Six office alternatives

Microsoft will release Office 2010 in June but until then there are some great alternatives.

By - January 3, 2010 Share on LinkedIn
Six office alternatives

In June Microsoft will release a final version of its Office 2010 productivity suite. Naturally many users will upgrade, at substantial cost, to the latest version of the popular Office suite, but for those not so eager to hand over their money to Microsoft there are still many great alternatives. And they are free.

OpenOffice.org (http://www.openoffice.org)

This has to be the number one alternative to Microsoft Office. The open source productivity tool includes all of the features offered by MS Office but for free. Version 3.0 of OpenOffice.org (OOo) was released in late 2008 and since then a number of update releases have been issued to fine tune its features.

OpenOffice.org includes full compatibility with documents created in Microsoft Office, the biggest stumbling block to switching to a new office suite. And the latest version of OOo has full compatibility with Microsoft’s newer .docx format files, those created by Office 2007.

OpenOffice.org includes a presentation tool, word processor, drawing application, spreadsheet among others that can produce documents in both the OpenDocument format as well as most other popular document formats. OpenOffice.org 3.0 can’t save files into the .docx format but it can open them.

ABIWord (http://www.abisource.com)

ABIWord is not a full office suite, although together with other applications such as Gnumeric, it can function as a Linux office suite. ABIWord is a more than capable word processor, however, which is both lightweight and runs on Linux and Windows natively.

Mac OS X support is limited. Being lightweight, ABIWord is pleasantly fast in comparison to suites such as OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office. The most recent version of ABIWord – version 2.8.0 was released in October this year – includes support for Office 2007 formats, collaboration features for sharing documents as well as inline commenting and notes. Version 2.8.0 also has an improved interface which includes multipage views, as well as support for importing scalable vector graphics.

Google Docs and spreadsheet (http://docs.google.com)

So much of the Internet is dominated by Google that it’s not surprising that one of the better Office alternatives applications is from Google. The company’s Google Docs and Spreadsheets was first launched in late 2006 and is already very popular among users keen to shrug off Microsoft Office’s domination.

Working with Google Docs is pretty straightforward and intuitive and mimics the more popular office applications already available, so the learning curve is pretty low. Google Docs has good revision control which means authors can view changes made over time to the document. This is also useful when sharing a document with multiple authors which Google Docs does. One of the advantages Google Docs has is that Google already has an extensive registered user base for its other products such as GMail, so using Docs is a just a click away for most users.

As with most online office applications Google Docs is highly capable but not 100% Microsoft Office compatible. Which means that it is perfect for most everyday uses such as writing letters, crunching numbers and storing data, but when it comes to complex spreadsheet usage it will occasionally fail. If you’re the financial director of a multi-national corporation you’re better off with a heavyweight spreadsheet. But if you’re a home user or small business it’s worth checking out Google Docs.

ThinkFree Office Online (http://www.thinkfree.com)

ThinkFree is an attractive alternative to Google Docs which includes a word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation tool along the lines of PowerPoint. ThinkFree’s applications are extremely rich in their functionality and can open and convert documents into a range of formats.

Even without a user account users can use ThinkFree.com to view and convert documents. A Word document on a local drive, for example, can be viewed using ThinkFree’s viewer before being converted into a PDF or text document.

With a user account, however, ThinkFree comes alive and lets users store their documents online, create new ones or share them with colleagues. Sharing documents is one of ThinkFree’s key benefits as it makes it easy to invite fellow users and manage the flow of documents.

Earlier versions of ThinkFree were a little slower than many of the other services available but this does appear to be improving, although there is still a natural lag in opening and saving documents. It does depend on the document being edited, however, and sometime the lag can be annoying.

Zoho (http://www.zoho.com)

While ThinkFree Office does a few things exceptionally well, Zoho does an exceptional number of things well – which makes it hard to compare to Google Docs and ThinkFree. At last count Zoho offered more than 20 online applications to meet just about every need, from online chat to project management to email to word processing.

The downside of the sheer number of applications on offer from Zoho is that its individual components tend to be less capable than some of the other alternatives. Which is not a problem if your needs are fairly basic but if you need to be opening multi-sheet complex spreadsheets with Zoho you’re probably going to struggle more than you would want to.

The upside is that Zoho applications are quick when dealing with straightforward documents although saving them often has a noticeable lag. Zoho’s Writer application is speedy, more attractive than Google Docs and it offers a wide range of file format options to rival ThinkFree and Google Docs.

NeoOffice (http://www.neooffice.org)

Mac fans have a pretty good alternative available to them in the form of NeoOffice. The free office suite is built on the OpenOffice.org code but includes Mac-specific features that make for tight integration of NeoOffice into the Mac desktop.

Until version 3.0, OpenOffice.org never offered a native Mac version of the office suite, which is why NeoOffice was released. With the release of a native version of OpenOffice.org for Mac NeoOffice’s popularity may wane but it is still worth checking out. Version 3.0.2 of NeoOffice is due to be released in early 2010 and includes a number of Mac-specific improvements including native Mac OS X text highlighting and smoother text kerning.

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