10 free Linux alternatives to OpenOffice.org
OpenOffice.org has a reputation for being the premiere office suit for the Linux platform. Maybe so but these days, it’s not exactly a lean slab of software anymore, particularly if you just want to try a component and don’t actually want the whole box and dice. Netbooks are one device category that comes to mind, for sure.
But what are the alternatives? The reality is, for better or worse, the world is still dominated by Microsoft’s Office so any alternatives must have at least .doc (Word) and .xls (Excel) support. You could argue that beyond that, support for anything else is a bonus. Even if you don’t want or need MS support, there are days when a quick message doesn’t require a complete office suite to unleash itself onto your unsuspecting PC.
And with netbooks becoming such a popular alternative to traditional computing devices, software with a small storage footprint should be well and truly on your radar if you’re considering ditching the Windows XP Home Edition operating system your netbook will most likely come with.
I’ve split the options into complete office suite alternatives, word processors, spreadsheets and presentation applications.
Office Suite Alternatives
Koffice is the KDE equivalent to OpenOffice. The thing I like about Koffice is that it is modular – you don’t need to install the whole suite if you just want one bit of it. You can also install Koffice (or bits of it) onto GNOME or Xfce desktops, provided you also install the KDE runtime stuff as well. Depending on the app, that can add a bit of weight to an installation but it will still be considerably lighter than using OpenOffice.org. Koffice has a few things that OpenOffice.org doesn’t have such as a vector drawing tool (Karbon), project management (KPlato) and mathematical formula editor (Kformula). OpenOffice.org has plenty of supporters but you’d be nuts to write Koffice off. It’s definitely well worth a look, especially if you’re already using the KDE desktop environment.
You’ve got to love the tag line for this one – “It sucks less!”. Hey, at least they’re honest compared to some big-name brand office packages that shall remain nameless… Siag Office is more your basic office suite rather than being a full-blown competitor to Koffice or OpenOffice.org. It contains two word processors (one is a “text” editor, the other is Pathetic Writer but don’t let it’s name turn you off), spreadsheet and unusually, an animation tool called Egon. The real problem is that this one isn’t easy to install – you actually have to compile it yourself so if you want to be a “Linux hero”, it’s worth a go. But if you’re in a hurry, it’s not for you. So in terms of installation, yeah, this one is a bit “sucky” I’m afraid. Koffice would be a better alternative if you need a full-blown office suite but don’t forget the individual component alternatives as well.
With all the hype about cloud computing, we shouldn’t forget about Google Docs! Seriously, the great thing about Google Docs is that it really doesn’t matter which operating system you want to use, you’ve got access to spreadsheet and word processing on-line via your browser. It’s also a snap to share documents with other Google Gmail account users so colaborative work is a breeze. Google Docs isn’t perfect but it’s definitely well worth considering, especially since you can store documents online. There’s also the possibility of offline use thanks to Google Gears, a web browser extension that allows Google Docs to store and use documents stored on your local hard drive. For simple stuff and especially for when you’re not sure when you’ll see your PC again, Google Docs is a great way to keep you digital office active while you are. All you need is a Gmail account.
Excellent Word support makes Abiword a must-have in your Linux app arsenal. It will happily save files in .doc format as well as its own .abw file structure but this is just a great full-featured word processor that’s about 20MB to download (OpenOffice.org is somewhere around 150MB and counting). It happily works well on the confined screen space of your typical netbook computer and has the one feature every freelance writer looks for – word counting. There are one or two little querky things that happen if you drop Abiword-created .doc files into Microsoft Word but for the most part, particularly if you’re just writing letters or basic assignments, there’s no problem. One bonus here is that Abiword works on Windows as well and with Microsoft changing Office 2007 to a ribbon-style interface, Abiword is more Microsoft Word than Microsoft Word these days.
Kword is the word processor out of Koffice. As I mentioned before, you can just install Kword on its own without the rest if you prefer but it’ll require the KDE runtime stuff if you’re not running KDE. For Xfce and GNOME users, Abiword is the better bet. Abiword comes as the default option in Xubuntu however, Kword is every bit as good. Probably not the right choice for netbooks however due to KDE’s higher system and storage requirements. The Koffice people say you could use this for simple desktop publishing (DTP) however, there are better tools for that sort of thing. Still, for group newsletters, it’s probably enough. Kword also has nice little extras such as the ability to auto-generate a Table of Contents page (how I wish I had that back in college!) as well as headers and footers and the like. You’ve also got auto-spellcheck and auto-correction as well (things any good word processor should have these days.)
Good ol’ Ted. It seems like it’s been around forever but it still has some incredibly useful features for such a simple editor. It saves documents in MS-supported Rich Text Format (RTF) but it can also save your RTF files as Adobe Acrobat PDF files as well. That’s a feature most expensive Windows word processors (including Word) still can’t (or choose not to) support. Unfortunately, it looks as though Ted isn’t up to Debian at the moment and the original website offers more support for Red Hat-based distros but still, a tidy little word processor all the same. Ted started out as more of a Microsoft WordPad-style word processor and while its developers say it has grown, you’d be pushing it to say it’s in the same class as Kword or Abiword. Still, it’s nowehere near the same size as those two so again, for netbook use, it’s probably not a bad option. Ubuntu users should look at Gedit or Mousepad as similar alternatives.
It’s pretty hard to go past Gnumeric is you’re looking for a lean but MS supportive spreadsheet. It’s not perfect (it doesn’t support every single Excel function) but for most basic home or even small business uses, Gnumeric is ideal. It’s about as close as you can get to Excel without inviting a lawsuit, I reckon. Many of Excel’s features look the same on Gnumeric and even sit in the same location (cell formatting for example is almost identical in its layout and function). If you’re busy trying to find out whether you can still afford that mortgage, Gnumeric is every bit as good as Excel and thankfully, comes at a great price. (It’s free). Canonical chose this for its Xubuntu distro. A wise choice I think.
KSpread is Koffice’s spreadsheet and another with Excel’s look and feel. The only thing you need to remember is to install the Koffice-filters package to get Excel file support. Word is though that Excel support can be a bit sketchy so be warned however, it will also open OpenOffice.org and Gnumeric spreadsheets as well. If Excel support is important, Gnumeric is probably the best bet to start out with and then move to Kspread if Gnumeric doesn’t do it for you. Other than that, this is another feature-rich spreadsheet that does everything. Again, Xfce or GNOME users will need the KDE runtime environment extras, which may lessen its appeal but if Gnumeric doesn’t do it for you, Kspread might.
Simple Spreadsheet is part of an open-source groupware suite called Simple Groupware that essentially is a spreadsheet plug-in for your browser, a little bit like Google Docs. Its written in PHP and you’ll need Apache and PHP4.3.2 if you want to use the charting feature but apparently, you can use the basic features without it. It supports all the major browsers (Firefox 1.0, Internet Explorer 6.0, Opera 8.5, Konqueror 3.5, Safari 2.0 or better). And you don’t need Java, Flash or ActiveX controls (okay, you don’t need that last one in Linux either!). If you have a business wide application needing a groupware-capable spreadsheet, this one will take a bit of setting up but it could well be the solution.
This category was pretty easy in the end. Basically, if you’re looking for a PowerPoint style alternative to OpenOffice.org, it’s Kpresenter and that’s it. Still, Kpresenter does the job, giving you plenty of template choices and a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) layout. It can even create HTML slides for use via a web browser. Its image format support includes all of the biggies such as JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP. Again, Xfce and GNOME users will need the KDE runtime engine to get this one going but it’s still going to be smaller than installing OpenOffice.org (although not by a huge amount).
Okay, that’s our list – if we’ve missed anything, drop us a note below.
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