Five free alternative office suites

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

Zoho features many other online tools. Aside from presentation and spreadsheet tools, it includes email, document management, chat, and a sharing repository. It also offers more business-friendly applications, including CRM, invoicing, reporting and more although these are only free for a limited number of users.

Those extra business tools make Zoho a solid choice for small businesses looking to make use of business intelligence and other systems without forking out a lot of cash. Even if you prefer to use an OS-based office suite for your documents and files, the free software on offer by Zoho is worth a look.

IBM Lotus Symphony

IBM Lotus Symphony

Launched back in 2007, IBM's Lotus Symphony is another option if you're looking for a Microsoft-like, desktop-based solution. Based on an earlier version of the OpenOffice.org code, Lotus Symphony's document editor will seem very familiar to Word users with many of the same shortcuts, too.

It also features spreadsheet and presentation applications, but unlike others they're all in the same place. Click 'new' to open a spreadsheet and it stays in the same window in a separate tab, which should come in handy when you're moving between different document types.

It also has a built-in web browser, which seems a bit strange when you're used to working with a separate one.

As far as user interface goes, it's a bit old school, lacking any slick UI treatment. It also does weird things to the text when you're typing, auto-suggesting words and underlining spelling mistakes before you even finish typing the word. It also renders text strange, making it seem bold as you type, before settling down to how it should be.

IBM has publicly dropped Microsoft Office in favour of Lotus Symphony, but it's hard to see others doing the same with the small troubles Symphony still has especially with OpenOffice.org around.

On the flipside, it's still in version 1.3, so hopefully the next release is a bit better to work with.

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