Microsoft Office: Can’t live with it, can’t live with… ok, so that’s not entirely true. A number of you likely live without the Microsoft Office suite and, for that, I commend you. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with Office per se; it’s a pricing thing. I don’t always have the money to fork out for a new Office license for whatever systems I acquire, especially when compelling freeware alternatives present themselves in an easy-to-use (and easy-to-download) kind of fashion. Same goes for you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Dave,” you ask, “why not just install OpenOffice.org and be done with it?” That is certainly a solution for your Office woes. However, that doesn’t mean that the OpenOffice.org suite is the end-all be-all alternative to Microsoft Office Insert-Year-Here. From Web apps to downloadable programs, it’s entirely possible to recreate some of the best parts of this paid-for hunk of apps without resorting to the tried-and-true OpenOffice.org open-source bundle.
And guess what? By going the piecemeal route, you’ll be able to find some new features that simply don’t exist in either aforementioned bundle! So, that said, click the jump to check out some of the best freeware and open-source Microsoft Office replacement apps for your system!
Why does Gnumeric rock? Because this is exactly how accurate of an Excel replication this app is: “The open source spreadsheet package 'Gnumeric' was such a good clone of Microsoft Excel that it even had errors in its statistical functions similar to those in Excel's statistical functions. When apprised of the errors in v1.0.4, the developers of Gnumeric indicated that they would try to fix the errors. Indeed, Gnumeric v1.1.2, has largely fixed its flaws, while Microsoft has not fixed its errors through many successive versions.”
Consider OxygenOffice to be a bigger brother to the standard OpenOffice.org suite. As such, you get all the sweet functionality of the latter alongside OxygenOffice’s large chunk of templates, graphics, fonts, sample documents, and tools—like the ever helpful OOoWikipedia app, which lets you search Wikipedia directly from your word processor. In short, you can do a lot with this kitchen sink of a Microsoft Word replacement (though, really, it replaces the entire Office suite as-is).
What the heck is Microsoft Office Communicator? I’ve never used it myself, but it’s apparently a chat system akin to a more professional version of good ol’ Windows Messenger. In theory, one would use it to converse with contacts that one acquires through a centralized Exchange server or Outlook address book, along with fun features like screen sharing and what-have-you.
Well, as far as office communication goes, it doesn’t get much simpler than the Web app Tinychat. Within but a few clicks of a mouse, you and up to 11 of your coworkers can fire up a huge, Brady Bunch-style video chat interface complete with an accompanying text chat. Pony up $20 a month and you’ll even get the chance to share your screen, amongst other features. I normally wouldn’t outright recommend a Web app in place of a downloadable piece of software but, seriously, Tinychat rules.
Unfortunately, Powerpoint is another instance where I have to go the Web app route instead of a true, downloadable piece of software because, simply put, there just aren’t any good ones out there. Prezi allows you to create slideshows in a super-easy and, dare I say it, fun fashion. You can slap in transitions, insert images, group and layer your various bits of information, and generally create this moving, almost cinematic kind of a display that’s quite a bit removed from the standard slide-after-slide Powerpoint route.
Once you’re done, watch your presentation via the Web (or share it, or embed it in a blog, etc.). Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also download it straight to your system and fire it up using Prezi Desktop.
There are plenty of offline project-tracking tools akin to what one would find in Microsoft’s Project application. Here’s the problem: They aren’t fun. What is fun—albeit not quite as practical—is software that can turn the mundane elements of a typical project into World of Warcraft-style quests to complete.
I kid you not; that’s how the authors describe QuestTracker. Alas, though, it’s not as if you’re walking up to some 3D avatar and hearing that familiar cadence play when you mash the big ol’ Accept button after reading a particular task’s details. QuestTracker is just a slimmed down task manager—a pretty to-do list that renames said “to-do” items as quests. Not a bad app at all, but not quite World of Warcraft, eh?
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!