Free Alternative To Microsoft Office

OpenOffice is a full office suite – a great free alternative to Microsoft Office which can read and write files created in MS Office. Microsoft Office is often seen as a ‘must have’ for applications like word processing – the latest version is 2013 which includes hundreds of incredibly complex features (that very few people will ever need or even know existed).

People often ask us whether they really need to buy MS Office or if there is a free alternative – for home users and SOHO users the answer that, in many cases, you probably don’t need it.

There are several versions but by far the most popular version for home users is the Home & Student edition which costs around $120 and can only be installed on up to 3 computers in the same household. It includes Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheets) and Powerpoint (presentations / slideshows) but does not include Outlook (professional email/calendar).

There are several good free alternatives but the one we recommend most often is OpenOffice – a full suite which includes Word Processor, Spreadsheet and Presentation programs.

OpenOffice Advantages

  • It is totally free (saving you at least $120).
  • It can be installed on as many computers as you like – within your household or elsewhere.
  • It can be used legally by home users and businesses (businesses cannot legally use Microsoft’s Home & Student version – they must buy the Business version costing $280+ per PC/laptop).
  • It is generally compatible with Microsoft documents i.e. it can read documents created in MS Word or Excel and write documents that Microsoft users can read too.
  • The installation file is about one fifth of the size of MS Office and takes much less time to install.
  • In our experience, because the software is less bloated it is also much less likely to go wrong – and it doesn’t need any activation or registration process.

OpenOffice Disadvantages

  • Some people think the interface (look and feel) is not as ‘modern’ as MS Office 2013 – we think OpenOffice looks like an older version of Microsoft such as 2000/2003. However, some people actually prefer the clarity and ease of use because the minimalist interface makes it easier to find the most commonly used menus and options.
  • Some of the most advanced features of MS Office documents may not be recognized fully in OpenOffice (often very complex business features that most home users will never come across).

How To Install OpenOffice – Download it from the official website here. After a few moments your download will start. Remember where you save it on your computer – the download file is about 130Mb in size so may take some time.

Once the file has downloaded, double click it to run the installation program. Click Next to continue then click ‘Unpack’. The installation files will be extracted and installation continues – if your computer does not already have it, the installation process may install the MS Visual C++ redistributable program.

Click Next to continue then type in your name and click Next. Now you have the choice of Setup Type (Typical or Custom) – to keep life simple just choose Typical then click Next. Leave the box ticked to create a link to OpenOffice on your desktop then click Install to complete installation which may take a couple of minutes. Click Finish when completed.

How To Configure OpenOffice – You should see 2 new items on your desktop:

  1. an ‘OpenOffice Installation Files’ folder – you can now delete this folder.
  2. an OpenOffice shortcut – you use this to run the program.

Double click the OpenOffice shortcut to begin the first time setup configuration.

Tip: If you already have MS Office installed you may be asked if you want to associate OpenOffice with text documents, spreadsheets and presentations – tick all 3 selection boxes to associate OpenOffice with these three types of file.

Click Next and type in your name details then click Next. Leave the ‘Check for updates automatically’ box ticked to ensure you receive future security and improvement updates, then click Next. The registration page is voluntary – click ‘I do not want to register’ then click Finish. The OpenOffice Main menu now appears as shown below:

Main Menu

In future you can click an item in this screen to open a new Text/Spreadsheet/Presentation document.

If you have any existing Word/Excel/Powerpoint documents on your computer they should open straight up into the relevant OpenOffice application: Writer (like Word), Calc (like Excel) and Impress (like Powerpoint) when you double click them.

Changing The File Types – By default, OpenOffice saves documents in the universally recognized open standard ODF format. Unfortunately Microsoft are slow to adhere to open standards and only Office 2007 SP2 onwards can open ODF files.

Because of this Microsoft problem, if you are planning to send your documents to other people (who may have an older version of MS Office) you need to change the default file formats of OpenOffice as follows: In the main menu (as shown above), click on ‘Tools’ in the top menu bar then click ‘Options’ to open the Options window. Double click on the ‘Load/Save’ menu item then click on its ‘General’ sub menu as below:

Load/Save – General menu

In the right hand panel, from the Document Type drop down list select the following:

  • Select ‘Text document’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP’
  • Select ‘Spreadsheet’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP’
  • Select ‘Presentation’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Powerpoint 97/2000/XP’

Click on OK to save your changes. Now people with any version of MS Office will be able to read your saved documents.

Final Clean Up

To keep your computer starting up quickly it is always important to ensure that unnecessary programs are not starting up with it. Right click on the OpenOffice ‘blue ball’ in the bottom right of your screen and click to ‘untick’  the option to ‘Load OpenOffice during System Startup’ – this is not required to open or run OpenOffice in future.

Also, if you forgot to do it earlier, you can delete the ‘OpenOffice Installation Files’ folder from your desktop as this is no longer required.

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