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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Microsoft Office Alternatives 2014

For many people, Microsoft Office is the holy-grail of productivity suits. The one piece of software that parents have to get for their children when they’re in school or university, the one piece of software that business’ pay a fortune for so they can write neat letters and keep basic spreadsheets, and the one piece of software that writers buy to write a great novel.

However, the day of the Microsoft behemoth being a necessity is  finally over, as the more tech-savvy students, business’ and writers realise that there are a wealth of totally free alternatives to Microsoft Office, that for 99.99% of the population will be more than adequate, and almost identical to the payed for software by Microsoft.

As a writer myself, and someone who has a job in the real-world, dealing with other business’ from around the World, I have taken it upon myself to try-out and utilise these free offerings in the real workplace. Each and every product I mention has been used by myself, in the business’ where I have worked, and by friends and family. Speaking for myself in particular, I have been using these free alternatives for many years, a lot of the time seeing them progress from cheap-imitations of MS Office and blossom into fully functioning and highly desirable products that based on a cost-to-performance ratio, blow Microsoft’s products clean out of the water.

There is an office suit out there for everyone, and I have included a variety to suit each individuals needs.

Google Docs

Why Use Google Docs?
As a writer, the number one office suite that I use for my writing is Google Docs. The reason being? I can sign into any computer using my Google account and carry on whatever I am writing, wherever I am. Simply choose the document you were working on and as it saves after each key-press, carry on from where you left it. There’s no need to carry around a hard-drive or memory-stick as it’s stored on Google’s servers, so the only thing you need is an internet connection. Regardless of it’s my laptop, work PC or mobile device such as a tablet or phone, it works perfectly.

Google Docs may be have less features than other office suites in this list, but it handles everything you throw at it easily. The word processor (Documents) handles Microsofts .doc and .docx as well as the Open Format .odt files, .txt files and can save files as .PDF’s. In a couple of years use as a main source of handling word files from other companies, Documents has yet to let us down.

Google Docs also handles Powerpoint Presentations with it’s Presentation program, Excel Spreadsheets with it’s Spreadsheet program and so much more. Although not as feature rich as Microsoft’s complete Office suite, Google Docs is a formidable force that can handle day to day tasks quickly and easily. Files are automatically stored in the cloud, and should you wish, you can download files in the required Microsoft format to your PC.

Looks & Ease Of Use
Google Docs looks basic, with just the one row of icons for formatting text. However, that combined with the pull-down menu options for adding photos and tables etc, means it’s very easy to use. So simple to use in fact, that anyone can create a document in no-time at all.

LibreOffice 4.2

Why Use LibreOffice?
LibreOffice is as close to Microsoft Office as you can get when it comes to features. LibreOffice comes with it’s extensive word processor Writer, it’s Excel matching Calc, it’s amazing Powerpoint beating Impress and Base (Database), Math (Equation editor) and Draw (Diagrams and sketches) programs.

For all intents and purposes, LibreOffice 4.2 is a free version of Microsoft’s Office. It can handle all the file-types that MS Office does, and although it doesn’t have the ribbon-look of the latest MS Office, it does everything quickly and easily while keeping a bit of familiarity of MS Office.

LibreOffice is split into the programs that are mentioned above. The main programs, Writer and Calc have all the features of Microsoft’s Word and Excel. In every-day use, opening files from other business’, and sending files to people who have MS Office is error-free, and the recipients of any formats on MS Office and LibreOffice will not know which software suite the information was written on.

As an office based software suite, for business or students, LibreOffice 4.2 offers remarkable features and compatibility, and as available on Windows and Linux, so there is no reason why anyone concerned with sharing documents between systems should avoid this suite. It’s free, it’s fully-featured and quite simply amazingly mind-blowing to think that it is free!

Looks & Ease Of Use
Although LibreOffice has a dated look, with rows of icons and the ability to customise the icon space, it’s very reminiscent of MS Office from previous versions prior to 2013. It’s not a bad thing, as a lot of people dislike Microsoft’s ribbon-style interface. LibreOffice is suitable for beginners to advanced users, and is as hard or easy to use as you want it to be.

Kingsoft Office Suite 2013 (Free)

Why Use Kingsoft Office 2013?
Unlike LibreOffice, Kingsoft Office 2013 is not crammed with additional modules. But what it does do is come with three of the most popular productivity packages, and concentrate all their energy and know-how into making the most compatible MS Office software around.

Kingsoft Office 2013 comes with it’s fully fledged word processor known as Writer. For those familiar with MS Office, Kingsoft Office not only matches MS Office’s features, but looks very similar in the way it is designed, making it a perfect replacement for those who write a lot of documents. Excel copy Spreadsheets handle’s all your spreadsheet needs, and again is meant to be highly compatible, and once again looks awesome. While it’s Powerpoint copy is titled Presentation, and is probably the weakest part of this suite.

Kingsoft Office’s strength is its concentration on it’s word processing software. If you’re a writer like myself, the word processor is the most important part of productivity software. Kingsoft Office looks perfect, has endless amounts of features, is stable and is compatible with most file formats (although .odt files are not supported for some reason). It’s my number one choice for word processing software, and that includes Microsoft’s offering. File compatibility is meant to be better than even LibreOffice, although trying to “break” the software to find out just how incompatible it is, is very hard, and I’ve yet encountered a document that Writer cannot handle,with all justification, underlining and formatting coming out perfect from any documents written on different programs. It’s that good.

Once again, it’s Spreadsheet’s program that replaces Excel is also top-notch, and a key-feature is once again it’s compatibility. As for Presentation, this program for some reason does not support the latest .pptx formats. However, that does not cripple in a way that would make it useless. Overall, Kingsoft Office 2013 is a powerful suite, and one well worth consideration.

Looks & Ease Of Use
Kingsoft Office 2013 looks like MS Office more than any other package here, and because of that is very easy to use. A great combination of power and presentation mean it’s a winning formula.

Other software worth considering...

Apache Office

Quick Overview
Another piece of software worth considering is Apache’s OpenOffice. Although once regarded as the must-have free office suite, when it forked into two, with one-fork being LibreOffice, OpenOffice’s development slowed down a little. It’s another great package, and one that gives an experience just as good as MS Office for the average user who needs it for everyday use.

Microsoft Office Web Apps

Quick Overview
If, after reading this article, you still yearn for Microsoft’s products, then there is a free alternative by Microsoft themselves. MS Office Web Apps allows you to open, edit and create documents online in a similar mold to Google’s documents. However, where Google Docs is quite comprehensive for an online productivity suite, Microsofts own version is a little lacking in almost every department when compared to the alternatives. Perhaps this is a way that Microsoft want users to upgrade and pay for their services? Regardless, it’s an option, and will no doubt suit some people who feel the need to be tied into the Microsoft ecosystem.

Softmaker FreeOffice

Quick Overview
FreeOffice is similar in it’s ways to Kingsoft Office 2013, containing only three productivity programs, TextMaker (Word processor), PlanMaker (Spreadsheets), Presentations (Powerpoint). The software works well, looks good and is very compatible with MS Office. Why should you download this software over the other options though? Well, it’s available on Windows and Linux, so those on Linux who want Kingsoft Office could use this as a substitute. Once again, it’s quite capable and best of all, its free!

Final Comments
Whichever productivity suite you decide to use, remember that there are free versions. Just because something is free, doesn't mean it is no good. These above Office Suites have been tested by myself over many years in personal and business use and all do the job perfectly. As they are free, feel free to download them all and see which one you prefer, you have nothing to lose.

Which alternative to MS Office would I choose? Well, I use a combination of Google Docs (as used to write this article) and Kingsoft Office 2013 (as used on other projects). For overall effectiveness and convenience I use Google Docs, as its auto-backup feature is a feature to die-for, and one that has saved my documents on so many occasions.