I understand that some people need Microsoft Office — that for the sake of compatibility, familiarity and features, nothing else will do.
But anyone who doesn’t feel that way should consider trying LibreOffice, a free, open-source alternative. The new version, LibreOffice 4, offers better compatibility and more features than the previous version, along with lots of under the hood improvements.
I’ve been a happy LibreOffice 3 user for about a year, and I wouldn’t say the new version is a drastic change — at least not on its face. Perhaps the most significant new feature is the ability to attach comments to a range of text, not just a single point, which will help improve compatibility with Office documents.
But the lack of flashy changes is okay, I think. While Microsoft seems to make a point of shaking up the look and feel of each new version of its Office suite, part of LibreOffice’s allure is how it stays the same. (In fact, if you hated the Ribbon layout of Office 2007 and beyond, I’d argue that LibreOffice is just the respite you’re looking for.)
Like I said, not everyone will be able to work with LibreOffice. But in my experience it handles basic compatibility very well. It supports all Office file formats, has all the major features you might expect, and gets the job done for typical document and spreadsheet editing. Give it a shot if your office software needs don’t justify Microsoft’s $140-and-up asking price.