Microsoft Office once had an unquestioned stranglehold on the world of productivity suites and programs. However, recent software developments have given rise to a retinue 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 advanced tools such as Mail Merge and Pivot Tables, despite touting many of the same features that comprise Microsoft’s more expansive package.
Fortunately, there’s a multitude of capable alternatives available for Windows and MacOS, 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!
Best overall: FreeOffice 2016
The latest version of SoftMaker’s FreeOffice 2016 comes with full compatibility for DOC, DOX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, and PPT formats with a lot of work going into making them “loss free” – in other words, you won’t find any unexpected surprises when transferring these files into real Word programs. This compatibility is great if you want a free alternative to Word but still need to work regularly with Word software.
The software is also easy on the eyes and very, very familiar to Word users. The toolbars and document creation options are very similar to the Office suite, and the latest updates to the software ensure that it’s extra-fast, with slim-to-no loading times. Even PlanMaker, the Excel alternative, offers features like conditional formatting and pivot tables that past Excel users will be able to jump into without needing a new tutorial.
FreeOffice is also an excellent choice for professional projects. Not only does it provide compatibility with password-protected files, but it can also help you create PDF files or ePUB files, track changes in the document history to check up on editing, and switching to different languages on the fly. More common features like spellcheck and smart typing also wait in the wings to make sure you’re not missing anything Office related.
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Best features: LibreOffice
The creators of open source LibreOffice took a look at Microsoft Office and said, “Let’s make sure we can do everything Office can’t.” There’s even a useful (and lengthy) graph that displays all the differences and extra compatibility that LibreOffice has compared to Microsoft’s version. This includes support for a vast number of imports and exports for multiple graphic and document formats on both Mac and Windows systems. If you are using more distinctive software and are worried that Office won’t be able to handle your industry-specific formats, then LibreOffice is more than happy to step in.
The open source community behind LibreOffice remains active and supports a vast number of extensions that allow you to equip your apps with any features you need. In the latest updates, that includes the ability to classify docs into different security categories, more minimalistic toolbars, extra spreadsheet functions, and time-saving tools. With “Fresh” and Bug Hunting Beta modes available, you’re also guaranteed to see regular improvements with LibreOffice.
Ultimately, if you like Office but are looking for a highly customizable alternative that can expand on the tools Microsoft provides with solid compatibility, LibreOffice is waiting for you. Of course, learning and building LibreOffice into the software you want may take a little work, so give yourself plenty of time to learn your options.
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Most similar to Word: WPS Office 2016
WPS’s Office alternative comes with Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheet, all as closely cloned off the Microsoft versions as possible. All files you create with these apps will be fully compatible with Microsoft programs – and there’s an extra suite of PDF conversion tools just in case you need to export or import in a more ready-friendly format.
Our top pick has a lot of similarities to Word, but WPS is also a dead ringer, ideal if you’re used to a specific interface on Word programs and want to mimic the experience as closely as possible. No time to learn new tools? No worries. Even the many template options are based off the traditional templates that Microsoft offers, making it easy to find your favorite way to start and fill out a document. Plus, the interface more closely resembles newer versions of Microsoft Office than many of our other pics, so picking it up immediately may be even easier than you expect.
However, WPS isn’t content to copy Microsoft in all things. It does have a few useful tools of its own, including organic ways to change paragraph layout with your mouse, advanced section navigation, and document tabs for quickly managing multiple docs. This makes this download a great choice for laptops and/or schoolwork.
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Best for cloud collaboration: Google Docs
Google Docs may need no introduction, but just in case it does, this cloud-based document software is ideal if you need to work with others on a project, particularly if everyone is familiar with Google Drive, where files can be stored and shared. The current iteration of Docs supports PDFs, DOC files, and even iWorks on the Mac side of things, so you don’t need to worry about information being lost. Additionally, it integrates with many other Google Services like Gmail, Calendar, and Google Plus.
The interface is classic Google – minimalistic and sometimes confusing. Certain tools or abilities may be hidden deep in menus or not made available for unknown reasons, which can make it difficult to pick up without any previous experience. However, if you’re used Chrome or Chrome OS then you know what to expect and shouldn’t have a problem navigating the menus at all.
Plus, the ability to work on documents, edit work, and discuss changes with others who are also working on the same file – all in the same window – is incredibly useful and done very well throughout the Google Doc options. This is a great choice for those with limited storage (like Chromebook users) or who need to edit at a distance.
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Best for MacOS: iWork for Apple
iWork wasn’t originally designed for compatibility with Office Docs, but over time Apple has added more functionality. Now you can even import Microsoft files and edit them in Pages, Numbers or Keynote as needed, a huge advantage that makes iWork a perfect pick if you are working on a Mac in a sea of Windows users.
Of course, accessibility is more determined by your familiarity with iWork than anything else. These apps may be able to product similar documents in the end, but they don’t resemble Microsoft office when it comes to the interface. Tools are in different places and tend to be a little more obscured than Microsoft tools, so if this is your first time using these apps you can expect a steep learning curve before things get simple again.
Also keep in mind that iWork is made to function closely with iCloud. If you use iCloud then that will make it much easier to share documents over the cloud and store them offsite if necessary – but if you’re not an iCloud fan, then there sharing and storing will be more challenging.
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