Software for nothing? Yes.

Email. Word. Excel. Powerpoint. This is what most of us use on our computers. They are the standard. Whether you manage a small business, a large company or your household, Microsoft’s Office Suite is a part of our computing culture. When we buy a new PC, it’s almost a reflex “get the latest version of Office”. Ranging from $150 for the basic non-commercial, non-email version to $500 for the total suite, Office can add significantly to the cost of your new system.

Before you pull out the credit card, there are alternatives to Office. And they are free.

Google Docs:
If you haven’t tried Google Docs yet, put it on your list of things to do before you buy any more software. There is no software to install. No long registration numbers. And no software updates to download and install. If you have a Gmail address you can be creating a document before your finish reading this paragraph.

Google Docs is a compelling alternative to Office. You have access to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. All of these save documents in Office-compatible files. Since GoogleDocs is part of Google, your email arrives via Gmail and you can organize your schedule in Calendar. All at no charge. To get similar functionality from Office, you will need to purchase Microsoft Home & Business which lists for $279.99.

There are other advantages to GoogleDocs besides price. Updates to software, whether they are security patches or feature upgrades, are handled very differently. With Office, you will be prompted to download a software update. After downloading for a few minutes, the software will install. Microsoft has done a great job improving this process with each version of Office, but the Google method is transparent to the user. Google Docs is hosted on Google servers. There is no software installed on your computer. When Google makes an update, the impact to you is only improved security or usability.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Google Docs simplifies the sharing of documents and streamlines collaboration. Google auto-saves your document while you type and your documents are safe on Google’s servers. The list goes on.

OpenOffice.org
While GoogleDocs is a compelling alternative, it does require an internet connection. Many people are not comfortable relying on internet connectivity. If you count yourself as one of these individuals, fear not, Open Office is an excellent, free alternative to Microsoft Office.

Just like GoogleDocs, you will find an Office-compatible word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. Also included are graphics and database programs. You’ll need to shell out $499.99 for Microsoft Office 2010 Professional to compare to Open Office (Open Office doesn’t include email or scheduling, although free alternatives abound).

Both GoogleDocs and Open Office run on PC’s, Macs and Linux machines, making it easy if you have different computers running different operating systems.

What free software are you using?

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