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by JB Burke

Q. I bought a new laptop and it came with an offer to sign up for Microsoft Office 365. I'd rather not have a subscription to that, and the full version of Office is too expensive. How can I get access to Office functions for less, or even free?

A. There are several alternatives to gain access to functions similar to Microsoft Office for free. First there is Microsoft's Office Online. This gives you access to Word, Excel, etc. online. There are far fewer features than you would get with the full package or Office 365. However, if you are a casual user, this may be more than enough. Try it out – it's free to use and you may be satisfied with it. Your documents will be stored in Microsoft's SkyDrive (5GB Free) cloud.

Also online, there is Google Docs, which offers Docs, Sheets (spreadsheet) and Slides (like PowerPoint). There are no desktop versions of these – they are only online. But again they are free, and allow you to read, create and edit documents that conform to Microsoft Office formats. Here documents are stored in your Google Drive cloud storage (15GB free). You can access Google Docs here. If you'd rather keep your documents out of the cloud, there are also free alternatives that you can download and use on your desktop. These alternatives offer features very similar to Microsoft Office.

A couple of alternatives here are LibreOffice and Kingsoft WPS, though there are others. LibreOffice is based on another suite called OpenOffice, but differs in that it receives more frequent updates. LibreOffice offers Writer, Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentation builder) plus other useful components. LibreOffice can be downloaded here. It's free, and by the way, this article is being written using Writer.

Another free office suite, Kingsoft WPS, is also a good alternative. This package offers just the basics – Writer, Presentations and Spreadsheets, hence WPS. It has very good compatibility with Microsoft Office, a great interface, and there is a paid version with additional support and functions for $2.99 per month, compared to Office 365's $8.33 per month (based upon a yearly $99.99 subscription).

Published: Courier 2/4/16 - Page 6A