The five best free alternatives to Google Docs that run in your browser

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Google Docs is the most well known office suite in existence — well, at least on the Web. When Google first began offering real-time collaboration for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, it essentially changed the way millions of people worked together online. That was then, however, and Google is no longer the only company that offers a Web-based suite of office applications for the. If you’re dissatisfied with Google’s offerings, there’s a wide range of alternatives out there for you. Thankfully, we’ve rounded up the best of them.

Microsoft Office Online: In many ways, better than Google

If you’re used to Microsoft’s desktop suite — and hundreds of millions of users are — then Microsoft Office Online is the first alternative you should check out. The service offers Web-based versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote, along with a number of other tools. The service is free for home users, and a license for the desktop version of Microsoft Office is not required. The big advantage here is file compatibility, though. Office Online provides full document fidelity, allowing you to view Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents on the Web as you would on your desktop. Your files should look exactly the way you remember them, and Excel formulas or PowerPoint slides should transfer as expected.

Another potential pro for longtime Microsoft users is the interface, which is built on the same familiar ribbon Microsoft has used since the release of Office 2007 nearly a decade ago.

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Keep in mind that there’s no upload button in the apps themselves, however. You’ll need to head to the OneDrive homepage to upload files from your computer, or use the included OneDrive integration that comes with Windows 10. Documents in OneDrive sync with Microsoft’s free mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. There’s also support for opening documents directly from Dropbox, which is nice if you’re a dedicated Dropbox user. Files can also be downloaded as Office files, PDFs, and even in the open document format if you’re a Libre Office user outside the browser. All this makes Microsoft Office Online the most complete alternative to Google Docs, particularly for longtime Microsoft Office users.

Zoho Docs: An often overlooked alternative

Microsoft Office is a household name, but you’ve likely never heard of Zoho. That’s too bad, because this India-based company has put together a very attractive suite of software. Their office suite is a big part of that. The user interface is clean yet familar, and unlike Google Docs —which uses a traditional “File/Edit/View” menubar above a single toolbar — Zoho borrows a little bit from Microsoft’s ribbon interface. The result is an easy-to-use Web interface that feels complete.

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Users can upload Microsoft Office files and Libre Office files, or even edit PDF files. Mobile apps are offered for both iOS and Android, giving you the ability to edit your documents on the go. There’s also a desktop client for Windows, Linux, and Mac users, which allows you to edit your documents offline and automatically sync the changes. Dropbox users can also access a single folder, with no sub-folders, from their Dropbox account. All of this is free for individual users, with 5GB of storage, and businesses with up to 25 users. After that, it costs $5 per user per month with 50GB of storage, or $8 per user per month for 100GB.

OnlyOffice: Solid open source suite that’s also offered as a service

OnlyOffice is a relative newcomer to the world of online office suites, but the company offers a free version of its software for personal use. The software allows users to easily upload documents, spreadsheets, and presentations created using Microsoft Office or Libre Office. An iOS app also provides mobile access, but sadly, there’s no Android app as of yet.

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A key strength of OnlyOffice is its cloud-based storage options, which let you connect your Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Yandex.Disk accounts. If you’re using a major cloud service, OnlyOffice can probably connect to it. The package is built on a lot of open source software, too, meaning true geeks can check out the source code on GitHub. It’s even possible to deploy OnlyOffice on your own server, which further increases its potential for power users or network administrators.

Dropbox Paper: An early attempt at rivaling Google and Microsoft

Dropbox has long been famous for one core feature — syncing a folder full of your files between many different computers. However, the company is increasingly trying to branch out. Dropbox Paper, for instance, is an experimental alternative of sorts to Google Docs. It doesn’t offer a spreadsheet program or a presentation program, but instead, focuses entirely on text documents. The application is currently available to Dropbox users, but there is a waiting list.

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The minimalistic interface focuses on text editing and collaboration. There’s a large area for comments, and support for flashy features such as embedded media and emojis. It’s obvious this isn’t aiming to be a full replacement for Google Drive or Microsoft Office, but more a tool for quick collaboration. That said, it’s unclear how long Paper will be around for, especially when you consider that Dropbox recently shut down two recent acquisitions (Mailbox and Carousel). Paper will have to find an established user base if it wants to be a long-term solution here.

Etherpad: Open source, self-hosted document editor with realtime editing

Like Dropbox Paper, Etherpad isn’t a complete alternative to Google Docs given it focuses entirely on text editing. There’s no spreadsheet app, no presentation app, or compatibility with Word and Libre Office documents. If you want those things, Etherpad is not a viable Google Docs alternative. Etherpad is a solid choice if you just want to use your browser and collaborate on formatted text in real time, though.

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The software is open-source, meaning you can put it on your own server and use it however you’d like. This gives you full control over your system, allowing you to customize it to your organization’s precise needs. There’s an online demo you can try if you’re a regular user, along with open versions of Etherpad hosted by Mozilla and Rackspace, if you want more options. It’s simple alternative, sure, but it can work great depending on your needs.

Google isn’t the only game in town

The aforementioned apps represent, in our experience, the five best alternatives to Google Docs. Many other online office suites have come and gone over the years, and some of these might disappear in the future. Google Docs is a hard suite of applications to replace, and it only gets better over time. However, it’s good to see that more than a few companies are trying to not only keep up with Google’s office suite, but in surpass it. Here’s hoping all of these Web apps will just keep getting better.

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