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What's the best free alternative to Microsoft Office?

From the Cheapskate: Before you plunk down money for Office 2016, consider whether you can get by with a free suite -- or even Microsoft's free online version!

CNET's Cheapskate scours the Web for great deals on PCs, phones, gadgets and much more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.


Microsoft Office 2016 has arrived , and with it the same pricing model Microsoft adopted a couple years back: $69 per year for the single-user Personal Edition, $99 per year for the five-user Home Edition or $149.99 to buy the suite outright.

Pass.

Make no mistake, I like Office. Word, Excel and PowerPoint have been refined and polished to a fine shine, and Outlook is arguably the best desktop mail client currently available, especially for business users.

Microsoft's free online version of Word is not too shabby. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

But for years many of us have been spoiled by Google Docs, OpenOffice and other free alternatives, to the point where it just seems ludicrous to pay for Microsoft's suite -- even with its 1 terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage and (snicker) 60 minutes of monthly Skype time. (Excuse my mockery, but this is such a paltry value-add, one few people ever use, yet Microsoft wants you to think it's all that and a bag of chips.)

My question for you, fellow cheeps: What's your solution? My guess is you're not paying for Office either (unless you're getting it cheap or free as a student or from your company), but you still need word processing, spreadsheets and/or presentations.

One of my longtime favorites, WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office), has become something of a mess. If you head to WPS.com, you find only Android, iOS and Linux versions of the suite. Huh? A little Googling reveals that Kingsoft proper still offers the Windows version, but good luck figuring out the different names and options. (My advice: click the Download button next to Office Suite Free 2013. That's the version I used for a long while and really liked.)

What about Google Docs? It's effective enough for basic document work, but file management is kind of a pain -- especially if you use Google Drive as your portal. (If there's a way to sort your documents by file type, I haven't found it.) And like most of Google's Web-based apps, it's just ugly. I consider myself a creative guy, and when I'm creating stuff, I prefer a pretty interface.

Which brings us to Microsoft Office Online, a surprisingly decent set of tools that more or less rival what Google has to offer -- but with a much prettier UI. If you don't need the higher-end feature packed into Word, Excel and PowerPoint (and I suspect most users don't), you might be surprised by how much you can accomplish with free Office Online.

Now, your turn. What's your pleasure? LibreOffice? Old-standby OpenOffice? Something else entirely? Tell me (and everyone else) what tools you use to handle your everyday office-y tasks.

Bonus deal: Calling all Mac users! If you're getting ready to make the move to El Capitan, you'll no doubt want to make a full backup first. And for that you'll need software. For a limited time, you can grab Belight Backup Pro (Mac) for free. Normally $19.95, this drive-cloning tool creates a bootable backup and includes features like file-syncing and scheduled activities.

Bonus deal No. 2: You've probably heard this news by now, but just in case: Starting tomorrow (and ending tomorrow!), Amazon will offer a one-year Prime subscription for $67. Regular price: $99. This offer is for new subscribers only, though if there's a gift option, you could theoretically buy that gift for yourself and use it to renew an existing subscription when the time comes. (You'll definitely want to read all the fine print to see if this would work. I'm only speculating.)