We have all grown up around MS office. The definitive suite of products for preparing documents, spreadsheets and presentations will be 30 years old next year and is almost like part of the family. But it costs money. In these days when there seems to be freeware to do almost everything online, $150 seems like a lot to pay when there are alternatives out there that do not cost a cent.
A free lunch?
There are alternatives out there. OpenOffice, Libre Office, and Google Docs are all completely free and do almost the same as MS Office. Can you manage with those? The question is what you mean by “manage.” There is no such thing as a free lunch, and for the serious blogger, it makes more sense to buy and download Microsoft Office for cheap and simple usability than to try to put up with the functionality and compatibility issues of the freeware alternatives.
Limits to the freeware
If your needs are limited to surfing the internet, writing the occasional letter and preparing a household budget on a spreadsheet, then any of the open source alternatives will do you just fine. As we mentioned, they do almost the same as MS office. However, the key word is “almost.”
The word processing and spreadsheet tools are similar to Word and Excel, but there are three main areas in which they differ: The first is in the basic design and usage. Everything is in a slightly different place, and shortcuts do not work in quite the same way. It is a little like being familiar with the layout and controls of a car, then getting into another one where you constantly find yourself switching on the windscreen wipers instead of indicating to turn left.
Mildly irritating, but you will soon get used to it. Point two is that the open source options do not have the same advanced features as MS Office – they are essentially pared down. If you never use those features anyway, then you are not missing anything. To use the same comparison, it is like downgrading your car to one that no longer has the sat nav, heated seats, self-park and rear cameras.
You probably think that for a free alternative, you can live with these downsides. But it is the third one that is the killer. Open Office and Libre can read and write documents that were created with Microsoft Office. But beneath the surface, they are not office docs, and when you try to exchange them with people on MS Office, you might have compatibility issues.
For a simple document or spreadsheet, you will usually get away with it, but start to incorporate multiple formatting changes or embedded objects such as pictures and charts, and it will look a mess.
Original and best?
Perhaps one day, there will be a mass migration to free, open source applications. That day is certainly not here yet, and for ease of use, a professional output and complete compatibility, there is still nothing to compare with our old friend MS Office.