Microsoft’s Office suite has long been the king of productivity software. And with good reason—it is the most full-featured office suite available. Not only is MS Office deployed extensively throughout enterprises, but many consumers rely on it for their day-to-day word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs, too.
But Microsoft Office isn’t cheap. Office Home and Student 2007 sells for $149.95 at the Microsoft Store (the 2008 Mac version is the same price). There are some discounts available for University students, but unless you’re in college you might be stuck paying the full price—which is why many folks are starting to look for alternatives.
Fortunately there are several quality, free Microsoft Office alternatives that are completely compatible with the famous word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation software. Each alternative product has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on how you prefer to get your work done.
If you’re looking for a free Microsoft Office download, good luck. However, we do have the next best thing. Here are our top choices for free Microsoft office alternatives:
OpenOffice.org is by far the best desktop alternative to Microsoft Office. Oracle’s full-blown Office suite includes the ability to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, diagrams, databases, as well as HTML and XML documents. Microsoft Office users will be able to interact with your files, since everything is saved in compatible formats. Because the software and files reside on your hard drive, you don’t need to be connected to the Web to get work done. The interface and commands are very similar to what you may have experienced in previous versions of Office. The software is stable and can handle a wide range of productivity tasks.
If you are an advanced user, then you will enjoy taking advantage of the repository of extensions that are available. The developer community is pretty active, with options such as exporting your files to Google Docs and multiple templates.
The only downside is that some tasks take more clicks in OpenOffice than they do in Microsoft Office. And even though it is pretty full featured, from time you are likely to come across things that OpenOffice won’t do as well. But as alternatives go, if you want free desktop office software, OpenOffice is clearly at the top.
Google Docs is the most well-known online office suite. If you are a heavy user of Google services (Gmail, Google Chrome, Reader, etc.) then Docs will mesh quite well with your current ecosystem. The real strength of Google Docs is not as much in its feature set but its collaboration abilities. This is really ideal for students or anyone else who needs to work on a project with multiple authors. The entire group can work on the same document over the web without having to e-mail back and forth 100 different versions.
Google has lately beeen promoting Docs as cloud storage for all your files. Even if a file isn’t compatible with Docs, it can be stored in the cloud and then downloaded later at another location. By purchasing additional storage you could conceivably back up a significant amount of your files this way.
However, in its current form Google alone may not be a Microsoft alternative. It’s simply not strong enough to serve all of your productivity needs. The document editor especially leaves a lot of features to be desired with only a few fonts and very few capabilities for creating elaborate documents. Also, importing Office documents into Google Docs don’t always go smoothly. Often times the fonts, tables, frames, and other elements get a bit jumbled.
If you want to just bang out a quick file then Docs is great—but it’s not enough to completely replace your desktop software. So, while Docs is a fine online word processor and spreadsheet program, it can’t be truly considered a Microsoft Office alternative.
Though not as popular as other options, Zoho offers the most comprehensive online office suite available. It is far more feature-rich than Google Docs and includes not only documents, spreadsheets, and presentations but also email, instant messaging, a job application tracking system, and other business and consumer oriented services. If you run a small business there is an upgrade package that can make Zoho the central hub for your businesses’s productivity.
Zoho’s interface is also a great hybrid between those who like the ribbon interface from Office 2007 and those who like the more traditional drop-down menus. The site is very stable and easy to navigate. The collaboration options are not as strong as Google’s, but it is the best set of features available if you want to do your word processing primarily on the web.
Office 2010 Beta
You might be wondering, “Wait, isn’t this supposed to be an article about alternatives to Microsoft Office?” Well yes, however the Office 2010 Beta is currently a free download. Sure, at some point this year it will probably self-destruct and Microsoft will force you to buy it, but that is no reason not to take advantage of the temporary freebie.
In fact, Office 2010 is very good and stable in its Beta form. Microsoft wisely replaced the ugly Office button with the File menu, so many users making the switch from older versions will be in for less shock. There are also some newer options for copying and pasting that help preserve formatting more effectively. But don’t get too attached—at some point the software will leave Beta and you will have to pay up.
Download or Cloud? Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office
Unless you are an Office devotee there are plenty of Microsoft alternatives that will get the job done. While Zoho and Google Docs do a great job of keeping your work stored in the cloud, you may have to consider if you want to rely on an Internet connection to get work done (there are options for working offline, but it’s still not as seamless as keeping files on the desktop). OpenOffice.org is an excellent option, though it won’t do everything that Office can.
In the end it may mean a combination of choices—using Google Docs or Zoho for online collaboration, and OpenOffice for desktop work. Either way, you will find there are plenty of free choices for getting work done.
What do you use when you need a Microsoft Office alternative? Do you have a favorite free Word Processor?