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Free Office and Online Collaboration

Ever since Sun MicroSystems released the code to StarOffice, it kicked up a storm in the open source world and we saw the birth of OpenOffice (OOo). It is not about being open source, but this broke down the barriers of sharing documents and collaboration.

Microsoft upped the ante with the recognition of collaboration for business and release a free service - Microsoft Office Live Workspace - which is currently in Beta. However, open source has given us a reason to shun the offerings from Microsoft and seek alternatives. In this article I intend on presenting this to you.

Office Alternatives

First off, what are the alternatives to Microsoft Office? The first choice is (obviously) OpenOffice (OOo). This application is a complete office suite to compete with Microsoft Office:
  • Microsoft Word = OpenOffice Writer
  • Microsoft Excel = OpenOffice Calc
  • Microsoft Access = OpenOffice Base
  • Microsoft PowerPoint = OpenOffice Impress
  • Microsoft Visio = OpenOffice Draw (kind of, but is a welcome addition)
This is also available on the Mac, which requires X11 to be present on the system. However, a port without th X11 requirement is available - NeoOffice. Windows and Linux users can get a "beefed up" version known as OxygenOffice Professional which extends OOo by providing more templates, samples, fonts, clipart and VBA support. Ooh la la.

Next up is AbiWord, which is only contending with Word. A wise choice for those who only require a word processing application. Just like OOo this system is available on Windows, Linux and MacOS (not requiring X11), thus ensuring maximised collaboration between users.

Linux users, do have more flavours to experience with:
  • KOffice - which comes with the KDE and provides word processing (KWord), spreadsheets (KSpread), database (Kexi) and presentation (KPresenter). It does come with other software taking it beyond being only a Microsoft Office alternative.
  • GnomeOffice - which comes with Gnome-based distributions and uses AbiWord for word processing.
  • Siag Office - OK, it's not for Linux but for X Windows (Unix). It still deserves a mention.
I'm sure there's more out there, but this is all I can find so far. Regardless, it's time for the next bit.

Online Office/Collaboration

There is a growing popularity in being able to produce documents and presentations on the go with the use of an Internet connection and a web browser. Some of offerings are free and some are charged for, but this domain is growing and there are a lot of offerings.

This Online Office concept goes the step further to allow people to collaborate on... well... nearly everything business related. Since Microsoft started, what alternatives are there for Microsoft Office Live Online? Ooh, don't you want to know.

Here goes:
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets - The name is a slight misconception as you can also compose and edit presentations! There is also the addition of Forms, which I have not yet explored. Allows for collaboration.
  • ThinkFree - Provides the usual document, spreadsheet and presentation composition and editing features. Other services (including collaboration) are available but not free.
  • ContactOffice - More than a simple document compositing and editing office. You can manage and collaborate virtually all your data online from a web browser. There is a limitation on storage, but subscriptions are available for more precise requirements.
  • EditGrid - An excellent compositing, editing and collaborating system for spreadsheets. The setback is that it is only free for individual users.
  • OpenGoo - Can't explain the name but this is a very capable open source web office system. Being open source means that any company need not worry about purchasing licences. Currently in beta, the solution allows you to compose, edit, collaborate, share and publish various documents. Another "selling point" is that you can download this system and make it as part of your current Intranet.
  • Zoho Office Suite - With more apps than Google it is still in Beta but already looks promising. It also comes with plugins to bridge the gap between online and offline productivity. I have noticed a number of collaboration sites utilising Zoho. Although there are small issues there is a lot of potential. Again, the limitation is that it is free for personal use.
  • - Began as an online storage service, you can also collaborate on files with others. Document composing and editing is done by way of Zoho.
  • Writeboard - includes revisions
  • Jotspot Live - An interesting one where you can view and share notes as they are being written.
There are many more online collaboration services, which do not utilise or provide any web-based office facilities. Hopefully, you get the gist of what is already available.

If I can give anything the seal of approval, my top choice for the Microsoft Office alternative is OpenOffice. Secondly, my top choice for online office/collaboration is Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

One thing I forgot to mention that a distinct advantage of OpenOffice against Microsoft Office is that it can natively export your documents to PDF. Microsoft Office 2007 can accomplish but you would need to download a plugin from the Microsoft website.

Additionally, a true comparison between the two applications cannot be achieved as Microsoft Office is available in different suites. A possible ommition by OpenOffice is an Outlook alternative. They would not need to as Mozilla Thunderbird fills those shoes. Anyhow, someone has already gone the pains of comparing the two applications -

Microsoft Office (in one of the suites) comes with Microsoft Publisher. Although, OpenOffice does not contend with this, Open Source gives us viable alternatives. A noteworthy contender is Scribus.


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