OneManOffice: Free Office Suites

A continuing series on free or low-cost tools for the one person office. 

Office suites – not physical offices, but stuff like word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, etc. – are necessary for conducting business.  Microsoft Office dominates this field, but can be expensive ($150 for the most basic package, $400 or more in other incarnations).  Fortunately, there are some excellent free alternatives.

OpenOffice/NeoOffice

OpenOffice is an open-source office suite (NeoOffice is a version for Macs).  It’s similar to Microsoft Office, but 100% free.  If you’re accustomed to using Word or Excel, then it will not take you long to get used to OpenOffice.  

The next two options are both based online – they are great options if you have a good internet connection or need to collaborate with others, but maybe not so great if you are still using dial-up or tend to edit documents while out and about. 

Google Docs

If you have a Google account, then you already have access to Google Docs, their free, online office suite.  Google Docs includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation creator.  Its interface is simple and easy to use.  While it doesn’t include as many options as Microsoft Office or OpenOffice, it will be sufficient for most users. 

Zoho

Zoho is not as well-known as Google Docs, but offers an incredible array of software options.  I use Google Docs because the rest of my team uses it.  However, if I were starting from scratch, I might use Zoho instead.  It offers the same word processor/spreadsheet/presentation trio as Google, and then adds an note taking program, database,  project management, CRM software, online meeting software, invoicing and more.  All of Zoho’s products are free to start using.  The business-oriented products – like CRM, invoiving, project management – start off free, then add fees if you increase your usage.  

Both Google Docs and Zoho are web-based, but Zoho added offline access and syncing in 2007, and Google introduced offline access earlier this year and is in the process of rolling it out to its users. 

Since all of these are free, I actually use a combination of Google Docs and NeoOffice.  When I have documents I need to share with my team, I use Google Docs, but use NeoOffice if I’m editing, say, a Microsoft Word doc or Excel spreadsheet that someone emailed me.  I use Apple’s iWork for presentations and for “nicer” publications (like my prayer letter).  iWork is not free, but is still much cheaper than Microsoft Office ($79, $99 for a family pack to run it on up to 5 computers in the same house).  

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