The best free Microsoft Office alternatives
With Office 2016, Microsoft has made several enhancements to security and productivity, including a much-needed overhaul of Excel. However, at £120 (US$120, AU$179) for the home edition it's a substantial investment - especially if you're unlikely to use its more advanced features regularly.
Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 has a lower entry price of £8 (US$10, AU$12) per month or £80 (US$90, AU$119) per year for the home version, but again, it's a substantial expense for a set of tools that might be overpowered for your needs.
If you work with people who use Office and rely on its collaborative functions every day, the convenience of using those programs yourself may well justify the price. For the rest of us, there are lots of excellent free alternatives to consider. Here are our picks of the best free office apps in 2016. Have we missed your preferred suite? Let us know in the comments below.
Remember, when you install any of this free office software you'll be asked if you want to associate particular file formats with the newly installed programs. We recommend deselecting these options at first, then changing your defaults once you're satisfied that you'll be using the new suite in the long term.
Comprehensive and updated regularly - the only office suite you'll ever need
LibreOffice is a fork of the OpenOffice.org project, and it's available for Windows, OS X and Linux (it's the office software you'll find on most popular Linux distros). The main draw is that it's OpenOffice but fast-tracked, with far more frequent updates than its parent suite.
Like OpenOffice, LibreOffice is designed around the standard Open Document Format with Microsoft Office importing and exporting, and its six apps cover just about everything you could need from a productivity suite:
- Writer (word processing
- Calc (spreadsheets)
- Impress (presentations)
- Draw (diagrams and vector graphics)
- Math (mathematical formulae)
- Base (databases)
Unlike Microsoft Office there's no email client - likely because there are so many excellent options already available, developing another would be redundant. See our guide to the best free email clients 2016.
LibreOffice's apps have a clear format reminiscent of older versions of Microsoft Office. It's not as sleek as Office 2016 or 365, but features are represented by large, clear icons rather than being hidden behind menus and ribbons. See our guide to getting started with LibreOffice.
If its standard offering isn't enough, the LibreOffice community has created hundreds of templates and extensions to add new features to the free office software and improve existing ones - all available to download and use completely free. There's also a portable version that can be run from a USB stick. With so much power and flexibility, there can be no doubt that LibreOffice is the best free office software for Windows.
2. Apache OpenOffice
Less frequent updates than LibreOffice, but greater stability
If LibreOffice does everything Apache OpenOffice does and gets updates more quickly, why would you consider its less action-packed parent? The short answer is stability: a faster update cycle can mean the potential to introduce new bugs.
OpenOffice contains the same six core apps as LibreOffice (Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base) and its interface is very similar. It lacks some of the features of LibreOffice (such as live word counts in Writer), but the two suites share so much of the same code, such differences are few and far between. LibreOffice, however, benefits from superior documentation.
Again, a portable version is available for use from a removable USB device or cloud storage service.
3. SoftMaker FreeOffice
Excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office documents
SoftMaker FreeOffice is available for Windows and Linux (and there's a companion app for Android) and offers effortless editing of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It can also export files in EPUB and PDF export.
FreeOffice contains three apps delivering the familiar combination of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. While the feature set isn't quite as extensive as LibreOffice - it lacks mail merging, and the spreadsheet charts aren't as spectacular - it's faster, can open password-protected Office and WordPerfect documents (provided you know the password) and covers the office software basics very well.
As with LibreOffice and OpenOffice, SoftMaker provides a portable version of FreeOffice for Linux and Windows.
4. WPS Office 2016
Microsoft-style good looks, but the free edition has limitations
WPS Office 2016, also known as Kingsoft Office, is one of the best Microsoft Office-a-likes, but the free version does include some important caveats. The free office software for Windows begins with a 30-day trial of the Premium version (it reverts to the free version if you don't open your wallet at the end of the month) and printed documents are watermarked.
It borrows the ribbon interface from newer versions of Microsoft Office, so you'll be up and running in no time, but the drawbacks of the free edition might be enough to put you off.
5. Google Docs
Take your document creation to the cloud for easy collaboration
If you're looking for a serious Office rival, Google Docs should be towards the top of your list. What started life as a free but basic cloud-based Office suite has evolved into something that's deceptively powerful, and even the weakest app, PowerPoint alternative Slides, is rather good these days.
Google Docs is particularly good for teamwork, with excellent multi-user support and change tracking, and the companion mobile apps cover iOS as well as Android. If you're in the kind of environment where documents, spreadsheets or presentations are pinged back and forth, with comments and tracked changes, Google Docs' cloud-based office software suite will make your life simpler.
6. Zoho Docs
A credible alternative to Google Docs and well worth investigating
Zoho Docs is used by the likes of the BBC, Coca-Cola and ITV, and its free service gives up to 25 users 5GB of storage each.
Its office software package includes three cloud-based apps - the usual spread of word processing, spreadsheet and presentations - as well as document versioning and desktop syncing.
There are companion apps for iOS and Android, as well as integration with other services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. That makes it particularly attractive to small businesses, although it's important to note that some of the more advanced features such as password-protected sharing aren't available in the free version.
Don't plump for Google Docs without checking out Zoho first.
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