Everyone knows that Microsoft Office is the standard in productivity applications and it’s combination of Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint and now OneNote are a winning combination allowing you to do pretty much anything.
Office still though is lacking in collaboration unless you sign up for and start using the new Microsoft Office 365 which is a cloud based Office suite similar in fashion to Google docs that allows you to collaborate on documents in real time with other users.
For those who still don’t need collaboration and are not overly compelled to use “cloud” office suites there are still plenty of great alternatives to installing applications on your desktop and writing your files and saving them locally.
Yep for those most familiar with the Lotus productivity suite of products, Lotus Symphony is a free productivity suite with 3 applications in it: Lotus Symphony Documents, Lotus Symphony Spreadsheets, Lotus Symphony Presentations. For people most familiar with Lotus software this would be the free productivity suite that would likely be a best fit for you.
OpenOffice is probably the most well known open source productivity suite on the web and has also been around 20+ years. This includes Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw and Base applications to handle virtually any type of file, drawing or presentation you could possibly want to put together.
LibreOffice is another variation “flavor” of Open Office but many users prefer it’s branch and modifications to Open Office. LibreOffice 3.4 Final was just released on June 3rd 2011 and the application is constantly getting updates and improvements from the community. LibreOffice supports more than 30 languages and just about every Operating System including Windows, Mac OS, Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, SuSE…etc. LibreOffice suite has also existed for more than 20 years now! LibreOffice also has a drawing utility that is similar in function and scope to Visio for making diagrams and flow charts.
Google Docs is convenient and their suite of tools allowing you to access them from any browser and any computer certainly have their advantages. Google Docs also lets you natively create PDF files now in addition to spreadsheets, drawing and typical documents. This makes the portability of documents even better as virtually everything can read a PDF and you don’t have to worry about saving in OpenOffice format which only others using the same suite can read. Of course for collaboration few things can match Google Docs where you can watch others make updates to the same document in real time. Instead of sending document via email and using track changes feature to pass the doc back and forth. Google Docs also lets you upload an entire folder from your computer and put all your documents in the Cloud.
One Note: I am still wary of storing sensitive documents in any cloud and I would caution you not to put documents with sensitive information in a cloud. These are probably still better left locally on your PC rather than existing on cloud servers.
Unless you use Gmail or another online cloud based email service you likely will want to replace “Outlook” if you are converting to a free Office Suite. There are no “email” clients in OpenOffice, LibreOffice…etc so you will have to use another stand alone email application. Here are some quick options, though I use Thunderbird 3.x myself.
Needs no real mention, is Mozilla’s flagship product next to Firefox and supports tabbed emails, SMTP, POP and you can connect any number of email accounts to it. This is the email client to beat though it lacks any social media features that exist in some other email clients. The Lightning plugin is a must to add calendar and task management features to Thunderbird and greatly enhance the program to make it almost matching Outlook feature for feature. The search function by default is also better than Outlook.
Honestly if I wasn’t so rooted in Thunderbird, I would be using Zimbra Desktop. The email system is excellent and it incorporates a Social Media client for Facebook and Twitter right into the application. This is a great alternative if you like managing all of your “communications” from one application but I found it to be a little more of a learning curve than Thunderbird and not as intuitive though this must be just because I have been using Thunderbird for 8 years and this is just a different kind of communication management program.
Though not a full suite, Evernote is a free notes taking application that is most closely resembled by OneNote. None of the free productivity suites have a “Onenote” like application that comes close to Evernote or Onenote, so Evernote is a great choice if you just want to be able to write, jot, photo, image or add anything to a document and be able to search/find that information later. Evernote also will install on virtually every mobile device you have and syncing notes between your PC and iPad for instance are a great feature.
In review these are my top list alternatives if you want to use freeware or opensource software to replace a for cost Microsoft Office implementation. There are other software suites out there and applications and I would love to hear what your favorites are. The bottom line is that there is a ton of exceptional high quality free software, you actually don’t need to keep shelling out license costs for products when you can find alternatives to meet your requirements and get the job you need done.