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Alternatives To Microsoft Office

November 26th, 2007 · 1 Comment

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The announcement of Live Documents last week got a lot of press attention, mostly because this is a new initiative by the guy who started Hotmail and sold it to Microsoft for $400 million.

But it also serves to highlight once again that Office is no longer the only game in town when it comes to productivity software. In fact, there are about half a dozen decent alternatives out there, and many of them are free. Imagine how much your office could save if you didn’t have to pony up all that money for Office licenses.

After the break, I’ll list the main Office alternatives.

Of course, you can always try the traditional non-Microsoft alternatives (WordPerfect, StarOffice, etc.) but I’m going to assume that you, like me, want something that is mostly compatible with Word, Excel, etc, but doesn’t require a costly license.

The contenders to the Office throne fall into two categories: software that you download and use on your desktop… and web-based applications that your run right in your browser. These are the best of the bunch.


  • Open Office. This is the granddaddy of the group. A free, open-source suite that offers a downloadable alternative to everything Office has to offer. If you’ve come to prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer, then you know that open source software can work just as well, or better than, commercial alternatives. I have a laptop that came bundled with only Microsoft Works. I downloaded Open Office about 2 years ago and haven’t encountered a single problem. Effective, easy to use, almost just like Office and free.
  • thinkfree. See below.

Online Suites

  • Zoho. Zoho offers an Office Suite, which includes Writer, Projects, Sheet, CRM, Show, Creator, Wiki, Planner, Suite, Notebook, Chat, Meeting and Mail… and it offers it all free and online. That’s right, it’s written using Ajax and is designed to work right in your browser. If you sign up for a free account, you get storage as well. Zoho has a strong collaborative and social networking focus, with things like a Facebook application and Zoho Viewer to post and share documents online.
  • thinkfree. Similar to Zoho, it offers a suite of online applications that work directly in your browser (Write, Calc and Show) and produce Office compatible files. Additionally, there are online storage and collaborative features. thinkfree has a downloadable desktop version available for purchase for a fraction of the cost of Office.
  • BuzzWord. Recently acquired by Adobe, this suite of applications uses Flex and Flash (natch) to put a really dynamic productivity package together right in your browser. I’d expect this product to be key to Adobe’s online strategy, so even though it’s still in the development stages, the use of Flash and the muscle of Adobe might make this the one to watch.
  • Google Docs. Again, this is another strategic play by a tech heavyweight trying to knock Office off it’s throne. Google offers it’s own versions of a word processing application, a spreadsheet application and a presentation application… all online and all compatible with Office. If you are a heavy Gmail user, you should really consider using Docs, since the integration between the two is easy and the online storage option is one you’re already familiar with. And if Google’s cellphone initiative does end up becoming the wave of the future, look for Google Docs to be the core component of Google’s mobile productivity offering. Might pay off to familiarize yourself with these programs now.

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Tags: Computers Work 4 U · Productivity