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Tuesday, May 19, 2009 The Free Microsoft Office Alternative

Last week I was appalled to find out that one of my students has been typing up all of his essays on Windows Notepad at home, then hopping on a school computer to copy and paste his work into Microsoft Word so he could format it.

I wasn’t taken aback at the thought of someone using Notepad to write.  It’s actually quite a useful little fuss-free program that’s lack of formatting options allows you to concentrate completely on the meaning of the words you’re writing, instead of what they look like. 

No, what appalled me was the fact that someone was using it because he thought there were no other options. He was actually planning on doling out the couple hundred bucks it costs to purchase Microsoft Office once he saved up enough for it.

No! No, no, no! Put your money away and save it for more important things.  The internet is full of wonderful, FREE programs that will do everything (and sometimes more!) that any software can that you purchase at Fry’s or Best Buy or Microcenter or CompUSA or … (you get the point). 

Buying an expensive program when a perfectly good free alternative exists is just poor financial decision making, especially when we’re in the middle of an economic recession. 


OpenOffice is a free alternative to the entire Microsoft Office Suite. You can download OpenOffice as a bundle of programs that include:

  • Writer
  • Calc
  • Impress
  • Draw
  • Base

As a composition instructor, I’m mainly interested in getting the word out about Writer, a replacement for Microsoft Word.  OpenOffice includes so much more than just a word processor, though.  Calc is basically a replacement for Excel, Impress for PowerPoint, Draw for Photoshop, and Base for Microsoft Works Database. 

Go to Why for more information about each program. 

If you do decide to use OpenOffice Writer for your word processing needs, I do have a bit of advice for you: save your documents as Microsoft Word compatible files.  Do this by selecting “Save As” when it’s time to save your file, then scrolling through the list of available options until you find “Microsoft Word 2003.” 

By default, OpenOffice saves documents as .odt files, which can only be opened by OpenOffice.  By saving your files as Word compatible files, you’ll be making your life much easier by making it possible to open your files using other word processing programs.  

There are, of course, other alternatives to OpenOffice.  I’ll mention them later in future posts.  In the meantime, happy word processing!


Photo credit: Andrew Abogado


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