One of the areas where web-based office suites such as Google Docs and Zoho have a huge advantage over their offline counterparts is the ability to collaborate online. With Google Docs, EtherPad and other such software it is possible to see the changes others are making in realtime.
The good news is, such features are in development even in LibreOffice. The pace at which the community has been improving this office suite is amazing indeed. In the short duration of its existence it has introduced major new features, it is considering a revamp of its visual appearance, working on a port to mobile devices, working on a way to run the software in a browser, and now collaborative editing of documents in addition.
A couple of LibreOffice developers have already hacked away at a prototype implementation that allows collaborative editing of a LibreOffice spreadsheet document over the internet. It uses the well established XMPP protocol, which is the basis of Google Talk, and Facebook Chat among others, for sending document updates over XMPP.
To communicate and collaborate over XMPP, it uses the Telepathy communication framework. Telepathy provides a feature called Tubes which allows exchanging of arbitrary data with an IM contact.
What this means is that a future version of LibreOffice might allow you to select from a list of chat buddies and work collaboratively with them on a document, over the internet, in real time and using a locally installed copy of LibreOffice.
While there are still long ways to go before this comes as a proper feature in LibreOffice, the following video should be enough to get you excited for now:
For those looking for a free open source office tool that is capable of real-time collaboration, it would be remiss of us not to mention AbiWord at this point. AbiWord is a free, open source word processing software that is available for Linux, Windows and Mac OSX. It was one of the first open source office suites to support grammar checking and it has supported collaborative editing for a number of years now. It is capable of real-time collaborative editing of document by multiple users at the same time. It works pretty much like Google Docs, as one user types in a document, everyone sharing that document sees instant updates of the document contents.
Combined with the free AbiCollab service this allows one to share documents with others and work on them over the internet. In fact, AbiWord can even work locally, without needing a third party service or account, rather using direct connection between multiple AbiWord instances instead.
AbiWord might not be as popular as LibreOffice, but for those needing just a word processor, it might just be a lighter — under 8MB compared to over 200MB for LibreOffice — and better alternative than LibreOffice. In fact, you can easily use it along with LibreOffice since it supports the same formats. For those needing more than just a word processor, though LibreOffice and its collaborative capabilities are something to watch out for.