(Credit: Google/Alphabet)

Microsoft Office went for many years without serious competition, but Google and The Document Foundation have brought those days to a close. Google Docs and LibreOffice are compelling office suites with a rich set of tools to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more, and you can get both without paying a dime.

However, Microsoft has not been asleep at the wheel, and it's now leveraging a cloud-aware version of Office, at aggressive prices. Is it enough to stem the tide?

SEE: Google releases free Podcasts app for Android; iOS version yet to come

Google Docs Suite

While Google Docs is the most obvious app here, the company's suite also includes email, cloud storage, spreadsheets, presentations, note taking, and a calendar. It's all free for personal use, with 15GB of cloud storage spanning your account (plus the option to upgrade all the way to 10 terabytes, if you've got the coin).

The business version is called G Suite and starts at $5 per user per month; it adds a number of other tools, like administrative controls, a chat messenger, and a website builder.

While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Office, Google Docs' streamlining makes it less intimidating to get familiar with. Sharing documents is easy, and you can add comments and track changes without breaking a sweat. However, Google Docs is inherently in the cloud, so you have to jump through a couple hoops every time you want to work offline -- and one of those hoops requires you to be online to begin with.

As a result, Docs may not be the best fit for people who travel a lot, since Internet connections are less reliable when you're on the road. For that, we'd look at our other two recommendations.

Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 is a paid product, but it comes with a few advantages over Docs. One, it can seamlessly transition from working offline, to online, to Google Docs-style live collaboration. Two, it has pretty much every document creation and editing tool you'd conceivably want to use, and possibly an add-on for whatever else you're missing. Three, its cloud storage prices are very competitive. (Office 365 and Microsoft OneDrive are basically two sides of one coin.) More so than Google's, in fact.

Whereas Google wants $10 a month for 1 terabyte, Microsoft OneDrive offers 1 terabyte for $7 a month, or $70 a year -- and it bundles Office 365 into this. At these prices, Microsoft is basically giving away its top-notch productivity suite. And you can upgrade to a five-user license that gives each user 1 terabyte of their own, for $10 a month, or $100 a year.

If you need more than Google's 15GB of free storage, Microsoft arguably offers the better path forward, bundled with world-class software at bargain prices.

When you add all the training out there for Office products, the wealth of knowledge a few Google searches away, and the vast tutorial library on YouTube, Microsoft's offering price is almost too good to be true -- if you have a use for that much cloud storage.


LibreOffice is a polished and free productivity suite developed by The Document Foundation, a non-profit group that sustains itself via donations and grants. In addition to apps for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, LibreOffice also comes with a vector graphics editor, database manager, and math formula editor. It offers all the familiar buttons and menus of an office suite (sans the Microsoft Office ribbon UI, whose absence you may see as a plus).

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter to keep up with the latest app news.

However, saving your documents in cloud storage can be tricky, because LibreOffice currently only supports SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA), rather than letting you do 2FA in an app, which is more secure and reliable. Also, LibreOffice's mobile app presence is light; so far, it's only managed a document viewer for Android (with experimental support for editing) and a remote-control app for the presentation software.

So if you need to work on a document on your phone or tablet, then Google Docs or Office 365 will be better choices. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be a binary choice; for example, you can use Docs to manage your work in the cloud, and LibreOffice to manage it offline. However, LibreOffice doesn't accommodate live collaboration. A web version called LibreOffice Online is in development, but progress has been slow.

Ultimately, if you want Microsoft's cloud storage, then Office 365 is the most well-rounded choice of the three. But if you already have your storage sorted, then you may be better off using Google Docs when you're online and LibreOffice when you're not.

The takeaways

  1. The Google Docs suite is the best value for collaborative productivity, unless you need a lot of cloud storage, in which case Office 365 offers better prices. It also needs a reliable Internet connection.
  2. LibreOffice is the best value for offline productivity, but it offers no cloud storage, and its mobile apps are currently limited.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.