LibreOffice, Really?! Really?!


I read an article on the Web somewhere that there was a new LibreOffice version. It's been several years since I gave OpenOffice a try and I've been interested to see what OpenOffice had evolved into, so I thought, "Hey, maybe they've improved some. I'll install it and see." Here is what happened.

I visited and, nice! -- a big green download button.

The big green download button has been well tested and is widely recognized so we're off to a good start.

I clicked the big green button expecting a download to start. I was disappointed. Instead of triggering a download, I'm dumped on one of the worst download pages I've ever encountered, a page titled LibreOffice Productivity Suite Download » LibreOffice which looks like this.

After clicking the thing that looked like a link right under the big Download label about three times,

I realized that was not a link at all, just cleverly designed to impersonate a link and piss me off. I scanned down the page looking for another big green download button. No such luck. Scanning further down the page I see some additional potentially fake links but these ones have some file size information attached so maybe they're what I'm looking for.

But WTF, there are 4 of them. Which one do I want and what's the difference between the "I" version and the "checkmark" version. Maybe the first one is documentation -- an "I" for information? The second one has a green checkmark and that's sort of like a green download button. Let me mouse over it and see if it gives me more information in a tooltip or something. Nope, nothing. OK, I'll click it and see what happens. Nothing.

So now I'm annoyed and I go back up to the top of the page and start reading the actual content. I just wanted to download LibreOffice, but if I must read a page of documentation before I'm allowed to do that, so be it. OK. Now I see, the "I" icon is just stupid, and meaningless. Actually, it's worse than that, it's misleading. It is supposed to signal that this is the newest version of LibreOffice while the "checkmark" icon is the previous version of LibreOffice. What the icons are supposed to add to the experience, I have no idea, but having read the text, I now understand that I want to go back down the page and find the "I" icon version of the download.

No problem. Or, so I thought. WTH! Which of the two links do I want?

I've been around software for a while, so even though the amazing people at LibreOffice didn't bother to label these downloads in any meaningful way, I think if I read their crazy filenames I might decipher what I need to know here here. The first one says LibO 3.5.0 Win x86 install multi.msi. "LibO". OK, that's problem some project shorthand for LibreOffice. "3.5.0". That sounds like the version I remember reading about in the article that kicked this whole thing off. "Win". I'm on Windows, that's probably a good sign. "x86". I guess so. "install" hey, now we're getting somewhere. "multi.msi". Hrm. What does multi mean. Is this one part of several? Could that be what the second link is about? Or is that because it's going to install multiple programs? OpenOffice was certainly a group of separate programs. And then the "msi" bit. I know that's for corporate deployments or something so I hope I don't need some kind of enterprise software manager to make it go. I'm gonna just go ahead and assume that's like an .exe and it'll just work.

But what's this other file. "LibO 3.5.0 Win x86 helppack en-US.msi". Do I need "helppack"? Is that just help documentation? Is it a "helper" pack with additional features? Why is it a separate download instead of an option in the primary download. Well, I'll go ahead and download it and if I need it later I'll have it on disk ready to install.

So, downloading .... downloading .... Is 200MB really necessary? I suppose there's a lot in there. I really only want the Word and Excel equivalents. Maybe they could have offered a small download that let me pick components and then only fetch the ones I need? OK. Download complete. Let's see what the installer looks like. (Nice, it tells me in at least three places that what I'm seeing is the Installation Wizard -- just in case that wasn't obvious.)

Interesting. So I'm installing something called "The Document Foundation"? What is "The Document Foundation"? Oh, I see. A quick look back at the website makes things clear. The company name is "LibreOffice" and the product name is "The Document Foundation".

OK. "Next". "Next". "Next" and I'm installing! But now I realize that I am indeed installing LibreOffice 3.5, not The Document Foundation. I know this because the installer panel is helpfully telling me in at least 4 different places.

Installed! I finished the installer.... Hmmm .... Nothing's happening. Did it fail? Do I have to launch it? I'll try that. I'll just go to the Start Menu...

Uhh. What's "Base"? Is that the shared shell thing that Office has where you can pick which kind of document you want to create? Or is that some kind of shared library? What I'm really looking for are the Word or Excel equivalents. Lemme check "All Programs" in the Start menu and see what's there. Ahh, there's the program group. Great.

There's that "Base" again. Ahh. Yes. The last two look promising. Writer is probably the Word equivalent. What's the generic "LibreOffice" item at the end there. Could that be the... Nevermind. I'll play it safe and start up Writer.


No. I won't. Eff you, LibreOffice. Seriously. After all this, you're going to tell me I need to locate and install (on my own) some other piece of Java software because you couldn't bother make it a part of your already awful download and install process. Are you kidding me?

Maybe I'll wait a few years more and try again. Probably not.


In the new version you only have to click OK twice to the don't-have-Java dialog, then nothing happens, and you can start Writer or Calc again and everything you (I) need works.

I had to uninstall the old version, because even after a reboot it claimed I had LibreOffice or LibreOffice Quick Start running amd therefore it could not install, and I could not find them in Task Manager.

Base is the Access replacement. I agree the download and installation process is horrible, but the actual program works very well, and I like it a lot.

Well, I have my own definition of geeks: People that put no value on their time spent in front of computer.

So, this is geek product, and it is really "pure fun" for them, what else to say...

You're totally right. To be fair though, there seems to be work ongoing to remove the dependence on Java, so that might take care of one problem at least.

Nice infomercial, Microsoft

In the spirit of "time is money", I would rather spend hundreds of dollars for a well-polished, few-bugs Microsoft Word program than to get the free Open Office / Libre Office program. It's great if you need something free, but if you need to get something done, then Microsoft Word is the best choice.

Hi Asa, informative and entertaining piece about how not to do it. However, one thing:

You state in you opening sentence: "LibreOffice version. It's been several years since I gave OpenOffice". However, OpenOffice is a different product that is found here:

Just to not discredit the good folks at Their downloading and installing experience is much better ;o)

The installation of the previous versions was even worst. The .exe extracted everything to a folder on the desktop and left it there!!! Has been so since at least OOo 2.x, so things *are* improving.

@Kevin: When you compare Excel vs Calc or Base vs Access you are right, but I have to disagree about Word vs Writer. I think Writer is better.

@Asa: Your blog doesn't allow me to post a comment when I leave the email address field empty. Why don't I see that in advance? Or a simple client side test? Had to retype my comment! Pot calling the kettle black ;-)

This is exactly the reason why people prefer apps from an app store. Tap > install > done.

Go get the Live CD and try LibreOffice that way.

No install, no Java, just burn and re-start.

I'm afraid that, had you actually got through the installation process, you would find that LibreOffice 3.5 is not exactly a huge leap compared to OpenOffice 2. There have certainly been improvements, but I still find the spreadsheet pretty much unusable, and the import/export for Word documents is still not good enough. It's not in the same league as Microsoft Office.

It's important that someone raises these points, and Mozilla, who have years of experience in providing free software installation downloads to Windows users are in a position to share their accumulated learning with LibreOffice. I hope they get offered more than a sarcastic blog post. (The amazing static analysis, memory and performance profiling and telemetry work are other things that Mozilla have taken a lead on and could probably work together with LibreOffice on in future)

I would point out though, in response to the predictable linux geek vs usability comments that anyone running Linux just gets this app installed by default as a basic part of the OS. No downloads, no trialware, no registration key etc. So not only is there a much better, more usable, "open" alternative, but it's possible that a big reason for the problems is that the people working on the project don't face it themselves, a very easy trap to fall into and which many other projects, such as Mozilla, have fallen foul of on occasion as well.

Fair points Asa. I bet the LibreOffice team will pick this up and come up with a better process. They've been working hard to make OOo so much better.

A simple downloader like setup thing, that's only a few kb big and let's you pick and choose the parts you really want to install (and download) seems like the most straightforward solution.

You nearly got there, probably only a few seconds away from a working install. Unfortunately there may then have been a bit of configuring required, and maybe additional add-ons or templates would be required to get a useful complex word processor.

I recently went through all that installing LibreOffice on a Windows 7 laptop. I had the advantage that I had installed Libre Office previously, but I agree it is not a very well thought out process.

It is cost free open source, but they are not doing them selves any favours with an install method that probably has changed little since it was in beta.Its probably easier to install Ubuntu, which now includes Libre Office.

Hi Asa,

Amused by your comments on the download page; I share your analysis, but the good news is there is a new design, and we're working on fixing it - sadly finding people at the intersection of Silverstrip / custom javascript and good UI design has proven difficult.

The first-install / base in the menus issue is an interesting one.

As for the "JRE" error dialog, this is a first-ever-run problem, that should go away permanently after (in this release) only two instances. There is some work just going into master that will rid us of the need for Java at first-start forever (at last) :-) if we're confident enough, we might even try to back-port that to 3.5.x at some stage (I'd like that).

The choice of having two brands: "The Document Foundation" vs. "LibreOffice" is a curious one, in part motivated by a wish to help IBM avoid some unpleasant contractual realities they signed up to in the past.

Anyhow - I'll pass your feedback onto the right people, and hopefully by 3.5.1 we'll be better.



There used to be a download option with Java, but it is gone. My guess is that they might not be allowed to distribute it anymore ?

And there are working on getting rid of the Java dependency as far as I know, thank god.

While you're right about the bad experience, it's a shame you decided to slam the folk who just spent the last year making it better for us all. They have inherited a legacy of technical debt from Sun and have been doing truly incredible work fixing it. But they haven't got as far as polishing this bit yet. Pity Mozilla isn't using its vast wealth to help them, huh?

Worse, they are under constant subtle sniping from IBM and a disaffected minority who are for some reason building a competing project at Apache (misleadingly named "Open Office" because Oracle decided to take one last swing at the community before they quit for good) instead of joining in with the community.

As you can see from that comment from Marco (who hasn't realized is dead and that Apache has never released a new version), your decision to sarcastically attack this fledgling community will be used to make their lives even more miserable. Shame.


"Pity Mozilla isn't using its vast wealth to help them, huh?"

... Why would they do that?

Found exactly the same when trying it out to install on a customer computer, expect that it got much worse, during the startup the annoying Java missing alert popped up every second.

@ Asa You should really try the portable apps version. It has a much better installer and it runs without java. You can also install java with 2 clicks there. The portable apps launcher is awesome and keeps your programs up2date.

I agree, Asa, but there's no need to make your web page look like the output of a very bad word processor as well.

Please change the font you use here to something readable.

Ta in advance,


Re: not bundling Java

I suspect that was a legal decision, seeing as how LibreOffice was a hostile fork of Sun's OpenOffice, and that company is currently actively suing others over java patents.

Anyway, while the overall install process isn't very good, I think it's worth pointing out that most Windows apps that you download off the internet are just as bad. That's one of the reasons app stores have really taken off. It's also something I imagine a good portion of Libre Office's contributors don't care about since linux distros take care of the installation for them.

Maybe you should have taken a look at the color of the icons?
blue: word processing
green: table calculation
orange: presentation
violet: data base

both Microsoft Office and LibeOffice are using the same color scheme. The Icons of LibreOffice clearly indicate the tasks of their programs.

And do you really believe, that "access" is much more intuitive for the task of the application than "base"? Especially, when your mother tongue is not English?
Do you really think, that an avarage home user has an idea about "access"? access to what?

By the way: In the early days of OpenOffice they tried to integrate mozilla mail as their Outlook counterpart. Reading your verdict it's quite clear, why they've failed.

Asa, : 1) You root for Windows 8 (Metro); 2) You root for Windows Phones 7+; 3) You root big time for Bing; 4) You root for MS Office. I notice a pattern on your bog postings. One of these days you will be rooting from Internet Explorer over Firefox.

I don't take issue with the substance of your comments - Obviously the experience could be improved. But I am a bit surprised at the tone, given the similarity of purpose behind LibreOffice and Mozilla/Firefox. I would have expected a more constructive and friendly post and maybe even an offer to help or point the LibreOffice folks towards some of the community that's helped make Firefox more newb-friendly.

I know that Moz folks don't always take well similar posts about the failings and foibles of Firefox. Might be better to approach other projects with the same treatment you'd want to get for Firefox.

Hello Asa,

Overall, you give a good example of what goes through the mind of people when they actually test the usability of a webpage.

"After clicking the thing that looked like a link right under the big Download label about three times, I realized that was not a link at all,"

"Make obvious what's clickable" and what's not: J. Nielsen, 2. Non standard links, Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005

"What the icons are supposed to add to the experience, I have no idea
the 'I' icon is just stupid, and meaningless."

This is unfortunately a growing phenomenon on webpages: they need to iconify, logo-ify, ideographize and pictographize anything and everything on a webpage. The result is that those icons, logos, ideographs, pictograms mean nothing in the absolute and often nothing in relativity. They just boggle, fill the mind of useless, meaningless images.

Also, often, icons may indicate something but, in the end, we are never sure of what exactly because they get overused, misused, abused, over-associated. The binocular icon is a good example of this: what does it mean? Magnify? Or search? Or find?

The title in the titlebar of the Installation Wizard is dark (dark text written in a rather dark area of titlebar): now, in all fairness, that is your fault, Asa. But I agree with you that "LibreOffice" should be the most important words of that Installation Wizard and not "The Document Foundation".

Whether JRE (Oracle or OpenJDK) is installed or not is detectable too from a webpage. So, the webpage could do a much better job and help anyone looking to download LibreOffice.

lists 11 methods of detecting Java

b) Oracle

c) BrowserSpy (javascript):


"Please change the font you use here to something readable." Phil

Asa, I have to agree with Phil on this (if he meant the font-size). I recommend reading

The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard (November 17, 2006) by Oliver Reichenstein.

"Doing it right

So what does an author have to do to get it right? Absolutely nothing! Just avoid specifying a font in CSS for or

The Wrong Size Fonts Or why not to over-ride the reader's font size

If you do not specify any font size at all (as on the pages you are reading), text will appear in the default size that was selected by the user.
Truth & Consequences of Web Design: Font size by Chris Beal

For this year's list of worst design mistakes, I decided to try something new: I asked readers of my newsletter to nominate the usability problems they found the most irritating.

1. Legibility Problems
Bad fonts won the vote by a landslide, getting almost twice as many votes as the #2 mistake. About two-thirds of the voters complained about small font sizes or frozen font sizes; (...)
Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005: 1. Legibility Problems

If the website would not [re-]define the font size for unstyled body text and for headings elements, then the user preferences for unstyled body text (and then the heading elements proportionality) as set in the browser preferences would prevail.

This is known to be the most accessible way to set, to style font-size: you avoid setting it, you avoid styling it and then the preferences of the user (otherwise the browser defaults) shine. The user is perfectly in control this way.

No one knows what's my preferred font size for reading normal body text. No one knows in advance what's the preferred font size for reading normal body text for this visitor, that visitor, for any visitor. The nice thing is: the web authors do not need to know that and they can honor individually each visitor's preferences.

Also, setting line-height to 1.25 or 1.4 actually helps readability: there are known studies on this.

regards, Gérard Talbot

I have to agree with Joe here. Being an active contributor in the free and open source software world already carries with it enough burden trying to provide great software when the landscape is dominated by proprietary stuff. Surely we can do better than to rant at our fellow contributors rather than being polite with our constructive criticism. Or to put it another way, manners matter.

Oddly enough, I get the feeling you're secretly trying to disparage Windows rather than LibreOffice. As a note, LibreOffice comes standard on *most* Linux distributions. And updating to the latest version is usually as simple as one click. So it stands to reason that the complications you faced on your Windows box while installing LibreOffice is the fault of your chosen operating system and not the app itself.

The comments by w-j-s are rather strange:
"Maybe you should have taken a look at the color of the icons?
blue: word processing
green: table calculation
orange: presentation
violet: data base

both Microsoft Office and LibeOffice are using the same color scheme. The Icons of LibreOffice clearly indicate the tasks of their programs."

Relying on colour to convey information? While 1 out of every 8 men have some form of colour-blindness? The icons are meaningless, and if users have to memorise a colour-scheme to figure out what the heck they mean, they are FAIL.

w-j-s: "And do you really believe, that "access" is much more intuitive for the task of the application than "base"? Especially, when your mother tongue is not English?
Do you really think, that an avarage home user has an idea about "access"? access to what?"

As an average computer user, I have no freaking clue what "access" nor "base" mean in the context of an Office program. I have no idea why you think someone with English as a second language would have any more clue what "base" meant, other than the guess made above by Asa that it's some sort of generic wrapper for all the programs inside. Or something. Not sure.

I swear, for all the developers who supposedly are still living with their moms, do they not realise what a great resource they have there (assuming their moms aren't hackers)? Ask your mom to do an installation.
Ask your mom to try to use a program.
Ask your mom what she thinks that clear-as-day icon means.
Ask her what she thinks the program names mean, what will that button do when she clicks it, where would she go for more information about X?

@ stomme poes
The color scheme is for people, who have used Microsoft Office before.
Similar icons of programs for the same task are a good idea. Of course, they are not enough.

I have installed LibreOffice 3.4.5 - German Edition - at this computer:
Hovering over a "base" icon I can read: "Verwalten von Datenbanken, Erstellen von Abfragen und Berichten". It clearly points to the programme's task.

Starting the whole suite I got a window with several icons and text.
The text says clearly, what the the icon is about - with no English words.
You don't read "Writer", you read "Textdokument".
Perhaps many Germans don't know what a presentation ("Präsentation" in German) is, because most Germans call computer presentations "Powerpoint".

And by the way: Although I am not living with my parents, I've bought my mom a notebook computer. I have installed Ubuntu Linux with Firefox/Thunderbird/LibreOffice - no dual boot with MS Windows, Linux only, because I don't think she is able to handle all the problems caused by virusses or other malware - and because of the excellent centralized patch system of linux distros.

Thunderbird is the program, which causes the most problems, then Firefox.
It's not the office suite. The problems are not caused by the programs. My mother would have the same problems with other eMail clients or browsers, mostly caused by English technical terms in mails, web sites, the programs and so on.

I should mention, she only speaks German.

Gérard Talbot, what would you prefer I do with fonts here? I don't set a size on the body font in posts. It's what ever your default is, isn't it?

- A

w-j-s: "Perhaps many Germans don't know what a presentation ("Präsentation" in German) is, because most Germans call computer presentations "Powerpoint"."

That's possible, but of course someone owns the term "Powerpoint", and it cannot be used even for clarity by another program. It's not unusual for a popular brand name to take the place of the generic product name. Nobody here seems to know the name for window blinds. They're all "Luxaflex".

The Dutch in general have adopted English words and "Dutchified" them. People say they've "geupload" something or "gegoogled" things, though I've noticed that while many adults use these terms, they don't seem to be as clear on what they mean as you'd first think from hearing them. Often the English-based word appears more often than whatever native Dutch word there is, in IT.

Translation in Linux seems hit or miss (interesting article here and Orca is a project I do follow on the mailing lists).

I still don't know what "base" is, but then, I'm a computer user who does not use office programs much. Very few names would automatically mean much to me. I have little idea what Microsoft Access does. It sounds like it gives me access to something. Not only do the names have to make as much sense as possible, but unless your product is #1 in worldwide popularity, you'll need a one-sentence description of what the program does anyway.

While the issues of language are by themselves strong enough, the icon issue Asa pointed out were on the website itself. Having information appear on :hover (which is completely mouse-dependent due to browsers being retarded with the title attribute, as pointed out repeatedly and repeatedly by Steve Faulkner) is non-discoverable (same problem as mystery-meat menus, they depend on users both having mice and randomly mousing around and hoping for informative titles) and considered not sufficient for accessibly conveying information to the public. Gérard's comments above about over-iconification, I agree completely with. Instead of confusing users with random i's and checkmarks, the site should have simply used meaningful text.

Also I want to point out the mom-section of my post was not specifically directed at you w-j-s, but at the community in general. Even if someone is just translating an app or site to another language, a native-speaking mom is still a great resource.

Asa: here's what I do for setting fonts:
body {
font: 100%/130% someFontStack, someBackupFamily;
simply because explicitly setting a (%-only) font-size relieves an IE text-enlarge bug. And, apparently, people claim they can read sans-serif fonts on the screen better than serif (Georgia is fairly readable with the larger-than-average x-height but I only have it because I downloaded msttcorefonts which many Linuxers don't bother doing).
Otherwise though, except for the places you have "font-size: smaller" (which varies much cross-browser/OS), indeed the text here should already be at our default size settings. If I view this site in Firefox that is indeed the case (inherits from my Desktop settings).
...Chrome I have to always ctrl++ several times because everything in Chrome is too small to read by default. Which isn't the fault of this site.

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