The free, open-source LibreOffice comes in versions for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux; a portable edition is also available. It offers a word processor, spreadsheet utility, presentation program and database, plus tools for sketching diagrams and editing equations.
LibreOffice 3.3’s interface will be familiar to anyone used to Microsoft Office, but it’s also easy to personalise. In our tests, document, spreadsheet and presentation files created in Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org posed no problem for LibreOffice, nor did a LibreOffice document encounter difficulties in Word.
SoftMaker Office 2010 isn’t free, but it’s cheaper than Microsoft’s suite at €69 (£60). It’s available for Windows, Linux, Windows Mobile and Windows CE. It has word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation modules, and offers a script that lets you automate recurring tasks.
SoftMaker closely mimics the interface of Microsoft’s suite, and each module is packed with features. The TextMaker word processor, for example, incorporates substantial desktop-publishing functions. Graphics features are particularly good.
We imported Word, Excel and PowerPoint files with no problems; each module remains separate from the others, however, requiring some toggling if you’re working in more than one file type at once. Files we created in SoftMaker opened just fine in Office too.
Like Google Docs, Zoho is a cloud-based suite that’s accessible via a browser. It incorporates a word processor, a spreadsheet tool and presentation apps. Zoho lets you securely store files in a central location, then share or access them from afar. Individual use is free; business pricing ranges from free for up to 1GB of storage and one workspace to $5 (£3.05) per user, per month for 20 workspaces.
A plug-in lets you create, edit and save documents and spreadsheets to Zoho from within Microsoft Word or Excel. Zoho also supports an offline mode in its word processor. Mobile access covers iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Nokia (S60) devices.
Compared with Google Docs, Zoho’s interface is a pleasure to behold; it’s elegant and intuitive. Importing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files posed no problem. Documents we created in Zoho worked in Microsoft Office without issues. Sharing and collaboration tasks are easy, and we like the fact that Zoho lets you view and edit the latest 25 documents offline, with automatic synching with the online version once you’ve reconnected. Occasional lags cropped up in use, but it gives a good overall impression.
The extras impressed us too. Zoho provides means of hosting a meeting, a calendar tracker, a presentation program and accounting tools.
Whether or not you decide to play it safe and use Microsoft Office for your everyday document-creation needs, you can make use of the company’s online storage repository, Windows Live SkyDrive (skydrive.live.com). If you also use Office Web Apps (integrated into Microsoft Office 2010), you have both a ready-made cloud-computing suite and plenty of space to store everything. A 25GB allowance is provided.
Office Web Apps includes online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. All replicate the look and feel of their desktop counterparts, with simplified versions of the menus. Web Apps saves files to SkyDrive, where you can set sharing permissions, invite people to view and edit documents, and collaborate on documents simultaneously.
As well as considering whether the cloud is really the best place to keep all your important files, you’ll want to work out whether it’s a cost-effective option. This depends on the amount of data involved.
If you want to make 2GB of data accessible on all your computers and devices simultaneously, Dropbox.com is ideal. Put a file in the Dropbox folder (or create a subfolder within it), and that item will instantly appear in the Dropbox folder on any PC or device using the same account.