Get more out of your day-to-day computing tasks with these great productivity suites that don’t cost a penny
Microsoft Office used to be pretty much synonymous with Windows and was widely regarded as the go-to productivity suite for PC owners. But with the growing rise of cloud computing and the gradual improvement of free alternatives, that isn’t really the case anymore for many home users.
Office 2016 remains the bulwark of many businesses, but at £120 the home edition of Microsoft’s suite is a substantial investment, while its cloud-based version -Office 365 – requires an £8 monthly subscription.
So before you shell out, it’s worth seeing if FreeOffice, LibreOffice, WPS Office or Google Docs can meet your needs instead.
Here we’ll lay out the features of each app and compare their relative merits, which should give you a better idea of which suite is the one for you. Ultimately, the surest way to find out which one is best for your needs is to try it for yourself – don’t forget, they’re free!
FreeOffice from Softmaker might be a free version of the company’s commercial productivity suite, but it remains a powerful and robust alternative to Microsoft Office. The TextMaker app is the suite’s answer to Word, with support for most common document formats like DOCX and RTF, including password-protected files. TextMaker opens documents in separate tabs for convenient switching. It also exports to PDF as well as EPUB format for ebook publishing, and offers a toolbar and menu layout that will be familiar if you’ve used Microsoft’s word-processing program.
The same can be said for its Excel-like PlanMaker spreadsheet app – it works with XLS and XLSL files just as faithfully without any loss of fidelity. PlanMaker worksheets also support over 350 calculation functions, can do the maths with complex numbers, and also offers intelligent AutoFill.
The Presentations app lets you open, edit and save PPT PowerPoint files, includes a number of slideshow templates with placeholders for adding text and media, and also packs plenty of drawing and picture-editing tools. Overall, it’s streamlined, powerful and recommended.
FreeOffice is a powerful office suite and all of its programs sport familiar layouts.
LibreOffice is an open-source project, which means it’s continually being developed and refined. All the apps have an organised interface, so the Writer app is simple enough for a quick memo but powerful enough to create and export media-rich books. The same goes for spreadsheet app Calc, which offers cell-formatting options and forecast tools. Draw is a well-designed package for producing technical drawings, while Base is a full-featured database program with import options.
Handy wizards help you create specific content, such as memos, budgets, and the like. Additionally, LibreOffice is compatible with a range of Office document formats. It also has native support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF), which guarantees compatibility across all productivity suites. It even has a suite-wide formula editor and chart creator.
Another unique feature of LibreOffice is its support for extensions, allowing you to add more functionality and templates, such as clipart and multiple language proofreading tools. All in all, LibreOffice is a great choice if you like productivity bells and whistles.
3 Google Docs
If you’re already a user of Gmail and Google Drive cloud storage, the Google Docs suite probably offers the most convenient integration of productivity and communication features. It’s lighter on advanced tools than the other suites covered here, but makes up for it with strong collaboration features, such as change tracking, while its web browser-based interface ensures multiple platform support. You need a Google account to use it, but all of your documents are automatically saved to the cloud for secure any where-access.
Google’s word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps do a generally fine job of importing DOCX and other files and converting them, but with some caveats. PowerPoint files for example may need a certain amount of tweaking, while Google Sheets can handle arithmetic functions, but anything more complex than that can be a bit hit and miss.
All of the apps are backed up by the ever-useful autosave feature and a complete revision history, just remember that you have to be online to use all of the features!
4 WPS Office
WPS Office is one of the smartest-looking MS Office alternatives and the free version includes a 30-day trial of the premium suite. It includes clever and refined alternative apps for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets, and apes Microsoft’s familiar ribbon interface across the suite, with support for all common document formats. It also works on Mac, Linux, Android and iOS devices, making it truly cross-platform.
Most of the advanced productivity features can be found here. WPS office actually comes with some unique features that MS Office doesn’t. For example, it offers an ‘eye protection’ mode that turns the background green, and also lets you change the color and style of the Ul. WPS also boasts tabbed documents, which makes organizing your desktops easier.
The only downsides of the free version of WPS Office are watermarks on printed documents and the appearance of ads when performing some functions, such as PDF exporting or mail merging. These aren’t hugely intrusive, but do detract from the general professionalism of an otherwise excellent suite.