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Battle of the Microsoft Office alternatives.

pcw office alt primaryRob Schultz

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When it comes to office productivity suites, there is little doubt that Microsoft Office dominates. But despite its deep roots and reknown, as well as its comprehensive array of offerings, Office is not necessarily the best option for everyone. Parsing the ever-expanding list of features—many of which you’ll never use—can feel overwhelming. For the majority of users, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all that’s really wanted. Which brings us to the final issue: Office’s hefty price tag.

Fortunately, free office suites abound, many of which are compatible with Microsoft Office docs. We compared six of the most popular free alternatives to see how well they replicate the most commonly used features of Microsoft Office.

Best overall Microsoft Office alternative

WPS Office

WPS Office 2016 provides the most Office-like experience of any alternative. All the productivity essentials are here with built-in cloud support, plus a few unique extras.

Kingsoft’s WPS Office delivers the most Office-like experience of all the suites we tried. Built around its own versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, it offers excellent compatibility with all Microsoft Office formats and features a customizable interface that can be tailored to your preference for either the ribbon toolbar or the static menus of Office 2003. It’s also the only desktop suite in our roundup that included integrated cloud storage for easily sharing and collaborating on files. (Read our full review.)

Runner-up

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides

With its Office compatibility and excellent collaboration features, Google’s productivity suite is a great option for road warriors, teams, and else who needs the flexibility to work from anywhere.

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides simply can’t be beat for collaboration. Its document review features and integration with Google Drive make it our go-to solution for anyone who routinely needs to co-author documents with others in real time. It also has tight ties with other Google products, including, of course, search, giving it capabilities you won’t find in any other office suite. Its relatively spartan interface is a welcome respite from Office’s busy toolbars, too. (Read our full review.)

What to look for in a free office suite

When evaluating Office alternatives, don’t look to replicate every feature, just the ones you need and use most. Depending on your situation, that could be robust spreadsheet calculations and dynamic presentation design or the ability to access files from anywhere and share them with remote team members. At minimum, keep these considerations in mind:

  • The big three: Though Microsoft Office has expanded over the years to include programs like Outlook, Access, and Publisher, its bread and butter is still its original trio of programs: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. That’s because nearly everyone uses these three apps regardless of the nature of their work. For many of us, they are the only three we need in a suite.
  • Office compatibility: Most of the working world will continue to use Microsoft Office long after you’ve jumped ship. That means you’ll still have to work with official Office files. Look for a suite that can cleanly read and write Microsoft Office formats, from the current DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX file types to legacy formats.
  • Interface: The way you access an office suite’s features matters as much as the features themselves. Polarized opinions about Office’s ribbon toolbar underscore this. Make sure you’re comfortable with the way a suite lays out its tools and that you don’t have to dig too deeply for those you’ll use a lot.
  • Collaboration capability: The irony that we still rely on “office” suites when many of us no longer work in physical offices means the ability to collaborate remotely with others is now a required feature. If you don’t want to have to email documents back and forth for editing—which can play havoc with version control —you’ll need an alternative that includes cloud support for easily sharing files and ideally the ability to co-author (i.e. make edits and comments on a document) in real time.

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At a Glance

  • With its Office compatibility and excellent collaboration features, Google’s productivity suite is a great option for road warriors, teams, and else who needs the flexibility to work from anywhere.

    Pros

    • Support for Microsoft Office formats
    • Real-time co-authoring
    • Deep integration with Google Drive and other Google products

    Cons

    • Somtimes has problems translating complex Excel files
    • Lacks many of Microsoft Office’s advanced features
  • WPS Office 2016 provides the most Office-like experience of any alternative. All the productivity essentials are here with built-in cloud support, plus a few unique extras.

    Pros

    • Customizable interface
    • Excellent Office compatibility
    • Integrated cloud storage

    Cons

    • No real-time co-authoring
  • FreeOffice 2018

    FreeOffice 2018 is an excellent and versatile Office alternative.

    Pros

    • Ability to switch between ribbon and classic-style menus
    • Special touchscreen mode increases size and spacing of icons
    • Excellent compatibility with lots of Office formats

    Cons

    • No integrated cloud support
  • Libre Office is a great choice for anyone who wants an open-source Office alternative.

    Pros

    • Fantastic compatibility with Microsoft Office formats
    • Familiar Office-like interface

    Cons

    • No integrated cloud storage
    • Doesn’t support real-time collaboration
  • Learn more

    on Microsoft

    Office Online is great for basic productivity needs or quick edits of Office documents, but it’s not meant to be a full replacement for the desktop suite.

    Pros

    • Familiar Office interface
    • Real-time collaboration features including Skype integration
    • Compatible with all Office formats

    Cons

    • Lacks many of Microsoft Office’s advanced features
    • Doesn’t support some popular file formats
  • Open Office has the essential features you need to work with Office formats, but its lack of cloud support makes it unsuited for collaboration.

    Pros

    • Excellent compatibility with Office formats
    • Familiar Office-like interface

    Cons

    • No native cloud storage
    • Doesn’t support real-time collaboration

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Lockwood Law

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