LibreOffice extensions

Selecting and installing extensions for LibreOffice. …

The following notes are based on LibreOffice 3.3.2 for Linux and 3.6.1.2 for Windows, and were last updated 7 September 2012. To the best of my knowledge they also apply to OpenOffice and to other operating systems.

Extensions are tools that can be added or removed independently from the installation of the main program. Extensions add new functionality to LibreOffice, or make existing functionality easier to use.

FINDING EXTENSIONS
Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice have extension repositories, the former of which has few offerings at present. Extensions are inter-operable; I have had no difficulties installing OpenOffice extensions on LibreOffice.

On Linux, many distributions' package managers carry extensions, but I have found no advantage to using them vs. going to the extension repositories mentioned above.

INSTALLING EXTENSIONS
There are several ways to install extensions; read the instructions and use whichever method works best for you. I prefer:

  1. Download the extension from the extension repository. Some extensions have versions specific to particular hardware or operating systems.
  2. In LibreOffice, open the Extension Manager (Tools – Extension Manager) and press add. Select the downloaded extension and press open.
  3. Close LibreOffice and the quickstarter, then reopen. Some extensions do not require this step, but some do, so I play it safe and do it as a matter of course.

While doing so, take note of any extensions already installed. Disable or remove any you do not need. Some packagers, thinking themselves helpful, ship LibreOffice pre-bloated with extensions you might not need or want. Worse, sometimes these default extensions are locked (indicated in the Extension Manager with a padlock) and cannot be disabled or removed.

PARTICULAR EXTENSIONS
LanguageTool
LanguageTool is a style and grammar checker for several languages. It is intended to detect errors that a simple spell checker will not catch, e.g. there vs. their, or errors commonly made when not writing in your native language. Requires Java.

PDF Import
The PDF Import extension allows you to import PDF documents into Draw and edit them. Best results are achieved with the PDF/ODF hybrid file format, which this extension also enables. Don't expect perfection or simplicity, but it works better than any competing solution I know. And the most common problem I experience is simply due to not having a needed font installed. TechRepublic has a good how-to.

Spell checking, hyphenation, and thesaurus
These functions are performed by language-specific extensions, often mislabeled as mere spell checker dictionaries. Review the LibreOffice or OpenOffice (better organized) repositories and install a separate extension for each language or regional variation you wish. Notice, for example, that there are separate extensions for British and Canadian English.

Previously, Spanish language versions of LibreOffice came with Spanish language spell checking built in, they did not support out of the box spell checking in regional variants of Spanish. So for example, to successfully spell check a document saved as Honduran Spanish, I had to first manually install the Honduran Spanish extension. I assume this was true of other regional variations of other languages. Beginning with version 3.6 of LibreOffice I no longer observed this behavior, and tested regional variants of Spanish worked out of the box.

In older versions of OpenOffice, the installation of a dictionary extension often silently failed and required checking. I haven't observed this problem recently, but for the record, here's how to check:

The dropdown control at Tools – Options – Language Settings – Languages – Default Languages for Documents – Western shows a check mark for each properly installed dictionary extension. If you do not see a check mark beside a particular language and regional variation, it has not been properly installed.

KEEPING UP TO DATE
Currently, there is no way to have extensions updated automatically. To check for updates manually, press "Check for Updates" on the Extension Manager.

Locked extensions as described above will silently fail to update. To work around this, first manually install the latest version of the extension, even if that be the same version you already have installed. Once manually installed, it will be unlocked and can now be updated. Do not disable or remove it, or LibreOffice will revert to the previous, locked extension.

REFERENCES
If you are looking for templates, you will find template packs tagged in the OpenOffice extension repository. OpenOffice also has a template repository, though I find its contents to have more quantity than quality.

Once installed, templates can be previewed and selected at File – New – Templates and Documents.

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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