From Mac-friendly Pages to wallet-friendly Google Docs
Best Overall: Google / G Suite
The best Microsoft Office alternative is Google’s suite of office tools. Known as G Suite for business users and available for free to consumers, the combination of Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Forms come together around online storage solution Google Drive as a top-notch productivity offering.
These free apps integrate with a free Google Drive account, which also integrates with a free Gmail account. It works great on Windows, Mac, Linux, and any other computer with a modern web browser. You can easily collaborate and share without downloading anything, add missing features with plugin integrations, and work with files from a variety of formats including Microsoft Office files.
The biggest downside is offline use. While Google offers offline versions through plugins with the Chrome browser, they are not always consistent or reliable. But if you do have a connection, you’ll be happy to know it works well on Android devices as well with native apps for Google’s mobile operating system.
For business users, G Suite starts at $5 per user per month. For non-business users, you can do everything with a free Google account. You don’t have to pay unless you need more storage space in your online Google Drive. While it doesn’t quite do everything power users look for in programs like Excel, and there is no alternative for database program Access, there is a lot more to like than dislike and the price is right.
Best for Mac: Apple Office Suite / iWork
If you own a Mac, you get an office suite included with your purchase. While they are not as popular as the Microsoft and Google suites, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are great for occasional use and solo needs, particularly if you are entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem including iCloud and devices like the iPad.
Apple also offers a web-based version compatible with the latest versions of Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer that integrates fully with iCloud. Like others on this list, it works with its own file formats and easily imports and exports files in the popular Microsoft Office formats like .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx. Mac users don’t have to pay; the only cost is for additional iCloud storage space if you run out of room and want to store your files there.
The only really big downside is that it is not widely used, so support and online tutorials are far fewer. You may also run into angry colleagues if you send over a Keynote file when they were expecting PowerPowerpoint, as compatibility isn’t always great between formats, particularly when it comes to things like fonts, layouts, and image sizing. But if you want something that “just works” and you are a dedicated Mac user, you should find everything you need with iWork.
Best Free Software: Apache Open Office
If your primary complaint about Office is the cost, you should consider Open Office. While this open source software isn’t quite as full-featured nor as beautifully polished as Microsoft’s apps, you can’t beat free.
As an open source software suite, new features generally come from volunteer developers interested in enhancing the program for the broad community’s use. But with Google’s apps acting as an enticing alternative at the same price, it struggles to keep up with the competition from the legions of professional developers at Microsoft and Google. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth considering, however. Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Base, and Math are excellent tools that get regular support.
Best Advertising-Supported Free Software: WPS Office
With so many free alternatives to Microsoft Office, it’s no wonder you’re browsing your options. WPS is another software with versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. This office suite is free but advertising supported. You can pay $30 per year to get the ads removed.
This suite comes from Kingsoft, a China-based developer. Applications include WPS Writers, WPS Spreadsheet, and WPS Presentation. WPS Office is generally well reviewed. It has customizable interfaces so you can decide on the menu style you like most. It also supports tabbed document editing, just like you get with a web browser. It also has an integrated cloud with 1 GB of storage included. It is a lightweight and fast app to use. It’s great that you can give it a test run for free and then decide later if it’s worth the money to go advertisement free.
Best for Text File Sharing: Dropbox Paper
Dropbox isn’t known for its office programs, but this file sharing platform offers a competitive application strictly focused on word processing. Dropbox Paper is tightly integrated into Dropbox, which makes file sharing a piece of cake.
Dropbox Paper allows multiple simultaneous collaborators, allows you to export files in the popular .docx and .pdf file formats. Adding a file is as simple as dragging it into your Dropbox folder or dropping it into an active Dropbox Paper window.
Dropbox Paper gives you a simple user interface that is easy-to-use, but not familiar to Word veterans. It is free if you have a Dropbox account. Dropbox accounts are free for individuals up to 2 GB of storage. Business users and those with bigger storage needs will have to pay a monthly or annual subscription starting at $8.25 per month for individual users.
Best Ease-of-Use: FreeOffice
FreeOffice offers a relatively easy transition away from Microsoft’s version, as it looks and feels a lot like Microsoft Office. As the name implies, it is free. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs and comes from developer SoftMaker.
Core apps in FreeOffice 2018 include TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations, which replace Word, Excel, and PowerPoint respectively. You can choose classic Windows style menus or the more modern ribbon view.
FreeOffice is also available for Android. If you have an Android tablet, you can download the upgraded (still free) SoftMaker Office HD. Some features of that version require an in-app purchase to unlock. If you use this suite and are a Windows user, you may also enjoy the free FlexiPDF Basic, a good companion that gives you many of the features of Adobe’s PDF editor.
Best Lightweight: LibreOffice
LibreOffice is another free and open source office suite that works with all of the Microsoft Office file formats. It is based on OpenOffice, discussed above, and took off with its own fork in 2010. Maintained by The Document Foundation, this app also encourages users to get involved and help improve and add new features.
LibreOffice is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers and offers a mobile version for Android. It is actively supported with minor versions and updates coming out on a roughly monthly basis.
While it doesn’t get blowout reviews, it does have a very strong and dedicated user base who rave about the Writer, Calc, and Impress applications. It has a flexible interface that can feel a lot like Office, but it doesn’t have any integrated cloud storage or collaboration tools.
Best Online Alter-Ego: Office 365 Online
If you are looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office, you may not be interested in another version of Microsoft’s Office programs. However, with all this talk of cloud-based office suites, it is important to consider Microsoft’s online version of office, known as Office 365.
Office 365 gives you a browser-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. The subscription also gives you mobile versions of the same apps on Android, iOS, and Windows phones. This is all included in the $5 per user per month Office 365 Business Essential subscription. This subscription also includes 1 TB of OneDrive storage. The $12.50 per user per month premium subscription includes the desktop versions you are trying to avoid, as well as other features. Bigger businesses may want the full security features included in the $20.00 per user per month Microsoft 365 Business subscription.
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