Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Tips & Hints

28 April 2007

Microsoft Office can be an expensive option for home users, what are the alternatives?

Free Software

The cheapest software is free. Microsoft Windows comes with a builtin word processor called Wordpad. This is very basic, but is adequate for very straightforward typing. Microsoft explain the features at their Wordpad how-to page.

For many people, Wordpad is way too limited. It doesn't have features like tables, page numbering or headers and only allows you to save in a few formats. More importantly, it isn't a spreadsheet or presentation program.

The most popular free office suites are Open Office. Open Office has a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package. Open Office has been criticised for being more memory hungry than MS Office.

Another free alternative is Google Apps. These run using your web browser. There are limits on the size of the documents and spreadsheets you create. You need to pay for some of the more advanced features and bigger storage limits.

Microsoft Works

A thinned down alternative to Microsoft Office is MS Works. This is bundled with a lot of brand name consumer computers. It offers word processor, spreadsheet, database and calendar.

We're not fans of Works. We find it's too limited and it's inability to read, or export to, Office programs is a nuisance. We'd only recommend using Works if it has been included with a new system.

Office converters

If you don't use Microsoft Office, you will sometimes encounter documents or spreadsheets you can't read. To overcome this, Microsoft have free tools that allow you to read and print Office files, but not print them. You can download these tools from the Microsoft Office online web page. Just search for "viewer".

OEM Microsoft Office

Original Equipment Manufacturer software is discount software provided by the supplier. Microsoft and other companies offer these at cheap rates on the condition they are sold only with new hardware. There is usually no difference with the full price product and the savings are substantial.

The downside with OEM products is they increasing tied to the hardware you buy. If upgrade your computer, an OEM package may not run on it. So you end up buying a new package with every system.

Student and Home editions

Microsoft offer a student and home edition that can be installed on up to three home computers. Older versions required a student or teacher to be in the household but that's been dropped with the latest version. Home businesses should note that this version is not licenced for commercial use: Businesses have to buy the full version.

Business users

One of the successes of Microsoft Office is that it is pretty well the standard for business use. If you aren't using Office, you will probably encounter irritating and sometimes costly problems. If you are prepared to deal with these problems, then we'd recommend Open Office for business use.

Over the last ten years, Microsoft Office has become the defacto standard for office applications. While that may change in the future with online services Google Apps and open source software like Open Office, it's difficult to avoid using an MS product in one way or another. We'll look at other alternatives in future articles.

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