Three Alternatives to Office 2010

By Bill Snyder, CIO |  Software

It's a New Year, time to break bad old habits and make vows to live a better life. I can't help you lose weight or stop smoking, but I do have one suggestion: Break the habit of using Microsoft Office.

[For more details on the upcoming Office 2010, see this First Look].

Sure, you're used to using Microsoft's giant suite, and migrating to something different seems daunting. But here are three good reasons to give it some thought:

1. It's expensive. The newest version, Office 2010, will set you back $279 if you buy the mainstream package known as the Home and Business Edition. If you opt for a download it is $80 cheaper, but not having a physical copy of a key application will often cause much more trouble than the discount is worth. Also, the $279 boxed version of Home and Business allows use on two PCs. So if you need access on additional PCs, it will cost you.

2. Office is a resource hog, occupying a huge swath of hard drive territory, and more importantly, using a lot of CPU and memory power. That may not matter on a high-end machine, but if you're thinking about buying a netbook, it's a significant issue.

3. A number of perfectly acceptable alternatives cost much less and do nearly everything that Office does. Most importantly, they are compatible with your existing Office documents and your new work can be read and edited by people still clinging to Microsoft products.

Two Desktop Options and One in Cloud I've found three alternatives to Office that are worth considering. Two run on your desktop and look and feel very much like Microsoft's suite: OpenOffice, which is free, and SoftMaker, which costs $79.95.

The third alternative, Zoho, like the much better known Google Docs, runs on the Internet. I've picked Zoho over Google because it does much more, is amazingly light on its feet and the competition will make everyone try harder. However, moving your routine Office chores to the cloud, as people call Web-based computing these days, is a pretty big leap.

I've tested all three suites for compatibility with Microsoft Word and Excel by making up fairly complex documents and then importing them into the corresponding alternative applications. The imported documents contained charts, text and picture boxes and drawing objects. By and large, they all did well on relatively simple documents. On more complex documents, SoftMaker Office, the product of a tiny software company based in Germany, really stood out. It did a great job importing graphics and tables that tripped up OpenOffice and Zoho.

None of these alternatives is perfect, of course, and I can think of three problem areas that you should consider:

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