Open Office, now more formally Apache Open Office, and the very similar Libre Office, can be an effective alternative to Microsoft Word and even some other Microsoft Office applications.
Whether or not it’s a solution that works for you depends on which applications you use, how you use them, and most importantly, with whom you might share your documents.
Apache Open Office Suite
Apache Open Office is a completely free suite of programs.
It includes a word processor comparable to Microsoft Word, a spreadsheet comparable to Microsoft Excel, presentation software comparable to PowerPoint, a database comparable to Access, and even drawing and math equation tools similar to those included in Microsoft Office.
I say “comparable” because of course, they are not exactly the same. Open Office looks and feels quite different than Microsoft Office. The fundamental concepts are the same, but the user interface puts components in different places, and it may behave somewhat differently than you’re used to.
Open Office doesn’t have all of the advanced features Microsoft Office offers. Exactly what those missing features might be will vary over time, as both suites continue to change and grow. If you never use those advanced features, this may not matter to you at all.
Compatible, but not
Open Office can, in fact, read and write documents created with Microsoft Office1. On the surface, this implies that you can happily exchange documents with people who use Microsoft Office.
Unfortunately, this exposes what I would call the biggest issue with Open Office: the document you create in Open Office may look different when opened in Microsoft Office. If you make changes in Open Office, then return to Microsoft Office, the document will also probably look different. The programs are compatible with each other in that they can both read and write the same file formats, but in practice, they are not identical.
Minor, and occasionally major, formatting differences are common when you exchange documents between the two. If that matters to you, Open Office may not be the best choice.
It’s everywhere, and it’s free
Open Office is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. All version of Open Office are identical no matter what platform you use.
And, as you know, it’s completely free. No one-time charges, no subscriptions; just download, install, and use.
An alternative? It depends.
Is Open Office a suitable alternative for you? It really depends on your needs.
If your needs are basic to moderate in complexity, and strict visual compatibility with Microsoft Office isn’t a concern for you, then it could be a very good, free alternative. I’d recommend giving the latest version a try.
If you’re a Microsoft Office power-user, or you expect to use Microsoft Office add-ons, or you need to exchange high-fidelity documents with other Microsoft Office users, then typically only Microsoft Office will do.