March 27, 2017

5 alternatives to Microsoft Word for students on a budget

5 alternatives to Microsoft Word for students on a budget - Photo copyright Rick Sherrell

It’s almost a mandatory requirement for those in higher education to have their own copy of Microsoft Word at hand – and we mean past the 30 day trial. Microsoft Word may dominate its market, but it is not the only word processor available. Microsoft’s word processor is popular because of its sheer complexity and the large number of options it offers (even some businesses are centered around teaching Microsoft Word to individuals) — although its Mac version has been widely criticized — but there are other alternatives that have drawn a hardcore number of devotees. Here are five of the best.

1. Open Office

Open Office does exactly what it says in the title, it offers a truly open office suite of software. It is both Windows (7/8) and Mac compatible and is free to use; and is supported by an army of developers who dedicate their spare time to offering a free alternative to Microsoft Office. Writer, the word processor component of the bundle, which also includes a spreadsheet and presentation tools, is admittedly a more basic alternative to that offered by Microsoft Word, lacking Microsoft’s large amount of templates and graphic functions for instance. But for most users it offers just about everything needed in a word processor, with the exception, perhaps, of a grammar checker. Think Open Office is for amateurs and geeks? Think again. It’s most notable clients include the Singapore Ministry of Defence, Banco do Brasil and K-Mart. And take note; although the suite is able to open a vast range of documents and formats – including WordPerfect documents (.wpd) – it is best to keep files saved in Open Document format (.odf) for those who may want to open your documents via the 2010/2013 versions of Word.

2. Google Docs

Of course anyone with a Google account already has access to a free, web-based alternative to Word in the form of Google Docs. A combination of a word processor, a decent spreadsheet and some nifty presentation tools compares favourably with Microsoft’s paid-for offering. The word processor is a little basic, mind, featuring precious little formatting features and only a small choice of fonts. But it is perfectly usable and fully compatible with other processors via the docx file system and additionally, Office Suite programs. An always-on web connection is needed, although with Google Gears it is technically possible to work offline. The application works within IE, Firefox and Chrome browsers – Safari also, however there are compatibility issues when using Google Docs via Safari on the Windows OS.

3. WordPerfect

The granddaddy of word processors, WordPerfect has been popular since the late 1970s and it still enjoys a devout following of users today. People are drawn to WordPerfect because it does three things differently from everything else. Firstly it has the ability to draw graphs. Secondly, it allows you to input data from almost any source and, finally, it can integrate a spreadsheet into a single document. Although it has long been eclipsed by Word, many law firms and academics still prefer it. And with its wonderful document and format compliance with the Office Suite, its name says it all – well, aside from its compatibility issues on the Mac OS which would be the suite’s downfall.

4. LibreOffice Writer

The LibreOffice writer is another Windows & Mac attuned free-to-use software application that is popular because of its renowned word processor. Users enjoy the largest office suite available, that incorporates the usual spreadsheet and presentation tools, as well as a database manager and a vector graphics app. The word processor itself is excellent, it does almost everything Word does, including a grammar editor. Conversely, like Open Office, there are some issues when opening its created documents within the Word environment; particularly, reformatting complex changes made to elements within the document e.g. table measurements and positions. Again, save your files in Open Document format to reduce the likelihood of this happening.

5. AbiWord

AbiWord differentiates itself from the rest because it is a truly cross platform software application, meaning that if you run several different operating systems, then you only this one office app. AbiWord works on everything from Windows to Unix, Android to Google Play. As a word processor, it remains a basic option, with no ability to cross-reference a document, no bibliography function and files work best when saved in the Rich Text format (.rtf) when opened within other word processors. But as a one-platform-fits-all word processor it is second to none.

So the next time you purchase a new desktop, laptop or Mac and are in need of a word processing program, remember that Microsoft Word is not the only solution. And where all else fails, you could settle for Notepad if you are feeling like an impossible challenge.

Our Guest Blogger, Ophelia Todd is a UoL graduate who studied Sociology. She has an active interest in technology, but her thoughts are universal. Currently, she works with Thales Training & Consultancy as a researcher.

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