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Cheap or Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Cheap or Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Say what you want, but Microsoft Office has taken over the world as the most popular productivity suite. Though I tend to gravitate more towards Apple products than I do Microsoft, I still default to Microsoft Word or Excel for everything word-processing or data manipulation. Unfortunately, the luxury that is Microsoft Office comes with a steep price tag, sometimes upwards of $400.00 for the Professional version.

When purchasing a new computer, your local computer store often tries to bundle your deal with the software for an extra fee. The most common I see is Best Buy offering to include a student version of Office for $70 with a special “back to school” pricing. It can be tempting to just lump that price in with everything else, but after looking around, you might be surprised to find a few cheap, or even free alternatives.

Office 365

Within the last few years, Microsoft has been attempting to make the switch from a full-blown licensed product to a subscription-based model. What the Redmond company found was that end users were buying the standard version of Office for $179, and then keeping it for 5 years or longer. I used to work for a PC repair shop, and it wasn’t uncommon to find a computer running a version of Office 2007 or even 2003. Why fix what’s not broken, right?

With pressure from Apple, Microsoft was forced to make their Windows 10 software a free upgrade. That means that Office now becomes their biggest cash-cow. By paying a subscription fee, you now spend upwards $100/year on the software suite.

Good news, however. Office 365 comes with two pricing models: Personal, and Home. The Personal version comes in at $69/year and can only be used on one computer. If you upgrade to the Home version, however, you pay $100/year, but get five licenses. If that price-tag still comes in a little too steep for you, you can pay in monthly payments of $6.99 and $9.99 respectively.

The added benefit to 365 is that as new versions are released, you’ll get to upgrade for no extra charge. Last I checked, Office 365 provides free cloud storage too.

Student Discounts

While I was in college, my University had a licensing agreement with Microsoft that gave all students access to the software completely free. Do a search for “Microsoft Hub” on your school’s website. They had versions for both Mac and PC. The added benefit is that your license never expires, meaning once you graduate, you get to keep and continue losing it. You won’t, unfortunately, get future upgrades.

Work Discounts

Depending on your work environment, you may be primarily a Mac or a PC shop. If you find that you’re the latter, and you work for a fairly large organization, you may be surprised to find that your company has an agreement with Microsoft allowing you to purchase the software at a severely discounted rate. I purchased a version of Office 2016 the other day for $9.95.

In this pricing, they provide you with a link to download the software, as well as an activation key. Long gone are the days of physical install media, but if you like the security of having a disk or USB drive mailed to you, you can pay an additional $4.95 for added security.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can generally only purchase one copy until Microsoft releases the next version (which, historically, it every 3-4 years).

Also be sure check with your company’s IT department. They may have special licensing agreements that allow them to install the Office suite on your home computer as well.

Libre Office

Libre Office has come leaps and bounds in the past few years. The software used to be limited as to what it could do. It has since matured into a truly viable Office replacement solution. They have an equivalent for the most popular apps. Libre Writer replaces Microsoft Word, Libre Calc replaces Microsoft Excel, etc.

Libre also has the ability to open, as well as to save documents in native Office formats. So should someone send you a Word document, you can open it, edit it, save it, and then return it to them in a .docx format so that the recipient won’t have any issues whatsoever.

The only thing I would caution is that if you’re used to using Excel with very complex formulas and calculations, Calc might not work as well as the real thing.

Google Docs

And of course, Google has a solution for this as well. Google Docs provides replacement equivalents, just like Libre. The added benefit here, however, is that everything is cloud-based. Everything automatically syncs to your Google Drive account, is easily shareable with pre-made links. It provides all the basic features you need as well, such as spell-checking, tables, and more.

One advantage that Google Drive has over all the other competitors are its collaboration features. I haven’t seen any solution more eloquent than Google’s. Quite literally, you can work on the same document as someone else at the exact same time. Gone are the days of making changes, and then e-mailing documents back and forth. As you type, you can see other peoples’ cursors moving as they edit and manipulate the document as well.

I provide the same warning with Google Docs as I did with Libre, though. If you’re used to running proprietary formulas, or need special features such as pivot tables, Google Docs might not quite be able to keep up (yet).

Don’t buy Office ever again

I will never be paying for another version of Microsoft Office unless it’s either free or severely discounted. While I understand it’s a standard in many office environments, it’s just no longer a necessity in the home office space with all the alternatives out there. If you’re on a budget, or just want to save some money, you may be able to get by with these solutions instead.

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