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Are the Free Microsoft Office Alternatives for Windows 10 Any Good? – Ask Leo!


I was thinking about purchasing Microsoft Word, which I had on my last computer. I need it occasionally to make lists, etc. I think it costs around $100 or perhaps even less. I don’t need Office, etc., just Word. I happened to read this article on freebies and it mentioned something called Open Office. So, I need your suggestion. Is this something I should download or am I better off purchasing Word? I assume that Open Office works the same as Word. In fact, perhaps you know of other free alternatives?


There are now many free Microsoft Office alternatives, and they’re all pretty darned good.

One of them? Microsoft Office itself.





Popular free Microsoft Office alternatives include:

  • Microsoft Office Online
  • Google Docs
  • Apache Open Office
  • Libre Office

There are others as well. A crowdsourced list is available at alternativeto.net.

Microsoft Office Online

Microsoft Office

I’ve written about Office Online before. It’s the online, web-based version of many of the Microsoft Office programs. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. Office Online is free to use, and since these versions are web-based, they can be used from any version of Windows, and any computer running any operating system with a compatible web browser.

You may already have access.

Windows 10 pre-installs the Microsoft Office App. If you don’t have a paid copy of Microsoft Office installed on your machine, it directs you to the free online counterparts.

Visit office.com in your browser to get started. All you need is your Microsoft account, and you’re good to go. Integration with Windows 10 and OneDrive is nearly seamless, and it’s perhaps the most compatible of all the alternatives.

Google Docs

Google Docs

Google Docs is the other major online alternative. With Google services being nearly ubiquitous, once again you may already have access with your Google (Gmail) account.

Technically “Docs” refers only to the word-processor alternative to Microsoft Word, though it’s often used as a synonym for the entire suite. Google Sheets is the spreadsheet Excel alternative, Google Slides is the PowerPoint alternative, and Google Forms adds online form creation and filling abilities.

The files are stored in Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage alternative to Microsoft’s OneDrive.

All are free, though you can pay for additional Drive storage should you need it.

Visit docs.google.com in your browser to get started. Sign in with your Google account and you’re good to go. Integration into Gmail and other Google services is nearly seamless, and it’s perhaps the most popular of the online alternatives.

Libre Office

Libre Office

Libre Office is a completely free suite of office programs you download to your computer.

It includes a word processor comparable to Microsoft Word, a spreadsheet comparable to Microsoft Excel, presentation software comparable to PowerPoint, a database comparable to Access, and even drawing and math equation tools similar to those in Microsoft Office.

Libre Office is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. All version of Libre Office are identical no matter what platform you use.

And it’s completely free. No one-time charges, no subscriptions; just download, install, and use.

Apache Open Office Suite

Open Office

Apache Open Office is a completely free suite of office programs you download to your computer.

It includes a word processor comparable to Microsoft Word, a spreadsheet comparable to Microsoft Excel, presentation software comparable to PowerPoint, a database comparable to Access, and even drawing and math equation tools similar to those in Microsoft Office.

Open Office is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. All version of Open Office are identical no matter what platform you use.

And it’s completely free. No one-time charges, no subscriptions; just download, install, and use.

Libre versus Open

If the descriptions for Libre Office and Open Office look similar, it’s because they are. Libre Office is what’s called a “fork” of Open Office. It was created several years ago, mostly due to organizational politics, as I understand it.

Both are good, though their feature sets have diverged slightly over time. Libre Office tends to release updates more quickly, and comes pre-installed in many Linux distributions.

For a more detailed look at the differences, see this relatively recent article out on Digital Trends.

If you’re not sure, you probably can’t go wrong with either, but I’d give Libre Office a slight edge.





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Compatibility

Other than Microsoft Office Online, the alternatives tend to look and feel quite different than Microsoft Office. The concepts are the same, but the user interface puts components in different places and behaves somewhat differently.

Most alternatives don’t have all the advanced features Microsoft Office offers. Exactly what those missing features might be will vary over time, as they continue to change and grow. If you don’t use those advanced features, this probably doesn’t matter to you at all.

All the alternatives can read and write documents created with Microsoft Office. On the surface, this implies you can happily exchange documents with people who use Microsoft Office.

Unfortunately, this exposes what I would call the biggest issue with Microsoft Office alternatives: the document you create in one of the alternatives may look different when opened in Microsoft Office. If you get a document created in Microsoft Office, make changes using an alternative, and return it to a Microsoft Office user, the document will also probably look different.

The programs are compatible with each other in that they can both read and write the same file formats, but in practice, they are not identical and do not produce identical results. When using the other alternatives, formatting differences are common when exchanging documents. If that matters to you, a non-Microsoft solution may not be the best choice.

Microsoft Office Online, by its very nature, will be the most compatible free Microsoft Office alternative.

Alternatives? It depends.

Are these suitable alternatives for you? It really depends on your needs.

If your needs are basic to moderate in complexity, and strict visual compatibility with Microsoft Office isn’t a concern for you, then any of these are good, free alternatives. I’d start down the list in the order presented: Microsoft Office, Google Docs for online-only experiences, and Libre Office and Open Office if you need something installed on your PC for offline use.

If you’re a Microsoft Office power-user, or you expect to use Microsoft Office add-ons, or you need to exchange high-fidelity documents with other Microsoft Office users, then typically only Microsoft Office itself will do.

More free Microsoft Office alternatives

The alternatives I’ve presented here are the most common, the most recognizable, and the most popular.

But they’re certainly not the only ones.

A good resource for additional alternatives is “alternativeto.net” — a crowd-sourced list of alternatives to many popular programs, both free and paid.

If you found this article helpful, I’m sure you’ll also love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and give you more confidence with technology. Subscribe now and I’ll see you there soon,

Leo


: The reverse is also true: current versions of Microsoft Office can read and write Open Office’s native file formats.



This post was written by Leo Notenboom and was first posted to AskLeo.com



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