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When I became a chief information officer in early 2006, I had to start my organization’s IT department from the ground up with no actual budget to speak of. Unfortunately, given that the organization was located in China also meant that there were no valid licenses for any products installed on computers either. This lead me down the path toward alternative office suites to the usually defacto Microsoft offerings. It has been over 7 years since I first dove into using alternate suites and the landscape has matured for alternatives to the costly Microsoft Office so even though the budget challenges of nonprofits, churches, and missions organizations persist, great money saving Office alternatives exist. Here are some of the current offerings that are compatible across all major platforms (I’ve provided the business links, there are personal editions available as well):


(Microsoft) Office 365:

No, this isn’t quite the same as Microsoft Office! Office 365 is Microsoft’s answer to Google Apps; it is a pay per user per month or per user per year model. You essentially pay for it as an ongoing service, this can make it much easier on the pocket as you can change the number of users over time as your organization grows or shrinks without the danger of having expensive licenses go unused. It won’t save as much as other offerings, but every little bit helps. Office 365 offers trial periods here.


Google Apps:

Google Apps is also a cloud or software as a service based offering from Google. It is cheaper than Microsoft’s offering and has a lot going for it in terms of collaboration. Google also offers a tier which includes online storage to safeguard valuable data. Google Apps offers a free trial here.


Open Office/Libre Office:

Open office was an office suite project that Sun Microsystems had open sourced and made available for free to the community. It is still available and popular; however, fear of Sun being purchased by Oracle caused quite a few developers to create a branch of the code called Libre Office. Now Open Office is held by the Apache foundation which ensures both offerings will always be free software. Don’t let the idea that they are free scare you, they are very mature and capable offerings. I completed my entire graduate program using Open Office and Libre Office and still use Libre Office as my primary office suite. You can download Open Office here or Libre Office here.


Final Thoughts

Migrating won’t be entirely without issues, sometimes odd quirks do show up with the .doc format. I’ve found that older .doc formats tend to work much better than newer ones, especially when nobody actually uses a lot of the XML features of newer formats. Regardless of the issues, it is well worth trying the above offerings as it can save organizations a great deal of money over the long run!