Knowing The Options: Alternatives to the Standard Office Software Suite
April 3, 2013
In this age of digital communication, it's difficult to work effectively without a few necessary tools. One of those tools is an office software suite, such as Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, cost can be prohibitive in the acquisition and maintenance of this software, especially for small businesses; as of this writing, the current version of Microsoft Office retails for over $200. The good news is that this isn't the only option! There are a number of free resources out there to help you save costs.
The first option is a cloud service, such as Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive. Though ostensibly file hosting services, both offer the option to create and edit various file formats as well. Did you receive a spreadsheet with a mailing list from your client but don't have a program like Microsoft Excel to view it? Upload it into the service and it's ready for you to open and edit. (Microsoft SkyDrive will work with the existing format if the file was created to be compatible with Microsoft Office, but Google Drive will convert to another file type compatible with their service. Don't worry--you can convert it back to the Office-compatible file type when you export it!) Both options offer the ability to create a range of document types, including documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, though be aware that editing and formatting options will generally not be as complete as an office software suite.
The second option is free open source software, such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Open source means that the source code (the guts of the software) is able to be used or modified by the general public, rather than being limited to a specific developer or team as is the case in proprietary software. Because of the nature of open source software, this results in the software being free for use, while offering virtually the same capabilities as a purchased office software suite such as Microsoft Office. This software uses a file format called OpenDocument, which was developed to provide a universal document format that could be used with any office software suite, but is also fully compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.
The third option is for those who need to work with files on the go: there are a number of apps available for smartphones and mobile devices that offer the capacity to view and edit files. Most of these will integrate with a file hosting service for storage, but allow you to work with the file straight from your device. The downside is that, while there are free options, they tend to be a bit limited in functionality; more robust versions generally do have a charge associated. Editing capabilities tend to be more limited than the cloud services or software, but they'll do in a pinch!
Although the biggest name in the game is certainly Microsoft Office, it's not the only player. If you're looking to cut costs, don't be afraid to explore the alternatives!