Thursday, Dec 26 2013

Open Source Alternatives to Office

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Mention productivity suites, and you’re most likely to think of Microsoft Office. This extremely popular collection of software includes the basic office programs—Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, Access for databases, and PowerPoint for slideshows—and comes with extras such as Outlook for email, OneNote for freeform note taking and collaboration, Publisher for desktop publishing, and more.

What you may not know is that there are many free, open source alternatives out there that are similar to MS Office in appearance and functionality. Most include only the basic programs, but some include additional applications and features that put them on a par with the software giant’s flagship suite.

If you’re looking to replace Microsoft Office, or just want to investigate the alternatives, here are three of the best Office-style productivity suites out there.

Kingsoft Office Free 2013

Perhaps the closest in appearance to MS Office, Kingsoft Office Free 2013 gives you a choice of three display styles. You can use a ribbon-style interface similar to the latest Office programs in one of two colors—Elegant Black or Water Blue—or you can switch to “Classic Style” if you’re a fan of the old-school, 2003-and-earlier MS Office versions.

This productivity suite includes three applications: Writer (similar to MS Word), Spreadsheets (similar to MS Excel), and Presentations (similar to MS PowerPoint). Office Free 2013 has nearly all the functionality of MS Office, and adds features not found in its Microsoft paid counterparts, including tabbed document display and a click-and-drag paragraph adjustment tool.

While the programs aren’t able to save files in the latest X-extensions (.docx, xlsx, and pptx), these file types can be opened and edited with Office Free 2013, and saved in the earlier standard formats of .doc, .xls, and .ppt.

Apache OpenOffice

One of the most widely known free alternatives to MS Office, Apache OpenOffice comes with applications for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, databases, and graphics. The tools included with this suite are:

  • Writer: Comparable to MS Word, this word processing application has a similar look and feel, and includes features like design wizards and desktop publishing tasks
  • Calc: A spreadsheet application in the vein of Excel, this program includes most of the same features as the Microsoft version
  • Impress: The PowerPoint-like tool for slideshows offers multiple view options, diagramming and drawing tools, effects, and animations, and supports multiple monitors
  • Base: OpenOffice includes a database tool that lets you create and modify forms, queries, tables, and reports
  • Draw: This image application offers a complete set of tools for producing graphics that range from simple diagrams to full 3D illustrations

A newer version of this productivity suite, LibreOffice, is available that uses the same underlying source code as OpenOffice, but varies in terms of application features, usability, and available support from the development community.

Google Docs

There isn’t much in the digital world that Google hasn’t attempted (and for the most part, succeeded with), and productivity suites are no exception. Google Docs is a free online productivity suite that can be used by anyone with a Google account, which is just about everyone.

The applications include Google Documents, Google Spreadsheets, and Google Presentations, respectively substituting for MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition, there’s the Google Drawings image editor, and Google Forms, which lets you create forms to embed on a website or share through email or a link.

What makes Google Docs different is its focus on collaboration. Because it’s an online suite, users can easily share and collaborate on their creations. These applications are also easy to integrate with other Google services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, and Google Drive.

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