- While Microsoft Office is widely used and comprehensive, small businesses may balk at its costs.
- The features your business needs – such as ease of use, security and remote collaboration tools – determine the best free Office alternative.
- Popular alternatives include Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice and cloud-based office tools like Google's apps.
- This article is for small business owners seeking a free alternative to Microsoft Office.
For small businesses, every cent counts. Sometimes, that means getting creative with your tech decisions. There's no doubt that Microsoft Office is the most widely used office productivity suite, but if you're purchasing new computers or replacing old software, new copies can be costly. The Microsoft Office desktop version costs around $250, while the Microsoft Office 365 software as a service (SaaS) subscription model costs $6 to $23 a month per user, which adds up quickly.
Before you pay for new software, consider these free Microsoft Office alternatives that might be excellent money-saving solutions for your business.
How to choose a free office suite for your business
The features you need in an office suite will depend on your business type. Consider the following factors and how important they are to your organization.
- Ease of use: If you run a small business, such as a restaurant or retail store, and your team needs to access your productivity software, you'll want tools that are intuitive and easy to use, not ones that require training to master. However, if your business and staff are more technically sophisticated, you may be willing to sacrifice ease of use for advanced capabilities.
- Remote collaboration capabilities: Some businesses are structured so that everyone works at a central location, while others have multiple locations, employees who travel, or offsite independent contractors. If your business uses a more geographically distributed model, your team should be able to access your office suite from anywhere. In these cases, a cloud-based office suite may be an excellent solution.
- File compatibility: If you regularly send documents to others outside your organization, you need to ensure your recipients can open and read the files. This means using the same software as the recipient, using software with multiple file extensions, or using easily accessible cloud-based apps.
- Security capabilities: While every business should secure its network and data, some businesses are more likely to deal with sensitive data, such as customer payment information and proprietary intellectual property. If this is true for your business, it's best to use an office suite with built-in defenses against spam, malware, phishing and other threats, to be layered on top of existing measures for preventing network security threats and vulnerabilities.
- Data storage: The more documents your company produces and the larger their file sizes, the more data storage becomes an issue. Data storage concerns only apply to cloud-based apps, since downloaded apps store data on the company servers.
- Breadth of programs: Depending on your business, you may or may not need a full range of programs. For example, a marketing firm will require robust presentation tools, while a wholesaler may never need this software.
- Platform compatibility: The office suite you choose must be compatible with the platforms – mobile and desktop – you and your employees use on a day-to-day basis. This would be iOS or macOS if you rely on Macs, iPads and iPhones – or you might primarily utilize Windows, Android or Linux devices instead.
FYI: When it comes to iOS vs. Android for business, your choice may boil down to your current tech ecosystem. If you're entrenched in Google products, Android is the logical choice. But if you work with Macs, iCloud, and Apple Watches, iOS and iPhones make more sense.
Free office suites for download
You can download these free office suites to a wide range of devices. Some offer full suite alternatives to Microsoft Office, while others offer core programs with their own versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The popular open-source Apache OpenOffice software provides everything a small business owner needs in an office suite. Its tools are similar to Office 365 components and other Microsoft products:
- Writer is OpenOffice's word processor, similar to Microsoft Word.
- Calc is a full-featured spreadsheet editor, similar to Microsoft Excel.
- Impress is used to create slides and presentations, like Microsoft PowerPoint.
- Draw is a graphics and illustration tool, similar to Microsoft Visio.
- Math is for creating equations as separate objects within documents.
- Base is for modifying databases, tables, and forms and for sharing data, such as in a mail merge, like Microsoft Access.
OpenOffice is compatible with most Microsoft file extensions, including DOC, XML, and PPT, and works on Windows and Linux devices, but not iOS. (OpenOffice works with some macOS versions, but not the latest versions.)
LibreOffice is another free open-source office suite. It runs with the same underlying source code as Apache OpenOffice and offers a full-featured office suite with Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base. LibreOffice differs from OpenOffice in its more active community of dedicated volunteers worldwide who continue to develop the software.
You can download LibreOffice for Windows, macOS and Android/GNU/Linux computers. The software also supports more obscure operating systems such as the BSDs (FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD).
LibreOffice is compatible with Microsoft word processing, presentation, spreadsheet and publisher file extensions; it also uses the Open Document Format (ODF) for maximum compatibility. In addition to the desktop, you can use LibreOffice on mobile devices, from a USB drive or via cloud computing.
NeoOffice is an office suite for Mac computers that's based on both Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. It caters to Mac users' needs and sensibilities, offering features not available on the Mac version of OpenOffice.
NeoOffice has the inherent look and feel of Mac software and includes the Versions feature – a macOS tool that automatically saves copies of documents before any changes are made. Additionally, NeoOffice offers Mac-like features such as highlighting, full-screen mode, extended support and the ability to choose which programs open at launch.
You can download NeoOffice from the Mac App Store. It's compatible with OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Microsoft Office file types.
Did you know? If your business is switching from PCs to Macs, you'll need to research any software that's not accessed purely online for compatibility.
Kingsoft WPS Office
Kingsoft's WPS Office is the closest you'll get to Microsoft Office for free. Although it offers limited services (with only the three core products – Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheets), these products offer the familiar look and robust features of their Microsoft Office counterparts.
Given the replicated layout and design, users already accustomed to Word, PowerPoint and Excel will find WPS Office easy to use. You can download WPS Office for Windows, Linux and Android devices. It has a built-in PDF converter, auto spell-check, multiple document tabs and document encryption.
SSuite Office's wide range of products includes the WordGraph word processor, Accel Spreadsheet, the MonoBase database creator, and FaceCom video conferencing.
You can download Ssuite Office as an entire software package (there are many options based on user needs and machines), individual programs or portable mobile apps. Although it's only available for Windows, instructions are available on how to run the suite or its programs on Mac and Linux computers.
One of SSuite's main selling points (other than that it's free) is that it is very light and consumes few system resources, making it a good choice for computers that are slow or have limited RAM.
Free cloud-based office suites
Cloud-based office suites are accessible from any internet-connected device. You can run them on any web browser, eliminating the need to download and install programs on your computer. Files are stored in the cloud and accessible anytime, anywhere. You can also share files or invite others to collaborate.
Did you know? According to Global Workplace Analytics, businesses can save $11,000 a year for each employee who works from home half the time. If you have remote employees, collaboration and communication will be easier with a cloud-based office suite.
Here are the most popular cloud-based office suites available.
Google's productivity apps
Google's productivity and cloud storage platform lets users create, edit and collaborate on all types of files. It includes the Google Docs word processor, Sheets spreadsheet editor, Slides presentation maker, the Google Forms form maker, Google Calendar and other products.
All finished documents are stored in the user's Google Drive account for easy collaboration and accessibility. Users can also connect other apps, such as the PicMonkey photo editor, WeVideo video editor, PDF Convert, RingCentral CloudFax, and DocuSign.
Google Drive requires a Google account and comes with 15GB of free storage. You can also get a paid version of Google's productivity tools, Google Workspace, which has more features; costs start at $6 a month per user, depending on the amount of data storage and number of video conferences you need.
Did you know? Other Google tools for businesses include Google for Small Business, a portal with SMB-facing tools and services, and Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business), which controls the information displayed for your business across all of Google's services.
Microsoft Office Online
Microsoft actually offers web-based versions of Office's most widely used programs for free. Users can save, edit, and store files, and collaborate in real time via web browser.
The service also has sharing capabilities; you can create unique links to files or directly insert documents, spreadsheets, and presentations into your website or blog.
The free version of Office Online comes with 7GB of free online storage and online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
These free versions are suitable for companies that only want the essential functions. For example, the free version of Word doesn't have the Design and Mailing tabs in Microsoft 365, although it does support third-party plugins, which may restore the missing functions.
iWork for iCloud
Apple's iWork for iCloud offers a suite of productivity apps that includes the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet editor and Keynote presentation creator. It's accessible for anyone with an Apple ID and can run on Mac and PC browsers and mobile devices.
Users can also share documents with non-iCloud members via unique links for real-time collaboration and presentations, regardless of the devices each person is using. You can open iWork documents on a computer offline, which is a plus; however, these documents are compatible only with Apple devices.
With iWork for iCloud, you get 5GB of free storage, and you can purchase additional storage starting at 50GB for 99 cents per month, 200GB for $2.99 per month, or 2TB for $9.99 per month.
The Zoho Docs all-in-one solution offers an online productivity suite and file storage, sharing, and management platform.
First, you can create, manage, share and publish files using Zoho's Writer, Sheet, and Show programs. Then, you can invite other users to collaborate, as well as assign tasks to track progress. Although Zoho is limited to those three office programs, you can store documents and files in any format and share them with anyone using dedicated links.
Zoho Docs is available on the web and iOS and Android devices. Free plans come with 5GB of free storage, while paid plans start at $5 a month and come with 250GB of storage and advanced features. Zoho Docs is a good choice for a very small, geographically scattered business, as it's free for up to five users.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the writing and research in this article.