Seven Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office
Laptop prices have come down considerably, and you can now get a solid performer for well under $700. So you may be in for a little bit of sticker shock when you discover that you need to shell out another $199-$279 to get Word, PowerPoint and Excel — that's about a third the price of the laptop!
Fortunately, if you're feeling a little budget crunched, there are plenty of free alternatives to Microsoft Office that will serve the needs of most users just fine. These are my picks for the seven best free office suites. And, except for SoftMaker Office 2008, they're all available for Windows and Mac OS.
UPDATE 9/23/2011: Somehow I omitted the option of Office Web Apps from Microsoft, itself. This is one I should have included on the list from the start. So now you get eight alternatives for the price of seven!
Google Docs is cloud-based, which means you don’t download any software to your computer but instead go online to create or upload your documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Not only that, but once your files are on Google Docs, you can give others permission to view or even edit them. It also recently added new feature that lets you upload, store and view videos.
The only problem with keeping your documents in the cloud has been—until recently—that that when the Internet isn't available, neither is your stuff. Google has fixed this issue with its new free Gmail Offline app that you can get from the Chrome Web Store.
Not only does it let you access Gmail when you’re offline, but once the app is installed on your PC you can also access Docs and Calendar just by opening the Chrome browser. Once you’re online again any changes you’ve made will be uploaded to the cloud.
Office Web Apps in Windows Live SkyDrive
Office Web Apps in Windows Live SkyDrive is similar to Google Docs in that you can create and edit files, store them on the cloud and collaborate with others. To use it, you just need to have a Windows Live ID. If you don’t already have one, it only takes a minute to set one up and then you’ll also have Hotmail and Messenger accounts. To create Office docs on SkyDrive you simply open your account, go to the top of the browser window and click on which kind of Office document you want to create: a Word document, Excel workbook, PowerPoint presentation, or OneNote notebook
You won't have all the Office functions and features like you would with the desktop version. And, unlike Google Docs, there is no ability to work offline. But SkyDrive does give you 25GB of storage space (as opposed to 1GB for Google Docs) to upload your files so you can get them anywhere you have access to the Web.
OpenOffice.org, formerly known as Open Office, has been a popular open-sourced Word alternative for many years and has been downloaded more than 100 million Times. OpenOffice.org provides everything most people need in an office productivity suite and includes Writer for word processing, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress for presentations, Draw for graphics and the Base database. It works on all major computing platforms.
With a Word-like interface, OpenOffice.org is both easy to use and easy to migrate to, even for low-tech types. It reads and writes most legacy file formats, including MS Office and is supported in more than 90 languages. If you have a problem, you can usually get free help from the OpenOffice.org community, which has been primarily sponsored by Oracle, until the company transferred OpenOffice.org to the Apache Software Foundation for incubation in June.
LibreOffice is also community-driven and very similar to OpenOffice.org. That’s because it came from OpenOffice.org when several of its members created LibreOffice last year, creating an independent fork of OpenOffice.org.
LibreOffice 3.3, which has continued OpenOffice.org’s version numbering, does have some features not found in its predecessor, such as Lotus Word Pro and Microsoft Works import filters, an improved WordPerfect import and SVG image import.
IBM Lotus Symphony is yet another variant of the OpenOffice.org codebase and is highly rated by users for being extremely easy to use and better able than others to handle complex Excel worksheets. Its set of productivity tools includes Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. It integrates a Web browser with its office applications, which makes copying data from the Internet into a document slick, which is great for anyone who has to do research.
With both free and subscription services, Zoho is a robust cloud software suite. Its word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and chat applications are free for personal use, but if you have a business you should also check out its inexpensive accounting, invoicing and recruiting tools. Its many productivity, business and collaboration apps are used by 5 million people.
It also offers you the ability to work offline by downloading the Google Gears extension for your browser.
SoftMaker Office 2008
This is a slightly older version of SoftMaker's suite of office apps for Windows and Linux. Its TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations modules are much like the Office 2003 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The developer no doubt offers the earlier version hoping you’ll love it enough to buy the newer one.
Most free office suites lack a replacement for Outlook, which can be a problem for some people.
Mozilla’s Thunderbird is a great alternative and includes intelligent spam filters, powerful search and customizable views. It also has features such as an attachment reminder that looks for the word “attachment” (and other words like file types) in the body of your message and reminds you to add an attachment before hitting send.
The tabbed email lets you load e-mails in separate tabs so you can quickly jump between them, as well as archiving and search so you can store e-mails out of sight but then find them later when you need them.