Despite making its name with the iconic Windows operating system, the Office software suite is arguably Microsoft’s greatest success story. Office has become the tech giant’s most lucrative product line, with over 1.2 billion Office customers around the world.
Having evolved away from licence key-enabled desktop installs, modern versions of Office can be hosted in the cloud or accessed via apps on various Windows and Mac devices. At the same time, a number of Office rivals have emerged in recent years, catering for people unable or unwilling to use Microsoft’s market-leading software. And while alternative solutions might not offer the depth or familiarity Office users enjoy, these rival suites have their own merits – not least affordability and accessibility.
These are some of the leading Microsoft Office rivals presently available:
Programs: Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides (slideshows)
Platforms: Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Chrome
Microsoft’s arch-enemy Google offers a quartet of productivity tools, including the Forms template designer. However, more people will be familiar with Docs and Sheets, Google’s cloud-hosted take on Word and Excel. Though Docs and Sheets can be used offline, they’re really intended for remote working and collaborations. Sheets can be edited by up to 50 people, with scope for reverting to previous document versions; recent amendments are timed and dated for clarity.
Considering this is free software that requires no installation or licence, it seems almost churlish to criticise Docs and Sheets for their lack of macros or their hit-and-miss templates. However, it is necessary to surrender a degree of privacy when documents are being hosted on Google’s servers. The “Translate document” function in Docs provides some compensation, and the freehand scribbling tool is a nice touch. It’s even possible to add plugins to Docs and Sheets, such as EasyBib (for citation generation) or Flubaroo (for displaying form results in graphs and charts).
Programs: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Base (database), Impress (slideshows)
Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux
Apache is becoming a major player in the world of computing, with its software foundation producing everything from big data processing tools to web server software. Like the best Microsoft Office rivals, OpenOffice contains a well-established collection of programs that blend together effectively. This free open source suite is controlled via an intuitive (if rather dated) menu bar instead of Office’s ribbon interface, though it lacks the native cloud storage some users might require nowadays. There’s currently no standard real-time collaboration facility as there is with Google’s Microsoft Office rivals.
Like Google’s products, OpenOffice can be augmented with a variety of extensions and dictionaries. Unlike Google, however, many of these are homemade and of variable quality. Nonetheless, being able to bolt on sitcom formatting templates and the like makes OpenOffice extremely versatile. The Writer package supports PDF exports, and it’s possible to open or save files in Office-compatible formats. The Impress PowerPoint rival is also slick and easy to use.
Corel WordPerfect Office X8
Programs: WordPerfect (word processing), Quattro Pro (spreadsheets), Presentations (slideshows)
Open source Microsoft Office rivals tend to be more basic and minimalist, but Corel’s clumsily titled WordPerfect Office X8 actually manages to teach its rival a thing or two. Brand loyalists argue its word processing package is superior to Word, even though its Quattro Pro and Presentations siblings are rather less sophisticated. These are more reminiscent of Office programs from the mid-Noughties, though the classic File-Help menu bar and instantly recognisable options buttons are pleasingly uncomplicated. The absence of cloud-based apps is a major drawback compared to Google and Microsoft products, however.
WordPerfect is designed for lengthy documents, which have historically been susceptible to glitches in Word. It provides a number of Word-beating services including editable PDF files and ebooks, with extensive formatting guidelines courtesy of the ingenious Reveal Codes pane. WordPerfect’s popularity among the legal community is augmented by the ability to easily redact documents. Finally, in an ironic twist, WordPerfect supports historic Word documents that Microsoft’s own software sometimes struggles to open.
SoftMaker FreeOffice 2016
Programs: TextMaker (word processing), PlanMaker (spreadsheets), Presentations (slideshows)
Platforms: Windows, Android, Linux
Available without charge, FreeOffice 2016 offers full compatibility with Microsoft Office packages across three conventionally presented programs. Ironically, FreeOffice runs on systems as old as Windows XP – something most modern versions of Office would struggle with. The PlanMaker spreadsheet tool contains 350 calculation functions and pivot tables, while the Presentations program supports multimedia files with mouse-over activation and DirectX transitions. There’s also a database module for dBASE files.
For most people, TextMaker will be the primary element of FreeOffice. And though advanced functions like tabbed browsing and a thesaurus are only available as paid upgrades, TextMaker delivers most of the features regular writers will need free of charge. Its Android app is great for editing on the fly, and PDF creation is easier than through some rival platforms. TextMaker’s desktop interface is reminiscent of an older version of Word, when it was still easy to find everything.
Programs: Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets), Keynote (slideshows)
Platforms: OS X, iOS
Already installed on many devices and free to all Apple users, iWork is Apple’s attempt to outdo the market-leading software of its nemesis. Nonetheless, iWork programs can open and save in Office file formats. iWork is designed for cloud use, with tools supporting online collaborations and iOS apps enabling revisions away from the home or office.
It must be noted that Pages is more simplistic than other packages reviewed above, lacking hyperlink compatibility or mail merge capability. At least it provides a live spell checker and object insertion, alongside text formatting options and the ability to track changes. The Numbers package is more sophisticated, with spreadsheet templates covering everything from checklists to work schedules. This is where Apple’s involvement begins to shine through, with some lovely graphics for charts and tables. And while Keynote doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it’s easy to assemble attractive presentations.