Best free al­ter­na­tives to Microsoft Of­fice

MICHAEL ANSALDO re­ports on the bat­tle of the free of­fice suites

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Microsoft Of­fice is the king of of­fice pro­duc­tiv­ity suites, but it doesn’t in­spire warm, fuzzy feel­ings in all users. Pars­ing the ev­er­ex­pand­ing list of fea­tures can feel like step­ping into a cock­pit with­out a pilot’s li­cence. The rib­bon in­ter­face, in­tro­duced a decade ago, has many fans, but oth­ers pine for the static menus of the early aughts. And then there’s Of­fice’s hefty price tag.

For­tu­nately, al­ter­na­tives abound, rang­ing from web apps to freemium and open-source desk­top in­stal­la­tions, many of which are com­pat­i­ble with Microsoft Of­fice docs. We com­pared six of the most pop­u­lar free of­fice suites to see how well they repli­cate the most com­monly used fea­tures of Microsoft Of­fice.

What to look for

When eval­u­at­ing Of­fice al­ter­na­tives, don’t look to repli­cate ev­ery fea­ture, just the ones you need and use most. De­pend­ing on your sit­u­a­tion, that could be ro­bust spread­sheet cal­cu­la­tions or the abil­ity to ac­cess files from any­where and share them with re­mote team mem­bers. Keep these con­sid­er­a­tions in mind:

The big three: Though Microsoft Of­fice has ex­panded over the years to in­clude pro­grams like Out­look, Ac­cess, and Pub­lisher, its bread and but­ter is still its orig­i­nal trio of pro­grams: Word, Ex­cel, and Pow­erPoint. That’s be­cause nearly ev­ery­one uses these three apps re­gard­less of the na­ture of their work. For many of us, they are the only three we need in a suite. Of­fice com­pat­i­bil­ity: Most of the work­ing world will con­tinue to use Microsoft Of­fice long af­ter you’ve jumped ship. That means you’ll still have to work with of­fi­cial Of­fice files. Look for a suite that can cleanly read and write Microsoft Of­fice for­mats, from the cur­rent DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX file types to legacy for­mats. In­ter­face: The way you ac­cess an of­fice suite’s fea­tures mat­ters as much as the fea­tures them­selves. Po­lar­ized

opin­ions about Of­fice’s rib­bon tool­bar un­der­score this. Make sure you’re com­fort­able with the way a suite lays out its tools and that you don’t have to dig too deeply for those you’ll use a lot.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion ca­pa­bil­ity: The irony that we still rely on ‘of­fice’ suites when many of us no longer work in phys­i­cal of­fices means the abil­ity to col­lab­o­rate re­motely with oth­ers is now a re­quired fea­ture. If you don’t want to have to email doc­u­ments back and forth for edit­ing – which can play havoc with ver­sion con­trol – you’ll need an al­ter­na­tive that in­cludes cloud sup­port for shar­ing files and ide­ally the abil­ity to co-au­thor (make ed­its and com­ments on a doc­u­ment, for ex­am­ple) in real time.

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