Microsoft Office once had an unquestioned stranglehold on the world of productivity suites and programs. However, recent software developments have given rise to a slew of office suites that fall outside Microsoft’s banner, many of which offer convenient functionality designed to go beyond the basic editing and formatting afforded by company’s premium suite and free-for-all offering (aka Office Online). For instance, the latter still lacks some advanced features such as Mail Merge and Pivot Tables despite touting many of the same featuring comprising Microsoft’s more expansive package.
Fortunately, there’s a multitude of capable alternatives available for Windows and Mac OS X, whether you’re looking for a quick means to spell check the copy on your resume or string together complex formulas prior to giving an important business presentation. Below are five of our favorites, from lesser-known applications such as WPS Office to the Web-based stalwart Google Drive. Eat your heart out, Microsoft.
FreeOffice — Windows, Linux
SoftMaker’s FreeOffice is a feature-rich office suite essentially functioning as a light version of the company’s more robust, commercial suite. You can easily obtain a serial key from the company with nothing more than a valid email address, which quickly grants you to access software such as TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations. Regardless of the application, though, the lightweight software showcases the quickest loading times and one of the best interfaces of any freemium offering on our roundup, sporting a traditional and streamlined design that’s easy on the eyes thanks to a familiar palette of resources and corresponding icons.
Moreover, the software’s innate compatibility with other programs’ proprietary document types such as Microsoft Word 6.0 render it as industrious as it is attractive. The latest version of the software handles password-protected files, too, while providing tools for creating PDF documents, tracking document changes, and spelling check your copy. Other bundled software — namely PlanMaker and Presentations — bring striking tools for creating PowerPoint-esque visuals and diagrams, whether you intend to access the software on a system as far back as Windows 2000 or via portable flash drive.
OpenOffice — Window, Mac OS X, Linux
OpenOffice is one of the more renowned pieces of open source software on the market and has been so more than 15 years. The bundle contains tools for creating word documents, graphics, presentations, spreadsheets, databases, and a slew of other commonplace file types. The software stores your data in an international open standard format, and like most offerings on our list, it also supports Microsoft Word documents, handles cell-dependent calculations, and spell checks your work.
Though the software isn’t as advanced in terms of collaboration, developer Apache is constantly adding new features such as annotation capabilities and interactive crop utilities, while additionally bolstering your level of control and increasing file compatibility with laudable extensions and basic tools. The welcome templates repository also provides users with a host of frameworks for developing commonplace documents, such as basic resumes and invoices, while embedded instructional wizards aim to curb the difficulty often associated with complex tasks such as mail merges. The community forums, mailing lists, user guides, and issue trackers only further your level of engagement and understanding of the freemium software’s merits.
LibreOffice 4 — Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Essentially an open office suite that parted ways with Apache OpenOffice back in 2010, the cross-platform LibreOffice uses the same underlying source code under the hood and features the same basic productivity tools as OpenOffice. It works in a similar manner, allowing you to create and edit documents compatible with Microsoft Word and Publisher, but it also showcases a few more advanced features and functionality given the sheer amount of available extensions and customization. For instance, the software even touts a Wiki publisher and template changer.
Still, the major difference between LibreOffice and OpenOffice is the increased amount of development the Document Foundation has poured into the LibreOffice software over the years. The newly-developer toolbar is a standout, adorned with bright visuals and simple navigation option, as is the software’s ability to add digital signatures to PDF documents. Other interface improvements are just as notable, particularly the status bar at the bottom that indicates the word count, styling, document positions, and other details you may want to reference at a glance. The template and extension center is also robust, and considering the lightweight programs are designed to fit on a portable hard drive or standard flash drive, you can tote their functionality with you wherever you go. The best part? It becomes less buggy with every build.
WPS Office — Windows, iOS, Android
Kingsoft Office once resembled a Chinese knock-off of Microsoft Office, but the software’s recent rebranding as WPS Office has brought with it some notable changes. It still runs like a stripped version of Microsoft’s program and houses the three basic Microsoft Office counterparts for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — aptly dubbed Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentation — yet there is enough variation and customization for it to stand on its own. The software is quick, compact, and compatible with a laundry list of file formats including DOC and XLS. Aside from the basic features and phenomenal support for first-time users, WOS also includes the ability to create multi-page ebooks, convert PDF files, add watermarks, and manage tabs among a bevy of other lesser-utilized tasks.
Native compatibility isn’t the only hallmark of WPS Office, though. The freemium incarnation of the office suit provides integrated file backups and a complimentary mobile app for Android and iOS, along with access to hundreds of fonts and templates. However, it sadly lacks the ability to track changes and make comments like its premium counterpart, meaning it currently doesn’t offer much beyond the basics. The company does provide excellent video tutorials and customer service, though, not to mention OneDrive-esque cloud integration that automatically uploads and syncs your files online and across multiple devices. We doubt the vibrant, snappy interface will deter you, either.
Google Docs — Web-based
Google Docs has long been at the forefront of open office software for many reasons — primarily because it’s free and accessible from virtually anywhere with a valid Internet connection. The well-known office suite, which is available via the cloud-based Google Drive, provides a word processor, spreadsheets, presentation capabilities, and all the basic perks of Microsoft Office without the premium price tag. The software also provides a nice, central hub for all your documents, and the sheer potential for collaboration makes it a standout among the rest. The software allows you to create, share, and edit documents with anyone, regardless of whether they have a Google account.
The ability to view document changes in real time — even those made by several people at once in the same document — has its advantages, as does the bundled image editor and online form creator Google Forms. Google Docs also supports a wide array of file types, from Microsoft Word documents to PDFs, not to mention incredible integration with services like Google+, Gmail, and Google Calendar. Though the program is free, you can upgrade from the allotted 15GB of space for as low as a mere $2 a month, and there’s even a free mobile app for Android and iOS devices.
Furthermore, the software is innately compatible with Microsoft Office files — and as expected — all your documents are conveniently stored in the cloud for later access when using iWork apps on your iOS or Mac devices. Other noteworthy features include the ability to edit documents up to 1GB in size and convert files to ePub format, along with options for inserting and editing inline tables. The software isn’t know for its speed, but the interface is minimal and incredibly slick, providing quick access to customization and a central location for accessing various facets.
This guide is continually updated to reflect recent releases. Last updated June 9, 2015: Added WPS Office and updated information regarding the four other office suites.
Still sold on the real deal? Check out the full MS Office line at the Microsoft Store.