Microsoft Office 2013 has officially hit the streets, and it offers a significantly upgraded interface, more tools, and perhaps most importantly, a cloud-friendly system that lets you work from anywhere. While CNET's Jason Parker did give the updated Office suite high marks, he was also quick to say that its new $100-per-year subscription scheme will likely be hard for many people to swallow. Sure, there are (confusingly) single-pay standalone versions available as well, but those don't offer quite as much as the Office 365 subscription version.
In any case, if you are part of the camp that is unconvinced by Microsoft's new offerings, then know that there are some fantastic and completely free alternatives out there. Here are four that we like.
Many Office users have been migrating to Google's productivity tools since long before Office 2013 and its yearly subscription came to be. That's because Google offers fantastically intuitive applications for creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings. You can import and export Microsoft Office file types, and it's all completely free (for individual users, not businesses). A Google account is required, though.
One of the biggest draws of Google's offering is the collaboration that it makes possible. Because all of your editing takes place in the cloud, you can actually share documents with other Google users and work on them together in real time. What's more, Docs integrates well with other Google offerings, making it a great choice for dedicated Google users.
One downside to Docs, of course, is that its functionality requires a Web connection and browser. To be clear, you can work with Docs while offline, but only through the Chrome browser, and your edits will only sync once you are reconnected to the Web. Another possible issue with Docs is compatibility, as we have seen text formatting get wonky when importing from Word. Still, because of its ease of use, broad functionality, and collaboration capabilities, Google Docs deserves its spot on this list of viable Office alternatives.
Microsoft Office Web Apps
This one is a no-brainer. If you're not keen on paying for Microsoft's full-featured desktop Office suite, then why not try using its trimmed-down cloud-based option for free? The suite consists of Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
For anyone who uses Office, Microsoft Office Web Apps should be a cinch to pick up. All of the compatibility you need is there, and I would even go so far as to say that this cloud-based suite's interface is quite a bit more elegant than Google's. Microsoft's cloud-based Office Web Apps are integrated with SkyDrive and are free for individuals to use.
LibreOffice is an open-source office suite that was developed in 2010 after forking from the also outstanding and popular OpenOffice.org program. It is completely free downloadable desktop software, and it comes loaded with tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, databases, and math formulas. With its slick interface and powerful arsenal of tools, LibreOffice is certainly one of the best free Office alternatives available today.
LibreOffice's interface should look and feel familiar to any seasoned Microsoft Office user, which means you should be able to hit the ground running immediately after downloading. It is eminently compatible with Microsoft's native file formats, but we have seen reports of minor text-formatting issues when importing files from Word. Still, with its five-star rating on CNET's Download.com, the free LibreOffice is definitely a good choice. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.
Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012
When it comes to compatibility, Kingsoft is king. It can open Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and from what we've seen, can preserve all of Microsoft's formatting when doing so. For anyone looking for an Office replacement, this sort of worry-free compatibility is a huge deal.
Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 is available on Windows and has a companion app for Android. There is also a paid Pro version of Kingsoft's suite that offers a few extra power features like VBA functionality in spreadsheets.