Software

Five alternatives to Microsoft Office 365

Alternative apps from the fringes which Jack Wallen thinks could very easily fill all of your online office suite needs.

Microsoft has released Office 365 and for those that like the idea of having an on-line office suite, but don't want to have to pay the cost of the Microsoft solution, where do you turn? Are they comparable alternatives? I am happy to answer with an emphatic 'yes'. Some of the available alternatives offer a feature-for-feature alternative, whereas some go a few extra miles and offer additional features that make them superior to the Microsoft offering.

But what are these alternatives? Outside of Google Docs, most of the alternatives live on the fringes. That doesn't mean they aren't worth giving a try. In fact these alternatives should very easily fill all of your on-line office suite needs.

Let's dig into the list of applications so you can see if one (or more) of them can serve as an alternative for you and/or your company.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Five Apps

1. Zoho

Zoho is quickly becoming my go-to on-line office suite tool. Not only does it offer the standard office tools, it has a host of features and services that can be included. One of my favorite additions is the Campaigns tool. With this you can create email and social campaigns for up-coming services and products. If you are a small business owner, you would certainly stand to gain quite a lot of addition efficiency and functionality by migrating to Zoho. You can start a free account (which is ideal for single users), or you can upgrade different products, in an a la carte fashion, to perfectly fit your needs.

2. OX

OX is the new kid on the block. Though it's not one hundred percent production ready, it's already showing incredible promise. OX offers files, email, address book, calendar, tasks, and even a social portal where you can easily keep up with your Facebook and Twitter accounts from within the OX Portal. OX is also one of the few fully open source tools of its kind, which should make many of the Google Docs opponents happy. Even though OX isn't quite ready for everyday use, you should sign up and check it out - make sure the developers are looking at plenty of interest and support. Once complete, OX will be able to seamlessly work with both Microsoft Office and LibreOffice files/formats.

3. Google Apps

Google Apps is the de facto standard by which everyone measures on-line office suites. With tons of features, millions of users, and an incredibly simple to use interface, it's hard to go wrong with the Mac Daddy of cloud-based tools. Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, drawings, tasks, and lucid art diagrams are all at your fingertips. And, of course, we cannot forget email. For the single user, Google Drive is suitable. If you are a business owner, give Google Apps for Business a try. Five million businesses are already taking advantage of this powerhouse on-line suite of tools.

4. Think Free Office

Think Free Office is one of the only Java-based on-line office suites. The biggest downfall to this is that you have to install Java. The upside to that is Think Free Office will make many users feel like they are using a more standard client-based app. It is, however, all web-based. Think Free Office does allow you to create documents (text, spreadsheet, presentation, and HTML notes), but requires the Java Runtime Environment to do so. Think Free also offers the Think Free Power Tool which enables you to automatically sync your Think Free Office with your PC and also has a Mobile Site to make it easy to interact with your Think Free Office from your mobile device.

5. Live Documents

Live Documents is driven by Flash and offers an interesting take for the on-line office interface. Instead of the standard menu or tab-driven applications, Live Documents presents itself as a full-blown virtual desktop. Along with the standard tools (word processor, spreadsheets, presentations) it also offers Google Docs imports, a quick-launch dock, and a host of formatting tools (from within each tool). You can adjust text kerning, add footnotes, share documents with other users, and more. Imported documents (from Google, Microsoft Office, or LibreOffice) do not lose formatting or data).

Bottom line

For anyone who thinks Microsoft Office 365 is the only game in town, you now have five options in front of you. Although one option (OX) is not quite ready for prime time (though it shows amazing potential and daily progress), each of these tools promise to break you free of the Microsoft on-line office suite model.

Also read

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
tom0s
tom0s

I would have thought that the best alternative to MS Office 365 would be almost *anything* offline

nirz
nirz

Office 365 offer four main components: Office suite, Exchange services, SharePoint and Lync (include Skype and more). The alternatives offer only office suite and mail services, unless they do offer more and it was not mentioned in the article. Now, what about Support, 25GB mailbox, Skydrive, Content management and more. Microsoft have (today) 8 (eight) sites worldwide to give you 99.99% uptime. You don't have to bother about upgrades and updates, you always have the latest versions and before they are released to the public. The article does not say the alternatives are free so I assume they are not and here come the issue of pricing. I am microsoft client and think their products are quite expansive but considering the whole package and bonuses, alternatives displayed here are not competitors, including google apps.

Tony017
Tony017

Proofhub is another nice project management software providing time tracking, discussions, task management, document sharing, proofing, casper mode and inbuilt browser chat. It helps me to manage projects and communicate with team and clients at one place. http://www.proofhub.com

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

There's plenty of free or cheap office suites around that I can use anytime, anywhere and not be online.

emmausdan
emmausdan

been thinking about 365, this article was interesting reading. A major question!!?? I have heard that 365 can be used offline (while not connected to the internet)--this article suggests otherwise and suggests that the five alternatives can only be used while online. Is this correct for all six?

Gisabun
Gisabun

This is coming from Jack. He could of said [as a title] "Five alternatives to Google Apps" but we know he's not a Microsoft fan. Then he says "Google Apps is the de facto standard by which everyone measures on-line office suites. ...., it’s hard to go wrong with the Mac Daddy of cloud-based tools." Uh huh. De facto standard? Well it would if the fact that MS Office *IS* the de facto standard and by extension so if Office 365 since they use the same file format. In comparison Google Apps [and probably all the others] still have issues reading or saving to .DOCX, XLSX, etc. Until places say [for example when job hunting] Google Docs format only. No Word .DOCX, Google Apps will continue to be in the back 5.

WinArchitect
WinArchitect

The ability to deliver bits to the desktop (not a function I've found in other "cloud" services) sadly does take MS to the front of the pack. Additionally, the flexibility of the licensing is superior to any other offering. From Kiosk through full CALS for SharePoint, Office, Lync, mail and a few others, the flexibility is undeniable. Now, O365 has so many deployment drawbacks that for companies without strong engineering/administration teams to work with MS Professional Services (note this is a MS requirement if you are putting more than 2000 users into the tenancy) or a high quality partner, the implementation is doomed frustration, continued delays while waiting for MS support to find their heads (many of us already know where MS has the support heads implanted) and deliver quality transitional support. An additional draw back to O365 is that you are in-essence just "renting the license". Meaning once you decide to pull some or all of the services back, you're stuck having to acquire any needed licenses to stand back up your on prem infrastructure. The noted services all need additional maturity if they are going to really go toe to toe with the MS Juggernaut. But as usual, MS has struggled with what should be a fairly straight forward transitional process. This isn't to say that there aren't significant issues with the next big dog, Google. Are we perhaps just suffering from a great idea with far too many growing pains? Right now the ROI for organizations above 2000 users just does not align for transition to cloud providers in this space. I really see this is the way of the future, but is it really ready for prime time in the SMB market? Not in my experience...

fhurderjr
fhurderjr

So, say you sign an NDA for a military contractor, and you think you can look them in the eye & state you own / have control of your documents when using Google Docs, or any other online service, really? Buried in the Terms of Use are very likely little caveats about your provider having the right to open, disseminate, etc. your docs, which you're telling your customer (and in this case, the DoD?) that you're going to keep confidential? Not so much. I push desktop apps & VPN in, vs. online collaboration tools.

M Wagner
M Wagner

If you are an individual with limited needs, I am sure that any of these options are fine but if you have to collaborate with others, differing office suites can often result in insufficient compatibility when sharing files. There are challenges though. For instance, my son's middle school users Google Apps and every time he goes to work on an assignment in Google Docs, the docs program loses track of the location of the cursor. This compatibility problem, even when he uses the Chrome browser, can add hours to his efforts to produce a quality document. Keep in mind that if all you need is a word processor, a spreadsheet, a note application, and a presentation app, then you pay Microsoft nothing. All you need to do is sign up for a free Microsoft Account to use Microsoft Web Apps from your free SkyDrive file storage. If, however, you need more capabilities, then it is worth looking at theses alternatives. Still, if collaboration is an important factor, Office 365 is a bargain compared to Microsoft's traditional licensing. If FREE is your overriding consideration, then just remember that you get that you pay for.

cgoodwin73
cgoodwin73

My firm specifically serves government customers; law enforcement email users require at-rest encryption, Office 365 offers this on all plans per their recent white paper. Do any of the others (besides GApps for Government)?

cpguru21
cpguru21

Why would you have (or allow) commercials that automatically play? Stupid and insulting. I like this article and will be checking out the online alternatives.

sh10453
sh10453

OX has a long way ahead to go. The interface is far from being ready. It no more than rudimentary at this time. OX could not open/handle a simple Word 2007 DOC file (less than a page long). The 3 dots just kept flashing forever, and the file was never opened for editing. The calendar is a good start, but more option are still needed. The "File" menu item does not have an option to compose/create a document; only to upload one! The uploaded one could not be opened for editing, as mentioned earlier. I'm sure down the road, and as an open source, OX will become a good alternative. For now, I'm sticking with MS Office, and I occasionally use Liber Office (the portable version). As for Google Apps, I guess it's a matter of trust, and I personally do not trust Google.

aroc
aroc

When I was trying to figure out how to upload a Libre Office doc from my wife's Linux PC to GDrive so she could work on it online and/or on our ChromeBook (CB), it was a rude shock to find that the GD FAQ explicitly stated that there is no Linux client to do that, only for Windoze (and probably Mac - and if it can do it for the BDS-based Mac, why not the unix cousin, Linux???). Back when it was Google Docs, that was not an issue as I recall - the user could just upload like most any other web app that works with files from a PC as part of standard web browser file transfer capabilities. This is a huge step backwards for Google. So next idea was to attach the file to an email on her GMail account, and see if we could work on it from there online or with the CB's local GDocs apps. Well GD apps could not render the file correctly, a single page of meeting minutes in a table format. Neither could the CB apps (after a convoluted download/upload Rube Goldberg series of operations). When I tried the email attachment method with a real Word docx file, the GD app claimed it was "corrupt" on the CB. Now here's the kicker: I could do all this stuff quite easily from my outlook.com account using Office Web Word on Linux and the Chromebook! No "corrupt" doc or mangled tables. What is wrong with this picture?

JudithK2
JudithK2

Google is user friendly and able to use on Ubuntu however I like the what I read about OX and yes I am going to check OX out, thanks

mfd.texas
mfd.texas

I've been using ZoHo for sometime now and like it a lot. I think it offers a wide array of apps that integrate on a common interface that is "somewhat" easy to navigate. I thought Google would buy the ZoHo at some point but Nooooo, they had to go and reinvent the wheel, again! I'll check out OX. I like ZoHo CRM tool most. I've worked with SalesForce.com for many years as an admin and user. It would be easy for any company to move from SF to ZoHo CRM as the interface is very similar and the systems operate almost identically. I remember having difficulty migrating and managing Google mail to ZoHo mail. I forget the exact issues and since it was a personal account I just fell back to my old PIM go to, Outlook. I've never experienced any file format compatibility with MS docs, but I'm still using the older *.doc *.xls etc etc file format and skipped the newer "x" whatever as I was switching to Linux at the time. IMO, what is lacking in all these tools is better group collaboration integration. I've been trying to use the free version for Podio for this and family members/collaboration but I 'm not willing to lay out the cash for it.

Condemned
Condemned

...it's nice to have an online office suite, but IMO all of the reviewed ones don't prove Microsoft Office compatibility adequately. Only an office suite with seamless interoperability with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, is a true alternative to MSO, because more than 90% of all documents,m sheets, and presentations, use their formats. There is only one (but not an online) office suite on the market that provides optimal compatibility, that is SoftMaker Office. Therefore I can only perceive this package as a real competitor for MSO, especially since it is available for a very reasonable price ($69 for three licenses). All others still have a lot of homework to do.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you have another suggestion for an on-line office suite besides Microsoft 365 and the five Jack has listed?

victoriacasey72
victoriacasey72

@tom0s  HaHa! No kidding. I also suggest you try out collatebox as a good alternative to microsoft office and google docs spreadsheets, especially for secure file sharing and recruitment lists etc

Gisabun
Gisabun

People forget that Google is actually reading your Emails [even confidential ones - it doesn't descriminate there], searching for keywords and basing the ads served by those keywords on what you will see in their ads. So if you are a [peddle] biker and get plenty of related Emails about biking, expect bking related ads [maybe even of the motor type]. This is why if you use Gmail, not to use it for ANYTHING confidential. [Could be worse - look at the Siri controversy.]

Hans Schmidt
Hans Schmidt

What are you talking about? Please put in context.

Gisabun
Gisabun

It shows you that nobody gives a sh?t about Linux. Why bother writing something when it is clearly a minority. It shows you that Google doesn't know what they are doing. They write something for Chrome OS [which is a variation of Linux] but not for Linux.

jqbecker
jqbecker

Six options is not enough?

radleym
radleym

...just check out their TOS. I am constantly amazed by those posters who assume that Google is worse than MS with privacy concerns. They read the blog articles, but obviously don't check out the alternatives first-hand. Are you going to select the products your business depends on based on blog comments, or will you do actual research?

aroc
aroc

I have found I can attach encrypted files to gmails, and not have any ads related to their content. I think there is even a plug-in to do that. YMMV

cpguru21
cpguru21

Ad on the side bar in blog post view. Never had that happen before. And it was playing more than one. Just going on to new ads (commercials), which prompted my off topic rant.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

but not for me on this article, a TR article automatically plays an advertisement video. I assume that is what he was referring to. IIPC, it is articles that include a video

aroc
aroc

Uh, they used to allow browser file transfer uploads, so it did not matter if the it was running on Linux, MacOS, or Win. Now why go to the trouble of depending on OS-specific clients (that Google has to write/support), and break that "universal" access? Oh, to do more data mining, I'm sure....

Hans Schmidt
Hans Schmidt

I have never have that problem. Probably because I run FireFox with AdBlock Plus and NoScript. A rude awakening when I have to use another browser for some specific purpose.

cpguru21
cpguru21

I had a lot of pages open and was surprised to find it was the TR article I had open that had the ad playing in the side bar on the blog post of this article. Not just one ad with audio, it was cycling through. Ok enough off topic. I am going back to re-read the article. A good office alternative is what I am really interested in.