If you own or operate a business, the idea of purchasing licenses that allow your employees the ability to create spreadsheets, write exquisite documents, design presentations, and create and edit databases is a must. For many businesses, the only logical choice is Microsoft Office. This application has become industry standard for business applications world-wide. Fortunately for the frugal geek, there are alternatives. In this article, I will outline a few of the open source and freeware alternatives to Microsoft’s Office Suite.

OpenOffice.org is the first application that comes to many people’s minds when the discussion of a free alternative comes up. The developers of Open Office have hinted that their distribution rates are in the multiple millions each week, which puts it ahead of Microsoft Office which has advertised a distribution of 1.5 million per week. Open Office provides computability to Microsoft Office documents, in addition to having a useful format of its own. The suite isn’t as pretty as some of the other options out there, though as far as productivity, it is certainly the front runner for the price.

OpenOffice.org was created by a group called StarDivision, which dubbed the project “The StarOffice Suite”. The company was founded in Germany, and was later acquired by Sun Microsystems during the summer of 1999. Sun released the source code for StarOffice which became OpenOffice.org as we know it today. Sun continues to be a chief contributor to OpenOffice.org and has implemented many of the breakthroughs on the open source project to SunOffice.

Speaking of StarOffice, it has been added to the Google Pack of software. StarOffice is a prettier version of OpenOffice.org and has several great features. You get a word processor, a drawing application, presentation, spreadsheet, and a database management program. The only thing missing from the suite that you would find in Microsoft Office is email. Email programs are readily available in open source anyway, and as a personal recommendation, Thunderbird by Mozilla is a great alternative to Microsoft mail.

Google has another office suite alternative that stores documents online. Google Docs has a useful set of programs available for someone on-the-go. The idea of editing your documents in an environment where you don’t have to worry about crashing hard drives and distribution is an excellent choice for many business people. The downside to an all-online office suite is functionality. You lose a lot of the functionality you’d find with native software, and power users may want to shy away from this otherwise amazing alternative.

If you have any tips or suggestions to add to this article, please feel free to leave a comment.

Matt Ryan of mattryan.tv

[tags]Open Office, OpenOffice.Org, Microsoft, Office, Sun, Google, Google Docs, spreadsheet, word, mail, presentation, documents[/tags]