Skip to main content

LibreOffice embraces GPU acceleration: A fresh competitive angle against Microsoft Office?

If you grew up a PC gamer or enjoy the hobby as an adult, the chances are good that you’ve found yourself, hat in hand, attempting to negotiate the purchase of a more capable machine. For more than a decade, we gamers could fall back on the classic "Office Defence," swearing that, thanks to Microsoft, that new CPU, RAM, and GPU were necessary.

And then, after years of tacit partnership, Micro Bro betrayed us. Windows 7’s system requirements were identical to Vista’s, as were Windows 8. Office 2013 moved the bar slightly, to the point that a single-core computer from 2001 probably can’t run it, but that’s it. We were abandoned. Betrayed. Bereft.

But the fine folks behind LibreOffice want to change that. According to a statement released earlier this week, AMD has joined the Document Foundation and will be helping with a rewrite of LibreOffice Calc to move certain computation to the GPU.

Ars Technica spoke with Michael Meeks, a LibreOffice developer and distinguished engineer for Attachmate’s SUSE business unit, who told them: “We traditionally had a big performance problem in Calc [the LibreOffice spreadsheet application] for large data sets. My hope is we not only eliminate that problem but that we do significantly better.”

According to Meeks, the current state of Calc is pretty ugly, with a great deal of duplicate or substandard code cluttering some essential paths. Part of the reason for bringing AMD and HSA (heterogeneous system architecture) into the mix is that it gives the foundation an excuse to tear out the cruft and rebuild the core engine, this time using OpenCL. HSA will also be front-and-centre, with additional benefits for processors like Kaveri which support it. Meeks believes that all users will see a performance improvement, even those without compatible GPUs.

Tongue-in-cheek justifications for upgrading aside, Calc isn’t exactly Microsoft Office, and baking GPU enhancements into the product isn’t going to change that. Done well, however, it’s possible that it’ll give LibreOffice a competitive angle against its far-larger rival. More importantly, it increases the general level of integration between CPU and GPU. It’s been more than five years since AMD started talking about “Fusion,” but the degree of GPU acceleration for consumer-level applications is still quite low. Bringing a GPU-enhanced version of Calc to market should help that.

The underlying code will be written in OpenCL, so any modern solution from AMD, Intel, or Nvidia should support it. Those of us in need of a graphics card update, meanwhile, can breathe a sigh of relief.

While you're here, you might also want to check out our review of LibreOffice 4.