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Despite what you may have been led to believe, there are in fact a number of solid Linux alternatives for Microsoft Office available. In fact, there are even options available with varied levels of docx support, if that is something relevant to your business.
This article will explore my recommended Microsoft Office alternatives for Linux. Some of them you've likely heard of, others may be cloud/server based options that you might not have thought much about until now.
LibreOffice as a Microsoft Office Alternative
LibreOffice has been my goto office suite since its inception. Previous to LibreOffice, I used OpenOffice. What I like about using LibreOffice is that it's updated frequently, available to anyone who wants it and happens to run on just about anything.
LibreOffice comes with a spreadsheet, presentation and word processor application. There are other LibreOffice applications available such as drawing, math and database programs. But for this article, we'll be looking at the three core applications that make up an office suite.
Writer is the provided word processor application for LibreOffice. It's default file support is for odf, however it's compatible with everything from txt to doc and docx. Writer is themeable and offers a layout customizable environment. Other benefits include features ranging from spell check to macro support.
Calc is a pretty decent spreadsheet application. The usual expected functionality is present, including the tools needed to accomplish typical spreadsheet calculations. The layout of the functions differ from that of MS Excel, however most of the needed functionality is present.
The presentation application is called Impress and it has improved a lot over the years. Setting up a presentation feels more natural than it has in the past. And while it's a great alternative to MS Powerpoint, it definitely lacks some of the advanced functionality found in proprietary alternatives.
Some of the stuff that is missing from LibreOffice includes the Bibliography tool, import/export functionality, default character styles for paragraphs and having to deal with messy hyperlinking. Also, while docx support works with Writer, it's formatting remains messy when opening some documents. Calc tends to freeze up on larger spreadsheets and Impress would benefit from a greater depth of template options to choose from. While there are some templates provided, there are entire categories of templates that would need to be imported manually or created from scratch.
WPS as a Microsoft Office Alternative
I really want to recommend WPS as an alternative to Microsoft Office. In some areas, I can do so. In other areas however, it's lacking a bit. From a visual perspective, WPS feels modern and simple to use. The Writer application looks fantastic, yet when you open it there are some immediate items that bother me. The default setting for opening Writer has the software trying to connect to Docer for online templates. Yet for some reason, it never seems to load. My guess is there are two possibilities happening here. One is that the online templates url is gone or incorrect. The second is my firewall is blocking it for some reason. If it's connecting over something besides port 80, then I'm glad my firewall is doing its job. However, after loading up Docer.com, I discover the site looks like it's no longer offering templates at all and the WPS software simply fails to reflect this change.
I do like how WPS uses tabs for each document within the software itself. This is useful when working with multiple documents at once. Makes for easier switching between workloads! WPS also offers its users a ribbon-like user interface which is helpful for those who want something familiar when coming from a MS Office environment. The word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs all feel very familiar to anyone coming from a MS Office experience. However the template selection isn't even as robust as you might find with LibreOffice.
WPS also has another strike against it. I don't see a ton of evidence that the Linux port is seeing anything in the way of development right now. Worse, the software is marked as alpha software.
Google Drive as a Microsoft Office Alternative
As much as people may groan when there is talk about cloud computing, there's a lot of evidence out there suggesting that some applications do very well despite being hosted elsewhere. Google Drive is an example of this success with their document hosting and creation software.
Not only does Google Drive keep pace with Microsoft's own MS Office cloud based software, it's incredibly straight forward to use – even for first time users. Drive offers a wide variety of software, but for the sake of this article we'll be focusing on the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications.
Anything not provided by default with Drive is likely available with the addons made available for installation. And unlike addons with LibreOffice, they actually work and are actively supported. Some of the more impressive addons include a word cloud generator (which had outstanding default settings), document signing tool for e-signatures, and a screenplay formatter. The addons are seemingly endless.
Then there are the templates. Not as many as you might find with MS Office, but it's far greater in quality and quantity than I found with other MS Office alternatives. The layout for each template type is clearly laid out by task and is as easy to use as making a single selection and getting to work.
Perhaps the added benefit of using Google Drive is that anything you create or change is instantly saved to the Google Drive itself. The only real downside I see here is that this lends itself best to those who are usually connected to the Internet (although offline access is available) and keyboard shortcuts leave a lot to be desired when compared to LibreOffice.
OnlyOffice as a Microsoft Office Alternative
If you were to take the best UI features from LibreOffice and MS Office, you'd have OnlyOffice. Once you get used to the interface, the biggest thing that struck me was how well it handled docx/xlsx files. Not only was formatting kept in place, but the software sets to this file type as the default! For those of you working within a "Microsoft Shop" environment, this matters.
Like WPS Office, OnlyOffice provides tabbed document support for easier multitasking. You can also install plugins if you want, although the provided selection is a bit limited when compared to Google Drive's addons.
I can definitely see OnlyOffice being a hit with those of you who must have flawless MS Office file support, but would rather use something Linux compatible. The download is free to use, however if you want to collaborate, you'll have to connect to an OnlyOffice portal. Overall, this is an outstanding product overall.
The Best Microsoft Office Alternative?
So which of the above solutions offers the best overall MS Office alternative experience? For enterprise environments needing high levels of MS compatibility, OnlyOffice all day long. For those needing a purely FoSS option without any dual-licensing, LibreOffice is a natural fit.
However, I have to admit, if you need a free to use office solution and don't might storing your data with Google, the Drive option isn't half bad. Especially for those freelancers like myself who enjoy digging into the available Google Drive addons.