Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

As with operating systems, Microsoft also has the market cornered for office suites. Microsoft Office has long been the de facto standard in offices across the world – and in homes too – probably because it follows having Windows.

There are good alternatives for Mac users – and for Windows users too. One reason to consider an alternative might be a dislike of Microsoft products. Another reason might be machine performance. A low-end computer may not cope well with the latest version of Microsoft Office. Or it might simply be price.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of free alternatives that would suit the average user.

The open source community has always come up with free alternatives to major commercial software, and this genre is no exception.

Office Alternatives

I am writing this on a Mac (obviously) using OpenOffice 3. This is a full suite of office applications. It has a Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and even an Access alternative. The last one is very interesting, as it is something found in the Windows version of Microsoft Office, but Access has never been available for the Mac.

OpenOffice is free, and it is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Mac users have only been privileged to a Mac native version for a short while. Before that, we were forced to use the Java-based NeoOffice, which, while it was pretty good, ran quite slowly even on midrange or high-end Macs, as it is not a native app. There were also office suites that ran under the X11 windowing system on OS X.

Word Alternatives

Perhaps you do not need a full office suite. A lot of people don’t. Some people only require a word processor. Yes, you can buy Microsoft Word on it’s own, but even that it is quite expensive.

For free word processing, try out Bean or AbiWord, both for Mac OS X. Both are excellent pieces of software. In fact, while I wrote this article in OpenOffice, I did double check it and edit it in Bean.

File Format Issues

The main thing to remember when looking at Microsoft alternatives is that it still needs to be compatible with the big M. If you are writing, at some point you may need to share your document with someone else, so writing in a propriety format is risky. Even the standard format, called OpenDocument Format (which is used in numerous open source packages) is a little out there for most users.

All of the word processors in this article can open and save to the Microsoft Word .doc format.

An interesting point is that when Microsoft moved to version 2008, it moved away from its own .doc format. As with most software, Office 2007 was available for Windows before the Mac, meaning PC user writing articles to share with Mac users or other PC users who hadn’t yet upgraded to Office 2008 were writing in an incompatible format.

NeoOffice 2.1, released shortly after Office 2008 for Windows and before Office 2008 for Mac, was the first Mac word processor capable of reading and writing Office 2008 files.

Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft Office is a good suite of applications, if not a little bloated from all the fancy features, but for it’s price tag it is sometimes not necessary for everyone.

So if you are in the market for a new office suite or just need something to write a letter on, give one of the free alternatives a try and see what you think.


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