As Microsoft’s Office has grown in size and complexity, more than a few users have wondered whether there’s a viable alternative — especially when it comes time to pay for an upgrade or new copy.
There are very few alternatives. Two — Open Office and LibreOffice — provide the core functionality of classic versions of Microsoft Office and are completely free!
Open Office and LibreOffice are nearly identical productivity suites that, unlike Office 2013, live and work entirely on your PC’s hard drive — there’s no prodding you toward cloud storage or app rental. Both suites use traditional toolbars (no Ribbon interface) and come with six business apps: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation creator, drawing/desktop-publishing tool, database manager, and mathematics tool. Did I mention they’re free?
Office’s long, long road to Version 2013
To understand the context for Microsoft Office alternatives, it helps to look at Office itself. The newly released Office 2013 — and Office 365, its by-subscription counterpart — is actually the 15th major iteration of Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite. As you might imagine, the current version bears almost no resemblance to the original.
That first Office version debuted in 1989 and included just three tools: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Over the next decade, Microsoft pumped out a new version of Office roughly every year— and each revision piled on new functions and features. Office was in nearly constant flux.
Many of these new additions were keepers. For example, an email client and a database manager have remained part of every Office version (though not in every edition of every version) since they first appeared. But there were also misfires, some of them spectacular. Who remembers Vizact and the Microsoft Binder — or the hugely disliked and maligned Clippy, the animated paper-clip Office Assistant?
In part, market trends — new technologies and new ways of working — drove the flood of good and bad Office features and functions. But the constant changes also made Office a cash cow, as the new features gave users a compelling reason to abandon their still-working older versions of the suite and buy the next new thing.