free Microsoft Office alternatives

free Microsoft Office alternatives

Microsoft Office is the king of office productivity suites, but it doesn’t inspire warm, fuzzy feelings in all users. Parsing the ever-expanding list of features—many of which you’ll never use—can feel like stepping into a cockpit without a pilot’s license. The ribbon interface, introduced a decade ago, has many fans, but others pine for the static menus of the early aughts. And then there’s Office’s hefty price tag.

Fortunately, alternatives abound, ranging from web apps to freemium and open source desktop installations, many of which are compatible with Microsoft Office docs. We compared six of the most popular free office suites to see how well they replicate the most commonly used features of Microsoft Office.

Updated 9/24/18 to include our review of FreeOffice 2018, which is compatible with the core productivity programs in MS Office and offers users the option of a classic or ribbon-style interface. See the bottom of the page for all of our product reviews. 

Best overall Microsoft Office alternative

Kingsoft’s WPS Office 2016 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 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 Microsoft Office alternative

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.
  • The best free office software

    (Image credit: Future)

    Free office software has come a long way in recent years, and the best free suites can now easily take the place of premium apps for many users.

    For most users, Microsoft Office remains the original and best office suite, and Office 365 takes matters further with an online version that offers cloud backups and mobile use as required.

    However, over the years other companies have released rival office suites to help with productivity, some of which is paid-for and some of which is free – sometimes with the same company offering both.

    All of these alternatives to Microsoft Office offer a similar range of software applications, mainly based on creating and editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

    However, while most offer the ability to work with traditional Microsoft Office documents, do be aware that not all will preserve formatting when exporting from or into Microsoft Office, which can be a problem when sending documents between different programs.

    Even still, for home users and new businesses, the idea of being able to create, edit, manage, and organize office documents without incurring costs can be very welcome.

    Therefore here we’ll feature the best in free office software.

    Divider

    The best office software in the world is: Microsoft 365
    There are many different office software suites out there, but Microsoft Office remains the original and best, offering an unsurpassed range of features and functionality that rivals just can’t match.

    Even better, Microsoft 365 – previously branded as Office 365 – is a cloud-based solution which means you can use it on any computer, mobile device, or smartphone, without having to worry about compatibility. All your files are saved in the cloud and synced between devices, so you can begin work on a document at home or in the office, then continue working on it on the go.

    You can sign up to Microsoft 365 here.

    • Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to [email protected] with the URL of the buying guide in the subject line.

    Best free office software – at a glance

    1. Microsoft Office Online
    2. Zoho Workplace
    3. Polaris Office
    4. LibreOffice
    5. WPS Office Free
    6. FreeOffice
    7. Google Docs

    Microsoft Office Online

    (Image credit: Microsoft)

    1. Microsoft Office Online

    Microsoft is taking the fight to Google with slimmed-down versions of all its usual applications, available to use free online

    Fully compatible with desktop apps
    Works with OneDrive
    Lacks some advanced tools

    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.

    There’s a version of Office Online for Chrome, plus mobile editions of Office for iOS and Android

    Zoho Workplace

    (Image credit: Zoho)

    2. Zoho Workplace

    A genuinely exciting alternative to Google Docs

    Well-presented
    Better than rivals
    Site creation tool
    Some tools are too simple

    While Google Docs is, thanks to the strength of its brand, probably more widely used, Zoho Workplace 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.

    If you want to signup for the free version of Zoho Workplace you need to search the pricing page for the “Forever free” plan. However, there’s no one-click set up or access, and instead you have to go through a sign up process that begins by providing details of an existing business domain.

    Polaris Office

    (Image credit: Polaris Office)

    3. Polaris Office

    A cross-platform office suite that keeps your work in the cloud

    Available for desktop and mobile
    Includes 1GB cloud storage
    Bundled extra software

    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.

    You can read our review of Polaris Office here

    LibreOffice

    (Image credit: LibreOffice)

    4. LibreOffice

    Everything you could want from an office suite, fully compatible with Microsoft formats and totally free to use – even commercially

    Huge software suite
    Full MS Office compatibility
    Completely free

    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 LibreOffice is the better overall product and properly supports file conversion that preserves existing formatting – so your Word .doc files should look the same in LibreOffice as they do in Word, and vice versa. 

    The latest release of LibreOffice (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.

    You can read our review of LibreOffice here

    WPS Office

    (Image credit: WPS Office)

    5. WPS Office Free

    A feature-packed free office suite for Windows, Linux and Android

    Supports Microsoft file formats
    Cross-platform
    Contains some ads

    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.

    You can read our review of WPS Office here

    FreeOffice

    (Image credit: Softmaker)

    6. FreeOffice

    A free version of a premium suite, with most pro features intact

    Supports Microsoft formats
    Includes PDF reader
    No thesaurus

    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.

    You can read our review of FreeOffice here

    Google Docs

    (Image credit: Google Docs)

    7. Google Docs

    For working across platforms and sharing documents

    Cross-platform
    Integrates with Google Drive
    Mobile apps available
    Formatting issues
    Quirky

    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 file formatting isn’t is always converted properly. 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. 

    Additionally, there are some quirks with Google Docs that make it less user-friendly than other office software. As free software it does the job fine, but as a paid product it still lags behind the features and functionality of Microsoft Office.

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