08 July 2012

Free Office Suite Software!

Microsoft WordIf you want free word processing software– or for that matter couldn't care less– skip to the end. If you'd like a little background and assurance these are truly quality programs for free, read on.

The last two versions of Microsoft Office for Windows disappointed (and disgusted) me so much, I avoided the corresponding Mac editions, choosing to stick with MS Office 2004. Three months ago I bought a MacBook Air, a beautiful, slim piece of sculpture that happens to be a laptop. Unfortunately, the MacOS 10.7 'lion' operating system no longer supports older applications. Because word processing files are the lingua franca of our profession, I had to consider either upgrading Microsoft Office or going with one of the free (yes, free as in 'gratis') office suites available to users.

I did both. I downloaded the most recent NeoOffice and waited until I spotted a deal on Microsoft Office 2011. I'm happy to report the Macintosh version of Office 2011 isn't as abhorrent as the equivalent Windows version, but I still have complaints as do the many Microsoft Word and Excel users who desperately seek help for anything more complex than bold italics.

Grumble, Grumble, Grumble

Although MS Word 2011 for Mac has annoyances the Mac 2004 version didn't have, the good news is that it isn't nearly as obnoxious as Word 2010 for Windows or its predecessor, Word 2007. For example, I can no longer paste into the Find/Replace dialogue box (although I can still paste into the Find field (but not replace) in the menu bar.

Another problem is Microsoft can't seem to update itself if it's installed anywhere other than the boot drive. I separate documents into one partition and applications into another, apart from my operating system ( drives I named 'Huey', 'Dewey', and 'Louie') to reduce damage in case of a catastrophic crash. The old version understood what I'd done; the finicky new one doesn't. My Windows friends say "Yeah, live with it," which sums up why Mac users are leery of Microsoft.

Alternatives to Microsoft Office

As Unix users have known for years, you can live without Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint very nicely, thank you. Indeed, thanks to the Unix open source community, you can download sophisticated office suites without charge.

About fifteen years ago, the German company Star Division developed a package called StarOffice. In 1999, Sun Microsystems bought the German company and released the software package to the open source community as OpenOffice for Mac, Windows, and Unix. During their stewardship, the package 'forked' (split off) into two other products, NeoOffice (Mac only) and LibreOffice. Two years ago, Oracle bought out Sun and donated OpenOffice to the Apache organization.

All three products have the same basic applications (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program) plus two additional programs, a database and a drawing module superior to that found in Microsoft programs.

The Way of the Lotus

Meanwhile in 2007, IBM's Lotus group deployed Lotus Workplace as a foundation for a new suite with a name reminiscent of the DOS days, Lotus Symphony. IBM migrated their entire corporation (400,000 employees) from Microsoft Office to Lotus Symphony at a significant cost saving. IBM also made the program available for free to the outside world, for a confirmed total of 12 million registered users.

Early this year, IBM announced they would also donate Symphony to the Apache project with an eye to combining it with OpenOffice, although IBM continued support with another update in March.

Free as a Bird

I mentioned these programs are free for everyone, so here's where to find them.


(Mac, Unix, Windows)
(Mac, Unix, Windows)
(Macintosh only)
Lotus Symphony
(Mac, Unix, Windows)

Next week, I'll discuss basic formatting with Microsoft Word.


  1. Leigh, this is great information. As an interested word 2007 user, Can you tell me:
    1. Can I open a doc.x that I get as an email attachement, with these programs?
    2. When I save, can I choose .doc format, when using these programs?
    I'd really like to know, from somebody I trust.

  2. Yes you can, Dixon. I also recommend the .rtf format because it can't harbor viruses like .doc files can.

  3. Whoa, that IS great information, Leigh. And you're quite right about .rtf files--a lot of publications ask for that format in their submission guidelines because of the virus issue.

  4. Thanks for making that point, John. I don't know if .docx is as vulnerable to virus attack, but try never to use .doc unless requested by a publisher.

  5. Wow! I had no idea .doc was such an uber-transmitter of a computer virus. (That is what you mean. Right?) How much more susceptible is .doc? Is there a commonly accepted percentage? And: Why doesn’t rich text transmit viruses just as well? (If you’ve got a moment to explain, that is.)

    --“Curious Dix”

  6. Dix, I have submitted many, many stories in .doc format, and will continue to do so--but I'm only relating what I've heard, that .rtf files are less susceptible to viruses.

    Leigh might be able to explain the whys and wherefores.

  7. Thanks,John.

  8. Dixon, I don't know of any statistics, only that bad guys can and have used .doc format to occasionally slip in 'Trojan horse' macros. The Trojan then takes over the Normal.dot template and messes with your files.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>