The dangers of Microsoft Office alternatives. IT support companies are warning clients against supposedly cheaper alternatives to Microsoft Office. This round-up takes a quick look at three options - what are the negatives?
LibreOffice - open source freeware
This product has a lot of features but its size makes it slow.
LibreOffice is also "open source", which means it can be modified by anybody, mostly volunteers, and development of the product is haphazard.
Features generally get developed, or bugs fixed, purely because a volunteer has a vested interest in that area. So LibreOffice has some long-term bugs and a clunky, inconsistent interface - which business users and IT support teams won't appreciate.
WPS Office - free for personal use
This Office clone hails from China and the free version (not meant for business use) entices you to subscribe for the Premium or Professional versions - using nagging adverts.
It has a familiar interface but doesn't work properly in many detail areas - copying and pasting tables for example. It's so obviously a copy of the actual Microsoft software underneath that it's surprising that Microsoft haven't taken legal action.
SoftMaker FreeOffice - free version
Free for businesses to use, SoftMaker also hopes that FreeOffice users will upgrade to the commercial version. Features are not as advanced as LibreOffice or Microsoft Office because SoftMaker only makes older versions free.
For example, the interface will be familiar to anyone who used Office 2003 or XP, rather than the more familiar "ribbon" menu style introduced by Microsoft ten years ago - that means extra time and expense training new staff.
FreeOffice can also be problematic for IT support companies whose clients swap complex documents or spreadsheets with companies using Microsoft Office.
What about Microsoft Office?
There is now a Microsoft option for cost-conscious customers - Office Online, a completely free version. The menus are the same so it's easy for staff to use. Some features are missing, like mail merge in Word or pivot tables in Excel, and you have to be online to use it.
The key point is that the whole cost of using products must be assessed.
The frustrations of products not working properly means extra IT support and training overheads will quickly outweigh the savings of 'free' software. This is particularly true for businesses exchanging information with other companies using Microsoft Office. Therefore, the dangers of Microsoft Office alternatives are not worth the risk. Although the initial upfront cost may be greater, Microsoft Office is the safest option compared to these supposedly cheaper alternatives.