Microsoft Office has been ruling the roost since it first came onto the scene back in 1990. Say what you will about its price and its stubborn use of proprietary formats that have more or less monopolized the industry, but its 2016 iteration is pretty damn good, and people and businesses who fork out big cash on it generally don’t feel short-changed.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t function perfectly well with some of the free Office alternatives which often come with their own perks that outdo those of Microsoft’s baby. There are many reasons not to want to be part of Microsoft’s ecosystem – privacy concerns, monopolization, lack of open source – and these fine software specimens will help you leave it.
Let’s take a look at four of our favorite (free) alternatives for Microsoft Office.
WPS Office (Formerly Kingsoft Office)
Compatibility: Windows, Linux, iOS, Android
If you’re ready to jump overboard from the Microsoft ship yet want to retain the overall look and feel of it, then WPS Office does a damn fine job of making you forget that you’re not using MS Office. Like Microsoft’s more recent Office iterations, it has a banner-based interface with “Home,” “Insert,” and similar buttons rather than the traditional “File,” “Edit,” etc. that you find on many of the options listed here.
It supports all the proprietary Microsoft formats, making the transition seamless and also has the bonus of coming with a nifty PDF reader. Unlike many of the other free Office alternatives, WPS also packs 1GB free cloud storage. (Hey, don’t snicker. Back in my day only millionaires could afford that kind of storage capacity, and “cloud” was just a word for those puffy things in the sky.)
For such a light package, WPS looks and feels the part. Chinese developer Kingsoft has really gone all out in providing not so much an alternative to Office but almost a mirror image of it!
Compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux
The office suite from the people who formerly worked on the now-defunct OpenOffice, LibreOffice is the natural continuation of the open-source dream that began all the way back with StarOffice in 1985. (Yep, that kind of makes it older than Microsoft Office!)
In this free office suite you have equivalents to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. While Draw is a diagramming tool similar to Visio, Math is used for creating complex mathematical formulae, and Base is Libre’s answer to Microsoft Access, allowing creation and management of databases.
The interfaces are a little more old school than the fancy ribbons of Office, but it’s replete with features for both basic and advanced users that arguably beat out Microsoft’s offering. (Here’s a comprehensive list.) It has huge support for all kinds of obscure formats, and the buzzing community is always coming up with nifty extensions to help you tailor it to your exact needs.
Compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android
If you’re looking for something a little more intuitive and perhaps not quite as feature heavy, then you may prefer FreeOffice over Libre. It’s super-compatible with Microsoft’s infamous yet omnipresent formats – .doc, .xls, .ppt and so on – and lets you export in formats such as the common PDF and the not-so-common ePub e-book format.
FreeOffice only features the standard three programs – its answers to Word, Excel and PowerPoint – but for most people these will suffice, negating the clutter of extra software.
Something to bear in mind is that while FreeOffice is indeed free, you will need to apply for a product key to get it running. This shouldn’t be a problem, however, and as far as I know you won’t get rejected.
Compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux (unofficial), Android, iOS
This is kind of an obvious one and at the same time a controversial one. Google Drive‘s holy trinity of Docs, Sheets and Slides has triggered a mass exodus of around 800 million people so far towards a cloud-based way of working.
None of the office apps in Google Drive are as feature-rich as the dedicated, hard drive-based suites I mentioned before, but they make up for it with seamless syncing across devices, instantaneous auto-saving, and excellent options for collaboration, allowing multiple people to work on the same documents simultaneously and easily communicate with each other while they work.
It’s lightweight compared to the competition in some ways (fitting, given its cloud-based nature), but the Google Drive suite is a must-have, even if you end up using it alongside your existing office suite rather than instead of it.
These are just some of the free alternatives that should give you hope that there is life outside Microsoft Office. Try the three choices and see what you think because it really is a case of seeing which one’s best suited to your needs rather than there really being a universe ‘Number 1.’ Or maybe you do have a favorite. If so, let us know what it is in the comments!