There was a time, not so long ago, when accomplishing anything with a computer made Microsoft Office an assumed necessity. Word documents and Excel spreadsheets were the currency of computer data and they came at a price. Microsoft opened up the pricing a little bit with Home and Student versions, but at $110, it’s still a hefty tag.
If you are frugal (like me!), there are some very good, FREE, options for computer software. The granddaddy of them all is Open Office. This office suite features a word processor, spreadsheet app, presentation app and a database application. It even throws in a drawing app and a formula editor as a bonus.
Open Office has passed through several owners from its inception as a commercial program through Sun and Oracle to its present ownership with Apache. With its slightly dated interface, the program feels very much like an older version of Microsoft Office, but it features excellent compatibility with document files. Word files can be opened, edited and saved nearly flawlessly. I have only had issues with its spreadsheet application when opening very complicated, pivot-table based spreadsheets. The presentation application, called Impress, is not quite as successful at importing complex PowerPoint files but is quite serviceable if you are creating presentations or exporting them in PowerPoint (PPT) format.
While Open Office uses its own file format (ODT) as a default, it is simple to go into its Preferences setting and choose to save your data into standard DOC and XLS files. Open Office is available for both the Mac and PC and is completely free to use without restrictions. This usage statement is directly from its website:
Apache OpenOffice is free software:
- You may download Apache OpenOffice completely free of any license fees
- Install it on as many PCs as you like
- Use it for any purpose – private, educational, government and public administration, commercial…
- Pass on copies free of charge to family, friends, students, employees, etc.
If you are looking for something with a slightly more modern interface, try LibreOffice. Also available for both the Mac and PC, it is based on essentially the same code that is in OpenOffice. It was actually founded out of a fear that the owners of OpenOffice would eventually make it a commercial, for-profit product. A group of programmers started The Document Foundation to ensure that that Open Office would always be available as a free product.
While it does have a more modern look and feel to it, the program takes up more room on your hard drive, so if you are using an older computer you may be better served with Open Office. LibreOffice does ask for donations but the only restriction it puts on using the product for free is that you “agree with our core values and contribute to our activities” which could take the form of money or volunteering for the organization.
If Mac compatibiility is not important to you, Kingsoft Office is a Windows-based knockoff of the three key Microsoft apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) that also features iPhone/iPad and Android versions if you are more interested in mobile computing.
Pros and cons of free programs
Each of these products runs completely on your local computer, which allows you to use them even if you have no access to the Internet. They all have good compatibility dealing with the normal file formats.
You are primarily sacrificing one thing: support. Do not expect to be able to call for tech support on any of them. They all have online forums and some mechanisms for support, but you may be best served by literally typing your issue into a Google search box to see if anyone else is having a similar issue.
The best part of all of them? Every one is my favorite price of all — completely free!
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