I ran into an issue the other day that ended up taking me hours to solve, in part because I couldn’t find any other solutions online, which is pretty unusual these days.

Here was the issue: I was evaluating a paper (I’m an academic and read lots of papers) that had a bunch of Greek letters/symbols in it as part of a regression formula. On my computer running Kubuntu 19.10 with LibreOffice 6.3, the Greek letters showed up perfectly fine. On my laptop, which I had just reformatted and on which was a fresh install of Kubuntu 20.04 with Libreoffice 6.4.3.2, the Greek letters were all showing up as something other than Greek letters – odd symbols or dingbats or something. Here’s the version number from a fresh install of Kubuntu 20.04:

And here’s what was being displayed in LibreOffice with the document:

Those familiar with the Greek alphabet will clearly see that these odd dingbats or symbols are definitely not from the Greek alphabet.

I spent about three hours googling for a solution and trying various suggestions. Google is usually a Linux user’s best friend and it’s common that someone else has had the same issue or something similar. Alas, no luck this time. No one, as far as I could tell, had run into this exact issue before. The closest problems seemed to suggest that the problem wasn’t with LibreOffice but with my Linux installation and that I was missing some language packs. Specifically, these semi-related issues suggested I needed to install a language pack with Cyrillic characters. This suggestion seemed reasonable as this version of LibreOffice didn’t seem to ship with support for Cyrillic characters:

Screenshot from LibreOffice for inserting special characters; Greek is not included by default.

I installed a Cyrillic language package from the repositories and restarted my computer. Nothing. I was still getting dingbats instead of Greek letters. I tried about 10 more Cyrillic language packages thinking that maybe I hadn’t found just the right one, searching through the repositories for anything that mentioned Greek or Cyrillic. Haphazardly adding language packages doesn’t seem like a good approach, but I was getting desperate. Even so, it didn’t help. I still couldn’t display the Greek letters in the document.

Next, I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the same version of LibreOffice – 6.4.3.2, which is the version shipping with Kubuntu 20.04. That didn’t work.

After a couple of hours and no solution, I decided that I’d try a different version of LibreOffice. On their website, LibreOffice makes two additional release candidates or development versions available. I could have gone straight to 7.0.0, which was in Alpha, but I opted instead for version 6.4.4.2. To uninstall LibreOffice, I used the following commands (see here):

sudo apt-get remove --purge libreoffice*
sudo apt-get clean
sudo apt-get autoremove

To install the new version, you have to untar the files you downloaded then navigate to the DEBS folder you just unpacked, then run the following:

sudo dpkg -i *.deb

After installing LibreOffice 6.4.4.2, I opened the file that was having issues and, lo and behold, it worked just fine:

There are my lovely alphas, betas, sigmas, epsilons, and omegas!

I’m assuming this is a bug in LibreOffice 6.4.3.2 or, at a minimum, the folks who packaged that version left something out of it. Either way, I was frustrated enough at the end that I realized I needed to post a solution for others who may run into this. Since Ubuntu/Kubuntu 20.04 is an LTS (long-term support) release, having a serious bug shipping in the included version of LibreOffice is, no doubt, going to frustrate many users.

I spent a solid three hours on something that was working perfectly fine in LibreOffice 6.3 but broken in 6.4.3.2. That’s annoying. I’m a huge fan of LibreOffice and prefer it far and above MS Office. It’s mature enough software now that little regressions like this really shouldn’t happen.

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