Beyond Microsoft Word: Online & Open Source Office Applications


Microsoft Word and other MS Office products are something that nearly every college student these days is familiar with.  From the hours spent toiling over a research paper in Word, to the cool charts you can make up in Excel, students these days almost need to have Microsoft Office.  However, there’s one little problem – it costs money.

Most Windows-based computers sold today do not come pre-installed with Microsoft Office.  It comes with a trial version that allows you to try it out for a month or so before you need to buy it to continue using it.  You’ve got “Wordpad” though, but it’s not as robust as Office.  But buying Office just isn’t within your budget.  So what are you to do?

You could find a pirated version and install that, but that I do not recommend.  It’s more hassle than it’s worth, and it’s illegal.  The other option you now have is to use either online or open source office applications.

Online office applications are document creation programs that are available online.  There’s no need for downloads and installations on your computer.  When you want to write, you simply go to the site, log in, and start up a new document (or pull up a saved one).

Open source office applications are free to use, and require a download.  They work much in the same way as the Microsoft Office products, and even allow you to save document files in a form that can also be pulled up in the appropriate Microsoft program.

Some online office programs that I recommend are ZohoWriter & Google Docs & Spreadsheets.  ZohoWriter offers online word processing, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint-like programs.  Google Docs & Spreadsheets, for now, allows you to do word processing and spreadsheets. They are all free, and allows you to save documents in a variety of formats.

An open source office product that I recommend is OpenOffice.  You can download the software for free right from their website.  It comes with six programs that do everything that Microsoft Office does:

  • Writer – the word-processing program similiar to Word.
  • Calc – a spreadsheet application similiar to Excel.
  • Impress – a presentation program like PowerPoint.
  • Draw – allows you to make diagrams all the way up to 3-D illustrations.
  • Base – a database program similar to Access.
  • Math – create mathematical equations with a graphic user interface or type your equation directly into the editor.

Of these various options, the one that I like to use best is ZohoWriter.  I can write my stuff up in there, spell check it, and do everything I’d normally do in Word.  I save it online and am them able to access it from anywhere without having to worry about forgetting a disc or flash drive.  Although I do highly recommend saving a copy of the file to your computer or another storage device.  I’ve never had anything disappear from online, but you never know what might happen.

The other obvious benefit of using these products is they don’t cost you any money.  You can do your work in them and save them in file formats compatible with Microsoft products so that if you do need to work on it later in a Microsoft program you can do so without any problems.

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