Recommended Office Software

Personal Note: Office software suites are the “third rail” of IT administration due to their constant use by everyone to one extent or another, and suggesting anything *other* than Microsoft Office is likely to get an IT admin run out of the building.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that Microsoft Office is one of the most expensive software packages out there today, with Microsoft Office Professional 2013 currently selling for $399.99 as of this posting.  That price is for installation on a single computer.  A small business with only ten computers would be looking at $4000 to legally install this software. 

The following office software suites are free alternatives to Microsoft Office.  Most users will not see a difference.  Advanced users may experience a slight learning curve in finding and using the more advanced features, but 99% of what a user can accomplish in Microsoft Office can also be accomplished using these alternatives.  There are also some issues in format conversion with some of the more advanced features, so that a document saved in Microsoft Office might require some reformatting when opened in alternative office software and vice versa.  A link to more information on that issue has been provided below.  So the question becomes one of cost versus convenience.  Ultimately, my clients must make that decision for themselves and I will honor whatever choice they make despite my personal feelings on the subject.  – Eric

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is one of two Free Open Source Software alternatives to Microsoft Office, and can be downloaded and installed on as many computers as needed with no licensing fees or restrictions.  LibreOffice is also cross-platform, and is available for the Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.  Additionally, LibreOffice will run from portable devices such as USB hard drives or thumb drives, which is definitely not something you can accomplish with Microsoft Office.  As of this posting there is not currently a version available for Android, but they are working on it.

LibreOffice currently offers the following features, with the corresponding Microsoft feature listed in italics to the right:

  • LibreOffice Writer – Microsoft Word
  • LibreOffice Calc – Microsoft Excel
  • LibreOffice Impress – Microsoft PowerPoint
  • LibreOffice Draw – Microsoft Visio
  • LibreOffic Base – Microsoft Access
  • LibreOffice Math – Microsoft MathType

LibreOffice can open documents written and saved in Microsoft Office.  Conversely, files created and written in LibreOffice can be saved in Microsoft Office format so they can be opened by Microsoft Office users.  As mentioned above, there are some known conversion issues between Microsoft and LibreOffice.  Detailed information on these issues can be found here.

Two features are noticeably missing from LibreOffice that are unique to the Microsoft Office suite:  Outlook and Publisher.  There are Free Open Source Software alternatives to both, but they run independently from LibreOffice.  The alternative to Outlook is called Evolution, and is similar in appearance and capabilities.  Probably the best Free Open Source Software alternative to Microsoft Publisher is Scribus, which is a cross-platform desktop publishing application.

OpenOffice

Everything that applies to LibreOffice above also applies to OpenOffice.  To the layman, OpenOffice and LibreOffice will appear identical in just about every respect.  They do, in fact, share the same basic code underneath.  The details aren’t worth going into great detail here, but the short story is that in 2010-2011, there was a political/philosophical rift between some of the developers of OpenOffice, and LibreOffice was started up as a fork of the original OpenOffice project.  The underlying differences are in development and licensing issues, most of which are irrelevant to either personal or corporate users.  Both software suites are free to download and install on as many computers as desired without violating licenses.  The best description I’ve found of the differences comes from an article on Infoworld.com from August of 2013:

“The choice boils down to how they’re implemented and how well their features and development cycles match user needs. LibreOffice has the edge in terms of regular updates, but OpenOffice releases feel meticulously polished. If you want cutting-edge feature sets, go with LibreOffice. If you want the most refined versions of the features available, go with OpenOffice. Both are free, so at least you don’t have to choose based on price.”