Best free office software
While Microsoft Office continues to dominate the world of office productivity suites, some users and businesses may be put off by the idea of monthly fees.
Additionally, over the years a number of other companies have launched their own versions of office software, covering documents, spreadsheets, and email, to rival Microsoft's flagship service.
Some of these alternatives come at a more competitive price - but even better, some are free to use. This will almost certainly be of interest to those consumers and businesses looking to minimize costs while retaining the ability to work with office files.
However, not all office suites are created the same, and come with limitations, especially in free versions that come with a paid-for upgrade to unlock features.
Additionally, you also need to bear in mind that formatting can be saved in different ways for the same file type for different programs, which can cause problems when sharing files with users who use different software. Therefore it's important to note if the formatting will be retained accurately.
On top of that, you also need to ask which office software types you actually need. Most packages offer documents and spreadsheets as standard, but some providers may not provide database or presentation software in a bundle, so it's important to check what you need against what providers will actually supply.
Regardless of all that, here we'll list the best in free office software as alternatives to Microsoft Office, for both home and business users.
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Everything you could want from an office suite, fully compatible with Microsoft formats and totally free to use – even commercially
LibreOffice is so good, you'll wonder why you ever paid for office software. It's compatible with all Microsoft document formats, and has almost every feature you'll find in the latest versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
The suite contains six programs to cover every common office task: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base. The last three are tools you won't find in many other free office suites, and are designed for vector diagrams, mathematical functions and databases, respectively. The latter is particularly useful; free alternatives to Microsoft Access are hard to find.
LibreOffice is an open source project maintained by a huge and enthusiastic community of volunteers constantly working to improve stability and add new features. There's a great selection of extensions and templates to make it even more flexible, and it's free for businesses as well as home users.
LibreOffice is a fork of Apache OpenOffice, and the two are extremely similar, but we’d opt for LibreOffice thanks to its more frequent update schedule and more modern interface. The latest release (version 6) adds a huge array of new features and fixes, including more interface customization options, improved file import and export compatibility, and new online help pages.
LibreOffice is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, but there are no official mobile versions available except for a document viewer for Android. It has some editing features, but they're experimental and we wouldn't advise relying on them.
For working across platforms and sharing documents, Google's excellent collection of online office apps is hard to beat
If you work collaboratively, or switch between a PC and a Mac, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides should be your first port of call.
For anyone who's already deep into the Android/Google ecosystem, this suite will be a natural choice. The three key tools run happily in any web browser, and are available as mobile apps for Apple and Android devices.
Google's free office suite doesn't offer the advanced tools you'll find in desktop software like LibreOffice (there are no pivot tables, for example, and there's no database tool) but everything is laid out in a clear, logical way and all your files will be saved and synced automatically so you don't have to worry about transfers and backups.
The chief disadvantage of Docs, Sheets and Slides is that opening files created using other office software is a cumbersome process and files aren't always converted perfectly.
This is partly because Google's office tools use web fonts rather than ones stored locally on your device, and partly because Microsoft documents sometimes contain features not supported by Google. If that's a dealbreaker for you, read on...
Microsoft is taking the fight to Google with slimmed-down versions of all its usual applications, available to use free online
Microsoft's desktop software carries a subscription fee, but the company has noticed the threat posed by G Suite and created its own set of free online apps.
Microsoft Office Online looks and works just like its desktop equivalent, and although advanced tools like pivot tables are out of reach, but aren’t offered by Google either.
If you generally use Microsoft document formats, Office Online is a brilliant choice. Unlike Google's free office suite, it doesn't need to convert your files before you can work on them, and you can share them easily through your Microsoft OneDrive account. Just log in using your Microsoft account (the same one you use to log into Windows 10) and you're ready to go.
A feature-packed free office suite for Windows, Linux and Android
WPS Office Free is a slimmed down version of a premium office suite, but you'd hardly know it. Each of its three programs looks just as slick as the latest versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and is packed with just as many features.
File format support is excellent, and you can save your work in native Microsoft formats for easy sharing with Office users. There's no database software, but WPS Office comes with an excellent free PDF reader that's a great replacement for Windows' built-in app.
There's the occasional ad, but these are few and far between. They certainly won't get in the way of your work, and you'll easily forget that everything in this suite is completely free.
There are versions of WPS Office Free for Windows and Linux systems, as well as apps for Android devices, but Apple device users will need to look elsewhere.
- WPS Office Free review
- Download WPS Office free
- The business paid for version has no ads and adds a lot of extras
A cross-platform office suite that keeps your work in the cloud
If you own a Samsung phone, you might already be familiar with the mobile version of Polaris Office. This cross-platform free office software is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and comes pre-installed on some Samsung handsets. It’s compatible with all Microsoft document formats, and offers a slick ribbon-based interface with some basic customization options.
Take care if you choose to install Windows version, you’ll see various additional pieces of bundled software, which could potentially include a browser extension from McAfee called WebAdvisor, a market research tool called PremierOpinion, and an antivirus suite. You can decline all of these – just keep an eye out.
You’ll then need to sign in with Facebook or Google, or create an account. This is necessary because Polaris Office is a cloud-based service. Your free Polaris account comes with 60MB monthly data transfer, 1GB cloud storage, and can be used across three devices (one desktop and two mobile). If that’s not enough space, you can connect Polaris Office to Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive – or save work locally to your device.
Upgrading to a premium Polaris account gives you access to extra features including a PDF editor, removes ads, and the ability to search within a document.
- Polaris Office review
- Download Polaris Office
- The premium versions include more editing tools and have no ads
A free version of a premium suite, with most pro features intact
Like WPS Office Free, SoftMaker FreeOffice provides analogs for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint (TextMaker, PlanMaker and Presentations respectively).
As with all the free office suites in this roundup, there's support for Microsoft file formats from 1997 onwards. It also offers effortless conversion to both PDF and Epub formats, which is a welcome addition.
Unfortunately, some key features are exclusive to the premium version of the software. Some of these (like tabbed browsing) are nice to have but non-essential, but the lack of a thesaurus is a real drawback for anyone who writes on a regular basis.
FreeOffice doesn't look quite as smart as WPS Office, but if you dislike the Microsoft ribbon and find it unintuitive then you'll prefer the slightly more old fashioned approach to navigation.
- SoftMaker FreeOffice review
- Download SoftMaker FreeOffice
- The paid for version adds thesaurus, administration features and caters for up to five PCs
More than just an office suite online
Open365 is more than just an office suite – it's a full cloud desktop that drags in a selection of great open source (usually desktop-based) software and puts it right in your browser. It includes the key components of the LibreOffice suite (Writer, Calc and Impress) along with Photoshop-esque image editor GIMP, Linux email package Kontact, and cloud storage by Seafile. Everything the desktop versions of those packages do can be done here, and every format they support is supported.
There's a desktop client to handle file transfers and mirroring your cloud storage to your hard drive, although you'll still need to run the software itself in-browser. Being full-on desktop software it's reasonably heavy both in terms of load times and the stress it puts on your system.
But get your whole team on board and its collaborative tools could make this an essential component of your workflow, particularly if you're hotdesking or using a variety of hardware.
A genuinely exciting alternative to Google Docs
While Google Docs is, thanks to the strength of its brand, probably more widely used, Zoho's online office solution is very good in its own right. It's certainly closer to a desktop office package, and it's strong enough to have attracted businesses like the BBC and Nike as regular users.
Zoho's new-look word processor (which ditches the classic Word-style interface in favour of a formatting sidebar) is very well-presented and capable of producing professional-looking docs, and it has a sterling spreadsheet and reasonable presentation package alongside it.
They're just the tip of the iceberg, however – Zoho Workplace includes a powerful site creation tool, a file management solution and many collaborative tools. Some are on the simplistic side, so they'll likely not replace anything you might already have in place, but if you're starting out as a small business Zoho is probably a good jumping-off point.
- Try Zoho Workplace for free for up to 25 users
- Paid versions of Zoho cost as little as £18 per year per user