Avoiding the Office
Microsoft Office 2007 hits stores next month, but many alternatives cost less.
As a Webware reader, chances are that you're already curious about using a computer without having to install pricey, boxed software. It's easy to give no-strings-attached, browser-based applications a spin, but old habits die hard--especially when it comes to word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications that you might use daily.
As the 2007 edition of Microsoft Office reaches stores at the end of January, there's little doubt that it will remain the most popular software of its kind, but Office is not a one-size-fits-all package. More than a handful of competitors encroach upon Redmond's territory, with lower costs or none at all. We've evaluated a bunch to spare you the legwork. Check out these updated CNET reviews:
Browser-based options that don't cost a penny yet remain in beta testing include ThinkFree Online, Zoho, and Google Docs & Spreadsheets. And we've reviewed suites that live on your hard drive: Corel WordPerfect, Sun StarOffice, ThinkFree 3, iWork, and the free OpenOffice.
Most of these programs don't do everything that Microsoft Office can, but they might do all you need. All can open files from Office 98 through 2003, and they save work that Office 2000 through 2007 can read. So far, none of these non-Microsoft applications can read or save work from the Office 2007's new file formats.
Even if you don't want to ditch Microsoft Office altogether, its rivals can take your work where Microsoft cannot: to the Web. Online competitors to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint let you save work to an account you can access from a Web browser--a more elegant way of sending and sharing work than attaching documents to e-mail messages. Frequent flyers, take note: Zoho's free plug-in for Word and Excel lets you retrieve Office work from your online Zoho account.