The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

Microsoft's titan of a word processor is used almost everywhere by almost everyone, but what if you don't want to spend seven bucks a month? Here are our favourite alternatives to Word. They're all free, they're all capable of working with the ubiquitous .docx format, and they all offer some very useful features on top as well.

Microsoft does offer a stripped-down online version of Word free of charge with your OneDrive account, so if you're committed to Office that should be your first stop. If you're looking outside the blue box, though, here are five alternatives worth your time:

1. LibreOffice (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

If you're looking for a solid, dependable desktop tool in the mould of Word then LibreOffice is one of your best bets. Its Writer component is a more-than-capable replacement for Microsoft's program despite a slightly old-fashioned appearance, and it comes with all of the features you're going to need such as auto-save, change tracking and a commenting. Word users will feel at home right away, particularly if they're familiar with older versions of the Microsoft product.

The look of the software is fresh and clean, and the quick access toolbars make editing and formatting straightforward. Importing and exporting Word documents works fine -- though it's not perfect all of the time -- and there's also the option to export your documents as PDFs. All of the usual word processor mainstays, from spelling and grammar checks to header and footer support, can be found in LibreOffice.

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

There are some basic wizards you can play around with to create standard letters, agendas and so on, and the autocomplete feature is something a lot of users will find helpful. More complicated document layouts are handled with aplomb, or at least as well as they're handled in Word, while the only significant feature you might miss is the format painter functionality that's built into Microsoft Office.

LibreOffice split from OpenOffice four years ago, with the latter suite of products eventually taken over by the Apache Software Foundation. OpenOffice has got plenty going for it too, and is very similar in look and feel to LibreOffice thanks to their shared history; give OpenOffice Writer a whirl if LibreOffice doesn't grab you. A lot of the differences between the two packages are minor.

2. Google Drive (Web)

Google Drive/Docs is improving all the time, and Microsoft is feeling the heat, forced into releasing its own free-to-use Web-based suite of products. But Google's effort feels more intuitive and comfortable on the Web than Microsoft's app, perhaps as it's been built from the ground up as an online tool rather than an adaptation of existing software. Now that QuickOffice has been merged with Google Docs, opening and editing Word files is more seamless than ever before, and you shouldn't run into problems working with contacts who are using Word.

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

There are all the usual benefits of using a cloud app as well: access to your files from anywhere, no need to save your documents, and the ability to collaborate on work with other people in real-time. It's more lightweight in terms of features than the desktop edition of Word, so don't expect to be able to pull off advanced layouts or mail merges using the online app.

That lightweight approach has its advantages though: Drive's word processor is quick and simple to use, and some of its best features -- such as the option to research topics on the Web in a separate sidebar -- leave Microsoft's word processor feeling a bit out of date. For those who've grown up on the Web, Google's software feels much more natural, but power Word users will bump up against limitations.

3. AbiWord (Windows, Linux)

One of the very few word processors you can get hold of without an attached office suite, AbiWord might look like it was last updated in 2004 but it's got everything you're going to need from a desktop word processor. It recently added an online component called AbiCollab to make it easier to store documents on the Web and collaborate with other users.

AbiWord's list of features reads like a checklist for the definitive word processor program: spelling and grammar checking, headers and footers, table and column support, templates, footnotes and so on. All of the standard character and paragraph formatting options are here too so you can get your documents looking the way you want them too.

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

The application itself is compact and lightweight -- worth considering on older, slower systems -- and there are a pile of plug-ins available on the Web to enhance the software even further (by adding in auto-translation capabilities, for example). The ability to add annotations is one of the newer features added to the AbiWord code.

If you're after a capable and free word processor but don't want the hassle of a bundled office suite then AbiWord is ideal. It's perhaps not as slick and modern-looking as some of the other options, but it gets the job done with the minimum of fuss.

4. Zoho Docs (Web)

Zoho Docs may not be as well known as Google's online office suite, but it's actually far more comprehensive in some areas. As well as the word processor, you get finance, HR, and customer support tools, making it an all-in-one business solution you can run through a browser. Personal users are welcome too, and get 5GB of storage space for free.

The word processor itself has a clear and friendly interface, managed via a Word-style tabbed menu along the top of the screen -- it feels more like a desktop program than Drive does. Unfortunately it doesn't have the extensive pile of Google Web Fonts offered by its competitor, but there's an adequate selection that will meet most people's needs.

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

You can import and export documents saved in the .docx format, while collaborating on documents and reviewing changes is intuitive and painless. If mail merge is an important feature for you then Zoho Docs can handle that too. Images, tables, symbols, shapes, links, YouTube clips and document metadata can all be neatly dropped into your text as required.

The integration with other Google products and its polished mobile apps make Google Drive a convenient choice for online word processing, but Zoho Docs has plenty to offer, particularly if you're running a small business and want access to a full suite of complementary tools. There's also a desktop sync tool available to install on Mac or Windows for getting your files into the cloud more easily.

5. Scribus (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

Scribus is officially a desktop publishing package but we're including it here as a free option for those who need a Word replacement for more advanced layouts: think posters, flyers, newsletters and the like. It does a decent job of packing in a lot of features without being too overwhelming, though it might take you some time to adapt from the standard Word workflow.

Once you get into the DTP mindset -- as in, you need to create a text box before you start doing any typing -- the strengths of Scribus soon become apparent. The application has no problems with tables, oddly shaped selection boxes and flowing text around objects, but you won't get some of the standard word processor features like the ability to create outlines and a table of contents.

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

As we've said, this is a Word alternative specifically for those looking to get creative with their layouts. You can use it as a standard word processor but you'll need to launch the Story Editor module to apply most of your formatting and paragraph style effects. If you don't mind this way of working then Scribus has a lot to offer wordsmiths.

Scribus was first released more than 10 years ago, so there's a wealth of features and expertise to fall back on. It can punch above its weight in terms of a direct comparison with Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress too. While text can be imported from Microsoft Word, you can't export it back in the other direction, so it's not suitable for situations where you're sending documents back and forth between people.



    Google Docs also don't take up space in your Drive.

    What about Pages? It comes free with OSX.

      In my (limited) experience it has a few compatibility problems. I haven't used a Mac for ages though, so that might not be the case now.

        It has some quirks but for the most part it works. Some of it's layout features are actually a lot better than what can be found in Word.

        That said, when you are writing scientific papers or have to regularly exchange Word documents with power users you don't have much choice but to use Word. The home version though is cheap enough and these days the Mac Version is pretty stable.

    I'm using OpenOffice without any issues.

      yeah how come open office not in here?

        It's explained in the last paragraph of the Libre Office portion.

      I used open office few years ago and it was FINE until you hit all the complex tables and other complex formatting. Im sure that can be (was fixed) however due to nature of my work I had to go back to Word

    I prefer Open Office myself. Yeah you did mention it as part of the LibreOffice entry but I do feel like it should have been given its own treatment.

      I'm curious why you prefer Open Office to Libre Office, would you mind elaborating?

        More modern looking really. It's about the user experience and I find Open Office cleaner and easier. I also find it's got more features too.

        The only thing I don't really like about Open Office is the spreadsheet's (Calc) graphing ability. It sucks balls.

    I used LibreOffice for years but when I built myself a desktop again I decided to just buy myself a copy of Office. Why? Compatibility and standardisation. When I started doing collab work between people for various tasks I found the wonky formatting Libre did with the files for computers not using Libre just wasn't worth it anymore, not in order to save a lousy $90. So yeah, that's my story for converting away from the free options heh.

    Last edited 27/10/14 12:19 pm

      Pretty much this, if you're regularly working with Office files outside of very basic uses, there's no substitute for Office.

    Check if your workplace has a Microsoft Home Use Program (HUP). $15 for Office Professional Suite is close enough to free for me!

      Yeah, I grabbed that when the Hotmail trick still worked.

    Low Price. High Quality. Rich Functionality.
    Choose two.

      I chose all three with OpenOffice. There is not a single thing that I can do in MS-Office that I can't do in Open Office and I have never had a formatting issuing when collaborating with people using MS-Office. So tick "Rich Functionality". It never crashes and I've not found any apparent bugs in it's output so tick "High Quality". Oh, and it was free, so I guess tick "Low Price" as well. Do you work for Microsoft?

        Except have your friends in Microsoft Office open files without formatting breaking or files corrupting. Something I consider a key feature.

        I had to work in IT somewhere that had a 50/50 approach to Open Office and Microsoft Office. Biggest headache of my career.

          I'm guessing the article is targeted at the end user/small business because yeah, if I had to install or support this in a medium to large corporate environment (Which I currently work in) like you I would essentially by handing in my resignation on the spot.

            Home users who create and hit print, always retaining ownership of their own files no issues. But just don't expect it to work when you share with someone else.

    Libre/Open office are pretty good but they still have compatibility issues with Office docs. XLS files in particular I've found don't translate well with sometimes disastrous consequences. PPT isn't great either.
    On Mac I enjoy Pages but it's not as richly featured as it needs to be for it to be my main choice.

    If you're comparing products, Scribus is really an equivalent (and a much more powerful one IMHO) to Publisher, not Word.

    kingsoft office is also good

      I agree with you completely. Kingsoft does a fantastic job.

    OK, while I'll generally recommend Libre Office to people wanting a free office suite, really (OneDrive) is pretty darn good.
    Also, for 99% of what 99% people need to do, WordPad probably has all the functionality they really need

      Having issues with Wordpad when copying images?? I'm finding copied images often look grainy and I'm often unable to even discern what the photo is? Do you have any issues in that respect?

    Small correction: In LibreOffice, a "format painter functionality" does exist, so this is not missing.

    Here is a quite comprehensive comparison table comparing LibreOffice and Microsoft Office:

    I've to admit that, I use Google Doc more than I use Microsoft Word, because I can apply it anywhere I am. with the integration of Ballloon, my work becomes much smoother.

    I use Wordpad on the very few occasions I need a word processor. It's just an older version of Word. or if someone sends me something it won't open, I use the web version of Office for free. Word processing is not something I need enough to justify paying for and even though I got a free Office license with my tablet, I can't even justify the SSD space to install it.

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