Scott Bassett 2014-09-29 05:55:53
Out of the Office Free and low-cost alternatives to Microsoft. As a virtual lawyer dedicated to working anywhere, I have looked for cheap or free alternatives to Microsoft Office that maintain file format compatibility with the popular software. Over the years, I found many options—some good, some not so good. This article looks only at locally installed software, as Webbased cloud office suites are a different animal altogether. WPS Office (wps.com) Formerly known as Kingsoft Office, this is my favorite MS Office alternative. It is available for Windows, Linux, iPhone and iPad, and Android. WPS has three modules called Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheet (hence the new “WPS” name), which correspond to MS Office Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. As is true with all MS Office alternatives, there is no true equivalent to MS Office Outlook for email and personal information management. I use Gmail for that purpose, but those who want something other than a Web interface can check out Postbox (postbox-inc.com) or Opera Mail (opera.com/computer/mail). I spend the bulk of my time in the word processing module of any office suite. The WPS Writer is an excellent substitute for Word. It lets you choose between a traditional menu interface and the more modern ribbon interface that is similar to that featured in the latest versions of MS Office (2007, 2010, and 2013). Of importance to lawyers or anyone who values security, the mobile versions of WPS will open passwordprotected MS Word files. Not even Microsoft’s own mobile version of Word can do that. I also like WPS’s tabbed interface to easily jump between documents, as well as the all-important track changes and commenting features. WPS has no problem opening any MS Office file format and it is easy to export any file to one of the MS Office file formats. Simple documents are nearly always perfect. More complex documents may require minor tweaking. The basic and mobile versions of WPS are free and will be more than adequate for most of us. LibreOffice (libreoffice.org) Like WPS, LibreOffice is free. Unlike WPS, it is open source, having been developed by the Document Foundation, a nonprofit group. The scope of LibreOffice is broader than WPS. It includes not only the three main modules—a word processor (Writer), presentations (Impress), and spreadsheets (Calc)—but also adds graphics and diagrams (Draw), databases (Base), and mathematical and scientific formulas (Math). There are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so this would be my top choice for a Mac user. One of the great features of Libre- Office is its huge set of import/ export filters that let you open almost any document format. This is great for law firms that have accumulated years or decades worth of documents and templates in a variety of file formats, many of which are now obsolete. The interface doesn’t try to “clone” the look and feel of MS Office quite the same way as WPS, so there will be more of a learning curve. And there is not yet a mobile version. Apache OpenOffice (openoffice.org) This is the best-known MS Office alternative and has versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux and modules for the same six functions as LibreOffice. I find the user interfaces of both OpenOffice and Libre- Office to be less intuitive compared with WPS Office. Because each is free and disk space is cheap, install all three and see which one works best for you. AbiWord (abisource.com) There are versions of AbiWord for Windows and Linux, and you can also get older Mac versions that texasbar.com/tbj Vol. 77, No. 9 • Texas Bar Journal 767 don’t contain the latest features. AbiWord isn’t a full office suite, just a word processing program. It is a small download (7.9 MB) and runs well on older computers. AbiWord’s feature set is limited but adequate for most of the documents you need to create. I wouldn’t use it for an appeal brief. You won’t find track changes or the ability to generate a table of contents, but it will do footnotes and endnotes. It also works well for correspondence and memos. WordPerfect Office X7 (wordperfect.com) While WordPerfect Office X7 (standard version $249.99, upgrade $159.99) is a fine office suite, I can’t recommend giving up what MS Office offers—guaranteed compatibility with your clients and other lawyers and integration with thirdparty programs—just to keep Reveal Codes. Perhaps we are spoiled by free software, but I also can’t recommend paying this much money for an alternative to MS Office. Microsoft Office 365 (office.microsoft.com) The mother of all MS Office alternatives is the subscription model of MS Office itself. Contrary to popular misconception, Office 365 is not Web-based. While it integrates with Microsoft’s Web-based services and you acquire it by subscribing on the Web, the suite is installed on your computer’s hard drive. If you have more than one computer or mobile device on which you need Office, the subscription-based model can offer compelling cost savings over spending several hundred dollars for a traditional copy of MS Office on each of your computers. It may also be a better deal than paying $150 or more for a traditional “bundled” copy of MS Office with a new computer purchase. The advantages of using MS Office 365 are many. You are almost always going to get perfect formatting fidelity and will be able to use many of the third-party products designed to work only with MS Office applications. Further, the Office 365 subscription offers plans for small and mid-sized businesses and, as an added bonus, allows you to download and use the fully featured version of Office for tablets and smartphones. While there are several outstanding MS Office alternatives, don’t let the traditionally high upfront cost be the deciding factor. In the end, the best alternative to MS Office just might be MS Office 365. TBJ SCOTT BASSETT is a senior editor with Affinity Publications, Affinity Consulting Group. TECHGEAR The recently announced Apple Watch (from $349), available in early 2015, will enable communication via wrist messages, calls, and more. It also introduces comprehensive health and fitness apps. WEBLINKS GENE ROBERTS is an attorney and mediator, serving as the director of the Office of Student Legal and Mediation Services and as an adjunct instructor in constitutional law at Sam Houston State University. Roberts is the president of the Texas Association of Mediators, a council member of the State Bar of Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, and vice president of the Walker County Bar Association. He blogs at genesdesk.com. settlementperspectives.com This go-to blog provides litigator and mediator John DeGroote’s informative thinking on “how to get your deal done.” adrtoolbox.com Don Philbin’s blog is a cutting-edge amalgamation of the latest news in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. pon.harvard.edu/blog Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation blog has articles with real-world applications on how to manage conflict and improve negotiation skills. lifehacker.com Whether learning about the latest Chrome development or changing personal habits, there’s always something worth reading here. danpink.com New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink focuses on doing business differently. His website discusses new ways of approaching motivation. sethgodin.typepad.com Seth Godin, a leading thinker on marketing, publishes a daily email update that is consistently thought-provoking.
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