There are plenty of serviceable alternatives, especially for home use. Save money with one of these options.
First off, don't get me wrong—Microsoft Office is the best office application suite on the market. It's arguably one of the few things that Microsoft still does really well.
But most people, whether they realize it or not, no longer need to buy a license for personal use. Yet too often I see people shell out for a copy, especially when buying a new Windows laptop or computer.
Many people use Microsoft Office at their workplace, but the real questions to consider before you buy your own copy are:
- How often do you work from home?
- Did your employer give you a "work" laptop?
If your answers are "a lot" and "no" then, well (you poor bastard), you might actually need to buy a license.
For the rest of us, here are your alternatives:
You can use LibreOffice
This free, open source software may not be a perfect Office replacement, but it provides all of the basic functionality for casual use. It's available for Windows, OS X, and Linux (coming pre-installed on Ubuntu). I install LibreOffice on all my machines and find that it suits my needs 95% of the time.
You can use Microsoft's free Office Online apps
I don't think many people are aware that Microsoft now offers free (though slightly stripped-down) versions of its Office applications online via a browser. You can also download the stand-alone "Office Online" apps on a Windows computer via the Microsoft store, which launch as full-screen applications like all of the other Windows 8-style apps.
Excel Online may not be suitable for very large spreadsheets, but editing Word and PowerPoint documents should be a breeze. This is also the best option if you use Outlook at work and need an online equivalent that you can access from home (also look for something called "Outlook Web Access", which your employer should have).
You can use Microsoft Office Mobile
Now available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, Microsoft's mobile Office suite might be all you need if you're a light user.
You can use Google Docs
Google Docs continues to improve and in some cases can do things that Microsoft Office can't (I'm thinking specifically of the slick data import functions of Google Sheets). That said, I still prefer Microsoft Office Online for general file editing to help ensure compatibility with desktop Office users.
If you have a Mac, (I suppose) you could use Apple's office apps
Macs come with Apple's office applications, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. I don't much care for them (I prefer LibreOffice), but I'm sure they're solid, stable applications that should work perfectly well for personal use.
You can also buy Office for Mac
Ok, so this one isn't really an alternative—it will obviously cost you—but I mention it here because many people still don't know that Office is available for Macs. I would guess that this is the #1 question Apple store employees are asked by potential Mac buyers.
Interestingly, Microsoft Office for Mac was released in 1989, which was about a year before it was released for Windows.
You Have Lots of Options
So the next time you are in the market for a new computer, don't assume that you need a copy of Microsoft Office.
I would also prefer that you not assume you need a Windows machine, but that's a topic for a different post.
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @cschidle.