If you’ve ever bought a Microsoft product before you know they’re far from free.  A quick search online reveals most versions of Microsoft Office cost between $200 and $500.  Obviously this puts the world’s most popular productivity suite out of reach for most small businesses.  How then is a small business owner to create professional documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more?  Luckily there are a couple great options available, and both of them are FREE.

OpenOffice Writer Screenshot

A screenshot of OpenOffice's word processor

The first is OpenOffice, an open source software package available for download at the OpenOffice website.  Compared to Microsoft Office’s estimated 500 million users, OpenOffice recently celebrated its 100 millionth download.  It includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation software, desktop publishing, and more.  By default all files are stored in OpenOffice’s own proprietary formats, but they can easily be saved as Microsoft documents instead.  OpenOffice is laid out very similarly to Microsoft products so the learning curve for current Microsoft users is virtually non-existent.  Additionally, there are a plethora of support options available, including FREE community-based (peer) support, and a directory of local OpenOffice consultants.

Screenshot of GoogleDocs' word processor

Screenshot of GoogleDocs' word processor

The second option is Google Docs, which offers the same four basic software programs (word processor, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, and presentation) as the other suites, and also a “Form” tool that creates custom web surveys that one could embed into a website or blog.  All Google documents are stored on Google’s servers and accessed and edited in the owner’s web browser.  Thanks to its internet-based application delivery, Google Docs allows users to share documents with any other person with an e-mail address with just a couple clicks of the mouse.  Unfortunately, the overall feature set is very light compared to more full-featured suites like Office or OpenOffice.  Casual Google Docs users may not take notice of anything missing but more routine or power users will probably be unable to use Google Docs for anything other than minor edits.

While Google Docs is a great light-weight office productivity suite that can perform quick edits of a document from anywhere with an internet connection, it is lacking too many features to be considered a true desktop replacement.  On the plus side, Google Docs offers secure sharing and collaboration, which OpenOffice does not.  What OpenOffice DOES provide is  a full-featured office productivity suite for FREE.  Until Google beefs up the features of its Documents suite, OpenOffice will remain Denton Business Solutions’ productivity suite of choice.

For an in-depth comparison of Microsoft Office 2010 and OpenOffice 3.1, look here.