Finally, after much delay due to my dissertation work, I can resume my work on the role free-software can play in archaeology, in this second entry of Open source archaeology, a brief users guide (II). This is a topic I really enjoy writing about, because there are a lot of tools out there created and updated by devoted groups of supporters that just want to provide us with programs that are not restrained by the market rules and, whether you want to believe or not, they can be as good, if not better, than firmware. In the case of LibreOffice, at least for me, this is absolutely true.
LibreOffice is a project of The Document Foundation, a forked version from OpenOffice, and comprises programs for general office work, such as word processing, the creation and editing of spreadsheets, slide-shows, diagrams and drawings, mathematical formulae and, most important for archaeologists, databases. You can work in the native formats or with other software formats such as .doc, and there is no issue, at least on my experience, to shift from one to the other.
If you are used to work with computers there is not much I can tell you about them, which I think it is something very good. Because that means there is no necessary training to migrate from Office Suite to LibreOffice, just download the software and start working. Based on conversations with friends I am aware that this change is sometimes considered risky: what if I cannot share my files with other researchers, or if I have issue with publications? This is perfectly understandable, and a legitimate concern after all the work we put on the preparation of our texts and datasets. About that the only thing I can say is that I started to work with OpenOffice in 2008 and when my license for Office expired in 2011 I fully transitioned to LibreOffice.
It was an economic decision, I confess. I could not afford the price of a new license. But I actually never needed it. If you have a look at their webpage you will see that many civil institutions and even police organizations, especially in Europe, have migrated in the last 5 years to LibreOffice, which has caused an important cut down of expenses on their IT budgets. Whenever there is a new major release and I can afford it I like to donate to the Foundation some cash, but this amount does not even get close to the cost of keeping a firmware license active.
I write my papers, prepare my presentations, process my data for stats and create my databases in LibreOffice, and there is no practical or scientific reason for not doing so. Even more, Office abandoned the use of Access in the 2008 version, so there is not suite that includes an integrated database. For most people this is not a loss. But if you work in archaeology a database can be a powerful toll to record datasets. Designing one is a complicated task, so I will leave that for a future post, but I believe you do not need my help to have a look and play around it. It is free to download, so give it a try. I think it deserves it. By doing this you will discover that there is nothing much I can tell you about it. It is everything you already know, without having to pay exorbitant prices for it.