Five free alternative office suites

Microsoft is set to unveil its own free Office suite as the competition catches up.

It's even set to update sooner than Office 2010, with OpenOffice 3.2 expected to arrive in December with Ribbon-like functionality.

One downside is file formats, which still suffer compatibility issues. Others complain about the footprint of the package, as well. And, while technically OpenOffice isn't web-based, Ulteo now offers the suite through a browser.

In fact, that's one of the lovely benefits of OpenOffice.org there are so many variations and add-ons available, including an enterprise-friendly package.

If you don't have Microsoft Office on your PC and don't want to pay up for it, OpenOffice.org is a really solid alternative.

Adobe Acrobat.com

Adobe Buzzword

Adobe also has its own web-based documents system. Called Buzzword, it's still in beta but includes a decent set of features. Like everything Adobe, it looks slick and is pretty easy to use.

While there are few keyboard based shortcuts - saving is thankfully one of them - accessing necessary formatting tools is easy thanks to some nice animation. Click the paragraph logo, and the related tools slide out, letting you see all your options.

However, the affiliated spreadsheet and presentations apps are still stuck in the labs.

While they're definitely useful for basics, those with more demanding work might want to stick with a more robust system. On the upside, the Acrobat.com system also includes conferencing software ConnectNow as well as a document sharing system.

Like Google Docs, the web-based Buzzword is excellent for collaboration. The commenting facility is especially nice, so this might be a better tool for when you need to work with someone, rather than for every document you create.

Buzzwords handily imports a fair number of document formats, so it's a good way to share out existing files. Users do need to sign up for a free Acrobat.com account, though.

Also, like Google Docs, everything is saved on Adobe's servers for good or bad. At the moment, there are no plans to take Acrobat.com's apps offline, but that could change in the future.

Zoho

Zoho Writer

Zoho is another web-based productivity suite. Like Google Docs, it's web-based. There's no offline access, however.

Its document app Zoho Writer is pretty function rich for something technically still in beta.

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