Practical Ecommerce

Microsoft Office Alternatives for Ubuntu Linux

Maintaining spreadsheets, composing business documents, or even building slide-style presentations are a mainstay of modern business, including small and mid-sized online retail operations that often depend on the Microsoft Office suite to compete these tasks.

The dependency on Office has also prevented some businesses from considering alternatives to the popular Microsoft Windows operating system or Apple’s Mac OS X, both of which are proprietary, relatively bulky — in terms of memory and storage requirements — and potentially more expensive than Ubuntu Linux, an emerging, open-source, and often free operating system that may be more suitable for some small businesses.

What Is Linux?

Linux is an operating system. It will be the first thing a user sees when a computer — running on Linux — is turned on. Linux will (a) provide the login screen, (b) manage file storage, and (c) provide the platform on which other software — like spreadsheet or word processing solutions — run.

An engineer named Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel — the most basic part of the operating system, if you will — in October 1991. Since then, Linux has grown to become the most popular operating system on web servers, running more than 90 percent of them. It also manages more than 60 percent of all servers of any kind for any use, and Linux underlies the majority of mobile smartphones, since Google Android is based on Linux.

For desktop computing, Linux has trailed in popularity for two reasons. First, many consumers, if they knew about Linux at all, believed that Linux was for more tech-savvy folks. Second, Linux could not run some software designed for Windows or Mac OS X, like Microsoft Office.

Ubuntu Linux is a Linux-based operating system that is every bit as easy to operate as Windows or Mac OS X. It includes all of Linux’s benefits, and can either run Office via a program called WINE or use any number of free or paid alternatives to Microsoft Office that work natively on Ubuntu.

If someone knows about Ubuntu and has been putting off trying the operating system, here is good news: There are actually many excellent Office suite alternatives.

As Rickford Grant and Phil Bull wrote in their recently released book, Ubuntu Made Easy, from No Starch Press, “Linux can get down to business as well as the next [operating system]. More importantly, since there are so many applications freely available for you to try, you might find that you actually end up using far more office-related productivity apps than you would if you had to pay for everything upfront.”

Microsoft Office Alternatives: LibreOffice

Perhaps the leading Microsoft Office alternative for Ubuntu is LibreOffice, which according to Grant and Bull is the “open source community-supported descendant of OpenOffice.org.”

LibreOffice is pre-installed on current versions of Ubuntu — version 12.04 was the most recent at the time of writing — and it “is not some lightweight sour-grapes substitute for Microsoft Office…it is a full-featured contender,” wrote Grant and Bull.

LibreOffice has four applications, Writer, Calc, Impress, and Draw.

LibreOffice Writer is a word processing suite similar in purpose to Microsoft Office’s Word. It has all of the most common Word features — although these may be accessed in different ways — and some features that Word does not. I wrote this article, as a point of interest, in LibreOffice.

LibreOffice includes a full featured word processing and document creation application.

LibreOffice includes a full featured word processing and document creation application.

LibreOffice Writer can read and write Microsoft Word files too.

For managing spreadsheets LibreOffice has Calc. Calc can do just about anything that any significant spreadsheet software can, and is a good choice for managing product inventories, projecting sales, or similar.

LibreOffice Calc is also compatible with Microsoft Excel in that it can open, read, and write to most versions of Excel files.

LibreOffice Calc is a capable spreadsheet solution.

LibreOffice Calc is a capable spreadsheet solution.

For slide-based presentations, LibreOffice includes Impress. Impress allows users to create presentations in a fashion similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. Impress is also generally compatible with PowerPoint, but there can be challenges converting files from PowerPoint presentations created on Apple devices.

LibreOffice Impress is an effective presentation solution.

LibreOffice Impress is an effective presentation solution.

LibreOffice also includes a graphics solution called Draw. Draw is by no means a full-fledged graphics or photograph manipulation solution. But for simple graphics it can be very helpful.

Microsoft Office Alternatives: OpenOffice

Ubuntu can also easily run OpenOffice, which, as Grant and Bull noted, is the forerunner to LibreOffice. OpenOffice has its own versions of Writer, Calc, Impress, and Draw that function very much like LibreOffice. To these, OpenOffice adds Base and Math, which are database manipulation solution similar to Microsoft Access and a graphic user interface for working with complicated mathematical equations respectively.

Like LibreOffice, OpenOffice is free to use on an Ubuntu-powered computer.

Microsoft Office Alternatives: SoftMaker

A third excellent alternative to Microsoft Office for Ubuntu users is SoftMaker Office 2012 for Linux. SoftMaker costs $79.99 and offers a word processing solution (TextMaker 2010), a spreadsheet solution (PlanMaker 2010), and a presentation solution (Presentations 2010).

Microsoft Office Alternatives: In the Cloud

There are also a number of cloud solutions — including Ubuntu — that, strictly speaking, will work on any operating system that supports an Internet connection and a modern browser. Google Docs and ZoHo are prime examples. Both of these are particularly good for sharing documents and for users who move from one device to another frequently.

More Productivity Software for Ubuntu

Grant and Bull also pointed out several other available applications that were not, in the strictest sense, alternatives to Microsoft Word. But the applications are productivity solutions that are available for free for Ubuntu, as follows.

  • Dlume. A standalone address book application.
  • FocusWriter. A “distraction-free” word processing solution.
  • AbiWord. A lightweight word processor.
  • gLabels. A label management and printing solution.
  • FreeMind. An idea charting tool.
  • Scribus. A commercial-grade desktop publishing suite.
  • PDF-Shuffler. A PDF management tool that allows for combining or reorganizing PDF files.
  • Labyrinth Mind-mapping. An idea charting tool.

Summing Up

Ubuntu is a good alternative to either Windows or Mac OS X. In the past, some users have not considered Ubuntu or Linux because of an apparent dependence on Microsoft Office.

Fortunately, there are now many excellent alternatives to Microsoft Office for the Ubuntu operating system.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 7 )

  1. lester August 13, 2012 Reply

    Ubuntu’s great and I have it running on my computer in a virtual machine. However I can’t use it for work because none of the Office alternatives you mention in this article are compatible enough. For word processing they might work, but the spreadsheets we use are too complex and won’t work in Open Office or Libre Office. You can’t import your Excel macros and the more complex formulae won’t holp up either. Most of us work with people who standardize on MS Office, and until Excel and Outlook work in Linux, there’s little hope of getting us to switch to Ubuntu.

    By the way, my spreadsheets won’t work in the cloud either. Even Microsofts stripped down cloud versions won’t do it.

    I don’t think that most of us are against Linux. It’s a great OS. But it just doesn’t he the software me need to do our work…

  2. Armando Roggio August 13, 2012 Reply

    Lester, I certainly understand. I have found that sometimes the biggest difference is the work flow. I have seen accounting departments move completely to LibreOffice, but it does require a change in workflow. In general, macros can often be replaced with a script or a better workflow.

    Bottom line, Ubuntu is not for everyone, but, in my opinion, the vast majority of small business could easily switch.

  3. jamesd1802 August 14, 2012 Reply

    I feel Libre Office will definitely be a great competitor to Office 365, The reason could be the cost factor. Most of SMB’s will look for Libre Office as it is less expensive compared to Office.
    Also some new tools as mentioned below CollateBox http://www.collatebox.com/ are looking very neat when it comes to managing spreadsheets.

  4. Alon Yaffe August 14, 2012 Reply

    Hi Armando, InstallFree provides a service called InstallFree Nexus that allows you to run applications like LibreOffice and Microsoft Office from any device with a web browser, including Ubuntu and other Linux distros. You can check it out on our website — http://www.installfree.com or add our apps to Google Drive or Box to work directly from their web interfaces.

  5. Jeffrey Sloan August 14, 2012 Reply

    @lester – I’ve been using microsoft office on my ubuntu desktop at work for years, with crossover offfice – best $39 I ever spent. As far as compatibility with ms office, that’s always a moving target and microsoft tries their hardest to frustrate attempts at interoperablility. Heck, even ms office can’t read files from a different version of ms office.

    @alon that sounds intriguing, I’ll check it out.

  6. mike_eprat August 17, 2012 Reply

    OpenOffice is still better and still very actively developed, under the name of Apache OpenOffice. It is not the forerunner of LibreOffice (please correct the article), it is the original, stable, supported, suite: Ubuntu distributes LibreOffice for commercial interests, but OpenOffice is the best choice for any serious users. Get it at http://openoffice.org

  7. Jeffery Sikes April 23, 2014 Reply

    I remember this same identical argument when everyone used Lotus 123, while the transformation to Windows and MS office was occurring and Lotus refused to create a Windows version of 123.

    Now Windows is dying (because of its single kernel approach) and folks are afraid to jump into Open Office.

    I have used them both and actually like the the Libre office alternative much better than the clunky interface from MS (especially the 2007 ribbon version). I wouldn’t be run off from using Linux versions of software simply because someone was concerned the spreadsheet operations were different. With most of the major Governments and businesses switching to Linux, its best to get into the crossover early rather than later.

    Within 5 years time, this will be a topic that everyone is very familiar with, and the migration will have already occurred. Linux is the replacement for MS WIndows single kernel Operating System, that is a fact that will not change.
    Businesses and Governments can write their own individual kernel versions of Linux, which makes them almost impervious to viral attacks, so there is literally no turning back at this juncture. Unix will be the Operating System of the future, its already the basis for Linux, OSX and Android … and with Microsoft having no market share outside its rapidly shrinking PC business, its basically a done deal

    The quicker people move to versions of Open office and work with the communities to iron out details, the quicker and smoother the changeover will become.

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