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Once upon a time, an office suite was a cluster of rooms in a brick-and-mortar building in which people gathered on weekdays to type letters, hold meetings, calculate earnings, and design advertisements. Today, an office suite is a batch of productivity applications on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device where you do all those things, either alone or in collaboration with other people doing similar things on their own devices. You're likely to do them at any hour of the day or night, wherever you happen to be. You've lost the water cooler, but, overall, you've probably gained in efficiency.
Microsoft Office, whether installed as a standalone set of apps or as part of the subscription-based Office 365 service, is the colossus of office suites, one that much of the world uses by default. That doesn't mean that Office is necessarily the best suite for your specific purposes, so PCMag.com recently surveyed both Office and its major rivals from Apple, Google, Corel, and the Document Foundation. Some of these alternatives are free. Some, like Office itself, are more or less expensive depending on the version you choose. Some are resident only on your hard disk, others live partly or wholly in the cloud. If you're curious about alternatives to Microsoft Office, read on.
Three apps remain the core of every office suite, whether it comes from Microsoft of not. At base, an office suite is made up of a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation app. Depending on the suite, and in some cases depending on which version of a suite you choose, you also get a mail and calendar app, a database manager, PDF editing software, a note-taking app, website-creation tools, and any of a dozen miscellaneous apps and services ranging from web conferencing through form-building. Some suites have morphed into online services, so Microsoft Office exists both as the familiar desktop Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps and as a subscription-based Office 365 service that comes in variously priced plans that include web-based features like real-time collaboration, online storage, and video conferencing.
The best free office software 2018. Or switch between a PC and a Mac. But the company has noticed the threat posed by G Suite and created its own set of free online apps. Microsoft Office.
What You Get in an Office Suite
One thing that all of today's suites have in common is that their core apps—the word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation apps—share a lot of their underlying code, so that, for example, the drawing tools in the presentation app are typically also available in reduced form in the word processor and spreadsheet. Also, the core apps typically share a similar interface, so you can move from one to the other without having to learn where to find basic features.
For better or worse—and I think, on the whole, it's mostly for the better—Microsoft Office sets the standard for all other office suites, and all other suites let you save documents in Office's file formats. Every other suite on the market offers special advantages that Office itself can't provide. The Document Foundation's LibreOffice, for example, is fully open-source, so security-conscious users can be confident that their office apps aren't sharing data with Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else.
Google's commercial G Suite and the free Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides keep all your documents in the cloud, which may be an advantage if you're always on the road, but a disadvantage if you want the editing power of a desktop app like Word or Excel. You can download Google's documents in standard formats like those used by Microsoft Office or LibreOffice, but the originals are always in the cloud and (with some special exceptions) can only be edited in Google's browser-based and mobile-app interface.
Here are the basics of today's major suites. With Microsoft Office and Office 365, you get Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, and miscellaneous other features; some versions include the Access database manager, the Publisher desktop-publishing package, and even flowchart and diagramming app Visio.
Office for the Mac includes slightly different versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and note-taking app OneNote, but no counterpart to Access or Publisher. When you buy Microsoft Office, for either Windows or the Mac, you get the version that's current when you buy it, with occasional free updates to any future major version, and it only gets updated with security updates from Windows Update, not with new features. When you subscribe to Office 365, your copies of the office apps are automatically updated with new features every three months, and you don't have to pay extra when the current Office 2016 apps get replaced by an overhauled new version in the future.
By default—though it's easy to change this—Microsoft's apps save documents in Microsoft OneDrive, a cloud storage and syncing service that normally keeps copies of your documents on your hard disk and in the cloud, so you can edit them with your desktop-based apps even when you're offline. Microsoft—like Apple—makes it easy to edit and access your documents either online through a browser or locally through a desktop app, and it's one of Office's major advantages.
Microsoft Office Alternatives
If you're ready to switch from Microsoft Office—or if you simply want an alternative—you'll need to be prepared to deal with the inconvenience of using non-Microsoft document formats in an Office-centric world. The only document formats that everyone can handle are Microsoft's Word and Excel formats, and you can set up your non-Microsoft apps to save in those formats, but you'll typically need to swat away message boxes and other warnings when you do. If you only share documents within an organization that has standardized on non-Microsoft formats, this won't be an issue, but it will be an issue if you send documents to anyone outside.
With that in mind, here are some details on the alternatives: Google's apps include Docs, Sheets, Slides, all available from a menu that appears at the upper right of Google's home page when you're signed into any Google account. The same menu includes all of Google's free services such as GMail, Calendar, Contacts, and Google Drive. If you sign up for the commercial G Suite version you also get voice and video conferencing and a variety of account management services; higher-priced subscriptions include auditing and>
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides Review
Pros: Free, powerful, online office apps accessible from Web browsers and portable devices. Visually elegant designs. Excellent feature set. Effortless collaboration with easy tracking of changes made by collaborators. Exports in multiple formats.
Cons: Offline editing requires installation of a browser plug-in for Chrome. Less powerful than desktop-based suites.
Bottom Line: When it comes to online office suites, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides has the best balance of speed and power, and the best collaboration features, too. It lacks a few features offered by Microsoft Office 365, but it's also faster to load and save in testing.Read Review
Microsoft Office 2016 (for Mac) Review
Pros: Excellent performance. Strong OS X integration. Seamless cloud-based sharing with Office for Windows, iOS, and Android. Familiar features and interface for Windows users.
Cons: Requires OS X 10.10 or later. A few minor Office for Windows abilities not supported in the Mac version.
Bottom Line: Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac is by far the most powerful set of productivity apps for Apple computers, fitting smoothly into OS X and offering strong cloud support.Read Review
Microsoft Office 2016 (for Windows) Review
Pros: World's most powerful office suite. Upgraded with the smoothest collaboration features anywhere. Minimal interface changes from 2013 version. Monthly updates with new features for Office 365 subscribers. Consistent interface on all platforms, desktop and mobile.
Cons: Little-used features that were awkward in past versions still aren't fixed. Traditional standalone copies won't get the same updates that Office 365 subscribers will get automatically.
Bottom Line: Microsoft Office remains the mightiest productivity suite you can get, with strong collaboration features added in the latest version. Users of Office 2013 won't need any retraining, and new features are slotted smoothly in with the old.Read Review
Microsoft Office 365 Home Review
Pros: Powerful, convenient cross-platform productivity suite with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other apps for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and browser-based versions. Real-time collaboration in Word and PowerPoint. 1TB online storage per user.
Cons: The mobile versions feel slightly underpowered in the latest tablets such as the iPad Pro.
Bottom Line: Office 365 gets you the best productivity software available today, including full installations of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more, for up to five Windows and Mac desktops. You also get a slew of mobile apps, 1TB of online storage, and real-time collaboration.Read Review
Google G Suite Review
Pros: Includes the powerful and elegant Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Simple site- and user-management features. Works the same way on all current desktop and mobile platforms. Fine-tuned collaboration and revision-tracking features.
Cons: No desktop apps. Offline editing is only possible in the Chrome browser and requires downloading files in advance. Less powerful than desktop-based apps.
Bottom Line: G Suite offers most of the power and flexibility of its main office-suite rival, Microsoft Office 365. Its entirely cloud-based tools can be used from any desktop or mobile platform, but they lack the full power of desktop apps.Read Review
Corel WordPerfect Office X8 Review
Pros: Delivers excellent control over formatting. Very stable, even with very long, complex documents. Includes specialized legal features, ebook publishing, and PDF form creation. Offers effective import and export of Microsoft Office and legacy formats.
Cons: Clunky, outdated interface. Spreadsheet and presentation apps trail Excel and PowerPoint in power and elegance.
Bottom Line: WordPerfect Office X8 is a worthy upgrade to a venerable office suite, with new abilities and conveniences slotted into a familiar framework.Read Review
LibreOffice 5 Review
Pros: Free. Open-source. Suitable for government and other security-conscious offices. The only desktop suite available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Can open and convert almost any legacy document or worksheet.
Cons: Less stable and not as good-looking suites from Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Online collaboration requires manual installation by an IT expert on a corporate or office-based server. Some dialogs and options are cramped or incomprehensible.
Bottom Line: LibreOffice is free and open-source, opens almost any legacy document, and is the only office suite available on all major desktop platforms. What it lacks is the smooth interface and stability of its paid competitors.Read Review
Best free office software
While Microsoft Office continues to dominate the world of office productivity suites, some users and businesses may be put off by the idea of monthly fees.
Additionally, over the years a number of other companies have launched their own versions of office software, covering documents, spreadsheets, and email, to rival Microsoft's flagship service.
Some of these alternatives come at a more competitive price - but even better, some are free to use. This will almost certainly be of interest to those consumers and businesses looking to minimize costs while retaining the ability to work with office files.
However, not all office suites are created the same, and come with limitations, especially in free versions that come with a paid-for upgrade to unlock features.
Additionally, you also need to bear in mind that formatting can be saved in different ways for the same file type for different programs, which can cause problems when sharing files with users who use different software. Therefore it's important to note if the formatting will be retained accurately.
On top of that, you also need to ask which office software types you actually need. Most packages offer documents and spreadsheets as standard, but some providers may not provide database or presentation software in a bundle, so it's important to check what you need against what providers will actually supply.
Regardless of all that, here we'll list the best in free office software as alternatives to Microsoft Office, for both home and business users.
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Everything you could want from an office suite, fully compatible with Microsoft formats and totally free to use – even commercially
LibreOffice is so good, you'll wonder why you ever paid for office software. It's compatible with all Microsoft document formats, and has almost every feature you'll find in the latest versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
The suite contains six programs to cover every common office task: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base. The last three are tools you won't find in many other free office suites, and are designed for vector diagrams, mathematical functions and databases, respectively. The latter is particularly useful; free alternatives to Microsoft Access are hard to find.
LibreOffice is an open source project maintained by a huge and enthusiastic community of volunteers constantly working to improve stability and add new features. There's a great selection of extensions and templates to make it even more flexible, and it's free for businesses as well as home users.
LibreOffice is a fork of Apache OpenOffice, and the two are extremely similar, but we’d opt for LibreOffice thanks to its more frequent update schedule and more modern interface. The latest release (version 6) adds a huge array of new features and fixes, including more interface customization options, improved file import and export compatibility, and new online help pages.
LibreOffice is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, but there are no official mobile versions available except for a document viewer for Android. It has some editing features, but they're experimental and we wouldn't advise relying on them.
2. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides
For working across platforms and sharing documents, Google's excellent collection of online office apps is hard to beat
If you work collaboratively, or switch between a PC and a Mac, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides should be your first port of call.
For anyone who's already deep into the Android/Google ecosystem, this suite will be a natural choice. The three key tools run happily in any web browser, and are available as mobile apps for Apple and Android devices.
Google's free office suite doesn't offer the advanced tools you'll find in desktop software like LibreOffice (there are no pivot tables, for example, and there's no database tool) but everything is laid out in a clear, logical way and all your files will be saved and synced automatically so you don't have to worry about transfers and backups.
The chief disadvantage of Docs, Sheets and Slides is that opening files created using other office software is a cumbersome process and files aren't always converted perfectly.
This is partly because Google's office tools use web fonts rather than ones stored locally on your device, and partly because Microsoft documents sometimes contain features not supported by Google. If that's a dealbreaker for you, read on...
3. Microsoft Office Online
Microsoft is taking the fight to Google with slimmed-down versions of all its usual applications, available to use free online
Best Office For Mac
Microsoft's desktop software carries a subscription fee, but the company has noticed the threat posed by G Suite and created its own set of free online apps.
Microsoft Office Online looks and works just like its desktop equivalent, and although advanced tools like pivot tables are out of reach, but aren’t offered by Google either.
If you generally use Microsoft document formats, Office Online is a brilliant choice. Unlike Google's free office suite, it doesn't need to convert your files before you can work on them, and you can share them easily through your Microsoft OneDrive account. Just log in using your Microsoft account (the same one you use to log into Windows 10) and you're ready to go.
There's a version of Office Online for Chrome, plus mobile editions of Office for iOS and Android.
4. WPS Office Free
A feature-packed free office suite for Windows, Linux and Android
WPS Office Free is a slimmed down version of a premium office suite, but you'd hardly know it. Each of its three programs looks just as slick as the latest versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and is packed with just as many features.
File format support is excellent, and you can save your work in native Microsoft formats for easy sharing with Office users. There's no database software, but WPS Office comes with an excellent free PDF reader that's a great replacement for Windows' built-in app.
There's the occasional ad, but these are few and far between. They certainly won't get in the way of your work, and you'll easily forget that everything in this suite is completely free.
There are versions of WPS Office Free for Windows and Linux systems, as well as apps for Android devices, but Apple device users will need to look elsewhere.
5. Polaris Office
A cross-platform office suite that keeps your work in the cloud
If you own a Samsung phone, you might already be familiar with the mobile version of Polaris Office. This cross-platform free office software is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and comes pre-installed on some Samsung handsets. It’s compatible with all Microsoft document formats, and offers a slick ribbon-based interface with some basic customization options.
Take care if you choose to install Windows version, you’ll see various additional pieces of bundled software, which could potentially include a browser extension from McAfee called WebAdvisor, a market research tool called PremierOpinion, and an antivirus suite. You can decline all of these – just keep an eye out.
You’ll then need to sign in with Facebook or Google, or create an account. This is necessary because Polaris Office is a cloud-based service. Your free Polaris account comes with 60MB monthly data transfer, 1GB cloud storage, and can be used across three devices (one desktop and two mobile). If that’s not enough space, you can connect Polaris Office to Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive – or save work locally to your device.
Upgrading to a premium Polaris account gives you access to extra features including a PDF editor, removes ads, and the ability to search within a document.
6. SoftMaker FreeOffice
A free version of a premium suite, with most pro features intact
Apps For Mac
Like WPS Office Free, SoftMaker FreeOffice provides analogs for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint (TextMaker, PlanMaker and Presentations respectively).
As with all the free office suites in this roundup, there's support for Microsoft file formats from 1997 onwards. It also offers effortless conversion to both PDF and Epub formats, which is a welcome addition.
Unfortunately, some key features are exclusive to the premium version of the software. Some of these (like tabbed browsing) are nice to have but non-essential, but the lack of a thesaurus is a real drawback for anyone who writes on a regular basis.
FreeOffice doesn't look quite as smart as WPS Office, but if you dislike the Microsoft ribbon and find it unintuitive then you'll prefer the slightly more old fashioned approach to navigation.
Open365 is more than just an office suite – it's a full cloud desktop that drags in a selection of great open source (usually desktop-based) software and puts it right in your browser. It includes the key components of the LibreOffice suite (Writer, Calc and Impress) along with Photoshop-esque image editor GIMP, Linux email package Kontact, and cloud storage by Seafile. Everything the desktop versions of those packages do can be done here, and every format they support is supported.
Best Free Office Type Software
There's a desktop client to handle file transfers and mirroring your cloud storage to your hard drive, although you'll still need to run the software itself in-browser. Being full-on desktop software it's reasonably heavy both in terms of load times and the stress it puts on your system.
But get your whole team on board and its collaborative tools could make this an essential component of your workflow, particularly if you're hotdesking or using a variety of hardware.
8. Zoho Workplace
Free Apps For Mac Computer
A genuinely exciting alternative to Google Docs
While Google Docs is, thanks to the strength of its brand, probably more widely used, Zoho's online office solution is very good in its own right. It's certainly closer to a desktop office package, and it's strong enough to have attracted businesses like the BBC and Nike as regular users.
Free Apps For Mac
Zoho's new-look word processor (which ditches the classic Word-style interface in favour of a formatting sidebar) is very well-presented and capable of producing professional-looking docs, and it has a sterling spreadsheet and reasonable presentation package alongside it.
Best Apps For Mac
They're just the tip of the iceberg, however – Zoho Workplace includes a powerful site creation tool, a file management solution and many collaborative tools. Some are on the simplistic side, so they'll likely not replace anything you might already have in place, but if you're starting out as a small business Zoho is probably a good jumping-off point.