Free Alternatives to the Microsoft Office Suite
Juggling your finances can be tricky while you’re in college and if you’re like most students, you’re constantly looking to save money. One way to avoid an unnecessary expense is to download free open source software in lieu of Microsoft Office Suite. More prevalent with each passing year, open source tools are free and just as effective as brand name products.
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the best open source office suite replacements for Microsoft Office. This is not a catalog but rather a list of proven products that I have used for years in my classroom and for my assignments as a writer and editor.
Most of these flexible open source products can run on computers using Microsoft Windows, Apple OS-X and Linux operating systems. They all read and write the proprietary file formats of Microsoft Office components and the standard Open Document Format (ODF). These programs automatically convert the file formats depending on your usage preferences.
Apache OpenOffice is an original office suite project, developed for open source and Linus OS in business settings. The Apache Software Foundation maintains and updates the software. OpenOffice has six components that are fully compatible with Microsoft Office.
- Writer: a word processor complete with ready-made templates for dozens of word-composition tasks.
- Calc: a fully functional spreadsheet for calculating, analyzing and displaying data in numerical reports or graphics.
- Impress: a Powerpoint-clone for creating multimedia presentations.
- Draw: a tool for creating diagrams and dynamic 3D illustrations.
- Base: a tool for creating and modifying databases with features for handling tables, forms, queries and reports.
- Math: an office tool for creating mathematical equations with a graphic user interface or direct data entry into an equation editor.
LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice, developed by The Document Foundation when Apache overhauled the open source project, and some of the community developers balked at the new philosophy and features.
The LibreOffice software suite has a more modern user interface. It includes mostly the same components as OpenOffice with slightly different names. I found that some of its features work more intuitively than those found in other office suites.
The office suite components are: Writer, the word processor; Calc, the spreadsheet application; Impress, the presentation or Powerpoint clone; Draw, a drawing and flowcharting application; Base, a database; and Math, a mathematics equation editor.
NeoOffice is specifically for students using Apple’s operating system, as it’s a complete office suite for the Mac OS X. It’s capable of viewing, editing and saving OpenOffice documents, LibreOffice documents and simple Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint projects.
NeoOffice is reliable but a bit quirky to use. Created in 2003, it debuted on the heals of an OpenOffice release for the Mac OS X. NeoOffice’s developers regularly update and improve their program. Some of these updates produced features not available in OpenOffice or LibreOffice; these features are unique to supporting Mac OS X services and its user interface.
Calligra Suite has everything you need in an office suite, and a lot more. To say that it’s a complete Microsoft Office suite replacement is an understatement. Calligra is a forked set of office tools for the Linux KDE desktop that branched from an aging KOffice suite. It runs on any flavor of Linux, along with Windows and Apple platforms. Support tools for Windows and the Mac OS X are very basic, however.
Calligra contains nine integrated creativity modules, which goes well beyond the capabilities of both OpenOffice and LibreOffice.
The first set of applications contains standard office offerings, including word processor, spreadsheet, slide presentation and database creator. The second tool kit includes more specialized tools not often made a part of an office package. These include tools for creating charts and diagrams, a digital painting studio for artists, a separate e-book application, a vector graphics editor and a mind-mapping program.
Calligra also has two word processing applications, which is particularly useful for students who write frequently. Calligra Words is a traditional all-purpose writing program. Here, students can use the software for typical academic, business and personal use. Calligra Author offers something more. It’s essentially a one-stop tool for creating novels and textbooks in ebook format and it has tools to help you plan, write, review and publish your work.
Ease of Use
Students generally like to use Microsoft Office because it is a familiar program that doesn’t require them to learn new technology. While it’s natural for students to prefer programs they have experience with, the best part of the suite packages previewed above is that the mechanics of the software is very similar to what students are familiar with. They aren’t identical, of course, but they’re generally similar enough to make them easy to use.
The most important thing to remember is that each of these Microsoft Office replacements uses a native open source format. You can easily change the file format setting to save your work in a Microsoft office format. Depending on the program, you can even select specific Microsoft versions. This will not matter if you merely save your file for your own use and print out documents to submit in class. However, if you exchange files with others or have to submit an attached document through email, or upload the file to the instructor’s email address or campus server or website, you must use the proprietary Microsoft file format. Otherwise, the receiving party will not be able to open the file. All of these office replacements let you open the original format, though, so you should never have any interoperability issues.