The overwhelming majority of businesses I work with use Microsoft Office to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Not to mention to manage their email. I too use this software and have for many years. The problem is that it can be expensive, particularly for small businesses where every dollar counts.
Fortunately there are alternatives to Microsoft Office, many of which are free. Here we will explore many different versions of this software and break down what you get with each.
The first issue to worry about is that none of the office packages I have found provide compatible replacements with Outlook and Access. These two programs are not that often used in a lot of small businesses and can be replaced with other software packages but those will not offer the ability to open Outlook’s PST files or Access databases with the Visual Basic code intact.
For email if you are really into Outlook your best replacement may be Thunderbird. This lightweight and fast email program has virtually anything email related you could want. In addition it stores email in a text readable format so you are not likely to have the problem that Outlook can with corrupt PST files. The down side is that while Thunderbird is a very capable email program, it lacks the robust contact, calendar and task integration that Outlook has.
If you need integration for calendar, contact, email and tasks you could always go online with Google’s Gmail option. This requires you to give up the control of having your data stored on your computer but in exchange gives you excellent integration, world class spam filtering and access to your email from anywhere on virtually any device.
For Access there really is no replacement that I know of. Sure, there are tons of database programs out there, many of which are excellent. None of which allow you to open and run your Access databases complete with VB (Visual Basic) code intact. If you don’t mind rewriting your entire databases from scratch then this really is not a problem.
The majority of people I deal with require something to open and edit Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and occasionally PowerPoint spreadsheets. If you do not need to edit or create files compatible with these formats there are many options such as Google Docs. Lets discuss a few options.
WPS Office from Kingsoftstore.com. This office package boasts some of the best Microsoft Office file compatibility enabling you to open and edit virtually any Word, Excel, and PowerPoint file with ease. They also support formats such as WordPerfect for those of you who still have those files around (I’m talking to you lawyers and title companies out there) In addition, they have a version that is completely free with a few catches. Their business version with all the advanced features and none of the limitations of the free version is only $80 as compared to Microsoft Office Home & Business at $229 today on Amazon.com.
Kingsoft also has versions of their software for IOS, Android and even Linux. While some are a little more full featured than other platforms it is nice to see they are working on all major platforms.
The next option we have is OpenOffice which has been around for somewhere near fifteen years. OpenOffice is not as compatible as WPS Office with current Microsoft file formats but does run on Windows, Mac and Linux complete free. Unlike WPS Office there is no pay/business/professional version. The free version is it.
If you do not need compatibility with Microsoft products OpenOffice is an excellent product allowing you to do virtually anything a typical business would need to do without breaking the bank or without having to learn something completely new. The interface OpenOffice uses while not a copy of other office products is familiar enough to allow most people to get to work quickly.
Since OpenOffice has been around so long this translates into a very stable product, along with a product that has excellent support online though a huge user base. With the exception of Microsoft Office and Corel’s WordPerfect this easily has the largest online support system.
Several years ago OpenOffice split in two with one version calling itself Libre Office. This new version starts with the same source code as OpenOffice several years ago and gives it a more modern user interface and more up to date Microsoft Office file compatibility.
LibreOffice like OpenOffice is completely free and has no paid version. It has almost as good a support system but lacks the maturity of the documentation that OpenOffice has. This is primarily due to the newer more modern user interface in my opinion as they just have not had the time or resources to keep the documentation as current. There is something to be said for keeping things consistent, and something to be said for modernizing, both have their merits.
Now we come to Google Docs. This too is a completely free product for anyone to use. Unlike the othere offerings we have talked about Google Docs is an online offering. This means that the programs are primarily online, with little to nothing to install on a local machine.
You can run Google Docs without an internet connection although some functionality such as spell checking does not function as such. It also saves all its documents by default in Google’s Drive cloud storage product. This can be nice, or a bad thing, depending on how you think of it.
This post was originally written using Google Docs on a Acer Chromebook, all of which cost around $150 (hardware and software combined). Unfortunately its ability to open and edit Microsoft documents is almost non-existent. For creating new documents and spreadsheets however, it is excellent.
If you need the functionality of a word processor and spreadsheet program at minimal cost, Google Docs is your product. Not only is the software free but using it with existing hardware (Windows/Mac/Linux computers, IOS/Android/Windows tablets or phones, or super inexpensive Chromebooks) is a trivial matter as long as you have an internet connection the majority of the time.
Depending on your needs there are currently a wide variety of office products that can work without making a large investment in Microsoft Office that used to be required. That being said Microsoft Office is an excellent product that comes in both a perpetual license (Office 2016) and cloud based (Office 365) version. You could even use a combination of products to solve complex situations while saving money.
A great example is this document which was written in Google Docs on a Chromebook costing a total of $150 in hardware and software. I also write sections of my books with this combination. Once I am ready to go to press however I copy and paste these documents into an actual Microsoft Word document as it has better control and formatting for publishing. This allows me to write on multiple platforms without having to purchase an expensive office product for each platform and then put everything together on one computer with a one Microsoft Office license.
If however you do not need the advanced functionality of some of the more expensive products (the majority of people do not) you can probably get by just fine with the free software and save yourself a ton of money in the process.