Save Money With Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

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Microsoft's Office Online homepage

Microsoft Office may offer a powerful office suite, but few people actually need or use all that power. Free office suites stop you spending $9.99 a month or dropping $139 on a new version of Office.

Office Online is a web-based version of Microsoft Office developed by Microsoft. Unlike the traditional desktop version of Office, you access this suite via a Web browser, which you can do while online. Files you create in Office Online are saved in your OneDrive account, though you can download them in Microsoft Office format. Microsoft gives you 15GB of storage at no cost. The suite includes Web-based versions of the classics: Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as OneNote. These apps are simplified and stripped down, so they don’t include all of Office’s powerful features. Use Office Online to create a resume from a template, write a paper or create basic spreadsheets and presentations. Office Online also boasts excellent compatibility with standard Office documents.

While it’s not as powerful as Office for the desktop, you probably don’t need all those bells and whistles. Give it a try to see if it works for you.

Microsoft Word Online editing a resume template

Google Docs is built into Google Drive, offering Web-based document, spreadsheet and presentation programs. Google Docs also includes the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents without converting them to another format, too  —  so it’s now much more competitive with Office Online even when you need to work with Office documents.

Google Docs was the among the first Web-based document-editing suite. Microsoft created Office Online as an attempt to compete with Google Docs. Documents you create in Google Docs are saved to your Google Drive storage, and don’t count against your 15GB of free space. If you use the Google Chrome web browser, you can set up Google Docs for offline use. This means you can create and edit documents in your browser even when you don’t have an Internet connection.

Like Office Online, Google Docs doesn’t offer all the features of a desktop office suite, but it does offer a simple interface. It also has great collaboration features — both Google Docs and Office Online offer better real-time collaborative editing features than the paid desktop version of Microsoft Office.

I’ve happily used Google Docs for years, since long before there was an Office Online. This blog post was even written using Google Docs.

Writing a document with Google Docs

Apple’s iWork is a free suite of office programs included with Macs, iPhones and iPads. But iWork offers a Web-based version, known as iWork for iCloud, that you can use on a Windows PC.

Visit the iCloud website, sign in with your Apple ID, then launch the Pages, Numbers or Keynote apps to work with documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Documents are saved to your iCloud storage.

This option is particularly useful if you already have an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Use the free iCloud applications to work with the same documents on your other devices, using iWork for iCloud when you need to edit them on a Windows PC.

Creating a document with Pages in iWork for iCloud

LibreOffice isn’t Web-based software. It’s a powerful, open-source office suite you download and use entirely offline. LibreOffice is an offshoot of OpenOffice. This software isn’t as powerful as Microsoft Office, but it’s completely free, works entirely offline and is packed with features you won’t find in the simplified Web-based office suites.

This alternative is a powerful one for those who use Microsoft Office regularly and want to use a desktop application to save your documents on your own PC. It offers power and features that fulfill the needs of most people. As a bonus, LibreOffice doesn’t have a ribbon, so it offers a familiar interface for people who cling to old versions of Office.

I happily used OpenOffice and then LibreOffice for years, even for writing university papers. When sending a document to someone, save it as a PDF file and it’s guaranteed to look the same on other peoples’ computers.

LibreOffice Writer on Windows 8.1

Photo credit: Microsoft Office Online, Google Docs, Apple iWork for iCloud, LibreOffice

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