options

There are some similar editing menu tab items. The one that is different is the Add-ons tab option that allows one to extend the features of Google Docs. On the right side of Figure 4.4, there are the following options:

  • Calendar – add items to the calendar
  • Keep – Take notes for the document
  • Tasks – add some tasks
  • Contacts – access the contacts in Google
  • Maps – access Google Maps
  • Get Add-ons – one can add additional add-ons

At the top right of this editing screen is an Editing tab which allows collaborative editing. Another tab adds comments and shows the comment history. The final item is the Share button.

Google Docs editing menu with sharing option active
Figure 4.5 Google Docs Sharing activated

This provides the option to share a document  with other people, groups  or provide a link that provides everyone with the link access to the document.

Google Docs Microsoft Word
Overall Findings
  • Free for all features.
  • Easy to use from anywhere.
  • All the basic editing tools most people need.
  • Useful and simple sharing options.
  • Robust desktop program.
  • Great for offline work.
  • Free during the trial period.
Cost Its all free Free only during a limited-time trial
  • Lots of basic features.
  • Useful for light writing requirements.
  • Can open DOCX files from Word.
  • Extensive menus full of options.
  • Ideal for research and writing.
  • Accepts several document file formats.
  • Website access from anywhere.
  • Mobile app for Android and iOS.
  • Consistency no matter where it’s used.
  • Runs on Windows and Mac.
  • Mobile app for Android and iOS.
  • Ultra-fast collaboration.
  • Built-in email form.
  • Delayed updates when working with shared files.
  • Requires a desktop email client.
Offline Usage
  • Relies on an active internet connection.
  • Supports offline access but it’s off by default.
  • Runs entirely offline.
  • Easy to save documents to attached hard drives.

Table 4.1 Comparison of features between Google Docs and Microsoft Word.[1]

When looking at this feature comparison, it is clear that both tools are useful for different purposes. Google Docs is perfect for those who don’t want to pay for a word processor but still need a functioning method for viewing and editing documents. Google Docs still works with Word files and has all the features most people need. It is also easier to understand and works great for sharing and backing up documents. On the other hand Word has more features and has long been the business standard.  To get an updated version of Word installed, you will have to pay for all those benefits.

Open-source Tools  for use with Word Processors

In this section, we describe some additional tools that can be used in combination with the LibreOffice suite of tools. GIMP is an open source cross-platform image editor available for GNU/Linux, macOS, Windows and other operating systems. Inkscape is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) licensed under Gnu General Public License. Inkscape is free! By this, we mean it is free of cost, free to use and distribute, and open to peek into the source code if you wish to do so.

Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. The terms of usage and rules about copying are clearly listed in the GNU General Public License. There is a nice Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

The GIMP program is a cross platform image editor available for multiple operating systems. Since it is free software, you can change its source code and distribute your changes. Whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, or scientist, GIMP provides you with sophisticated tools to get your job done. You can further enhance your productivity with GIMP thanks to many customization options and 3rd party plugins.

GIMP provides top-notch color management features to ensure high-fidelity color reproduction across digital and printed media. From the program’s website we are told that GIMP is best used in workflows involving other free software such as Scribus, Inkscape, and SwatchBooker.  These are other open-source tools that are under a GNU General Public License.

An image open in GIMP
Figure 4.6 An image open in the GIMP editor

Features of GIMP

GIMP is a versatile graphics manipulation package. The following H5P provides a summary of some of the features of the tool.


Inkscape has been developed for designers of all kinds. The tool allows you to take a project from a doodle on a napkin to a final professional-grade design format which is ready for publication on the web or in physical form. If you are new to the process of creating vector graphics it may feel different, but you will quickly be pleased by the flexibility, and power Inkscape offers. Vector design is often the preferred method of image creation for logos, illustrations and art which require high scalability. The Inkscape application is used across a wide variety of industries (marketing/branding, engineering/CAD, web graphics, cartooning) and individual uses.

An image open the Inkscape program
Figure 4.7 The Inkscape editor with an open image

Features of Inkscape

In this section, the features of Inkscape are briefly described. The H5P summarises these features.

These features appear similar to those found in the commercial tool Adobe Illustrator. For this reason, some people consider Inkscape to be an open-source version of Illustrator.



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Tools for Creating OER by Isaac Mulolani is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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