What are the free Microsoft Word alternatives?

Microsoft Word still occupies first place when it comes to word processing. The programme is a must-have for many companies and is, therefore, essential for professionals that work with texts. There's a commercial version of Word 2016 and a non-commercial version, but they don't come cheap. Fortunately, there are many other word processing programmes that are free. What are the best Microsoft Word alternatives?

Which Microsoft Word alternative is right for you, depends almost entirely on what you want to use the programme for. If it’s important for you to have a lot of options regarding text design, you need a different programme compared to those who just concentrating solely on writing. Also, the alternatives to Microsoft Word all take up different amounts of memory – or you could also choose an online programme that doesn’t require any space on your hard drive. An important prerequisite is that the programme is compatible with your operating system.

Apache OpenOffice Writer: similar to Word

Apache OpenOffice was operated under the name OpenOffice.org until 2012 and now is simply called 'OpenOffice'. The OpenOffice Writer is the most popular among the Microsoft Word alternatives, and together with LibreOffice, it’s most similar to the original. Just like Microsoft Office packet, OpenOffice (as well as being a word processing program) also provides an alternative to Excel, a database tool, a drawing program, a tool for mathematical formulas, and a presentation tool. OpenOffice doesn’t, however, provide an alternative for the Outlook e-mail program.

OpenOffice Writer has all the functions that you need in everyday office life. It is important that OpenOffice can open all Microsoft Word formats. When saving work, OpenOffice Writer only supports the older file formats (.doc, .xml). Most of the details are in the layout, however subtleties such as the placement of footnotes could shift content around. It is therefore recommendable to convert documents to pdf documents before you print them. OpenOffice Writer is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Advantages Disadvantages
✔ Similar to Microsoft Word ✘ Doesn’t save docx files
✔ Can open Microsoft Word formats  

LibreOffice Writer: alternative to OpenOffice

An alternative to the alternative: LibreOffice split off from OpenOffice in 2010 after disagreements with Oracle, who was the main sponsor at the time. The layout and functions of the programme are largely the same, but there are some important differences. The LibreOffice Writer can edit and save the docx file format, whereas OpenOffice can only open it. If you often swap documents with other Microsoft Office users, it’s recommended you use LibreOffice.

LibreOffice also provides significantly more updates than OpenOffice, which can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. The advantage is that developers eliminate errors, close security gaps, and implement new features. However, they sometimes also create immature functions and not all users have the patience to keep installing new updates every two months.

Advantages Disadvantages
✔ Also saves docx files ✘ Immature functions
✔ More updates ✘ Updates can interfere

AbiWord: simple programme with many functions

The name AbiWord comes from the Spanish word 'abierto', meaning 'open'. This Microsoft Word alternative provides similar functions to the original and the layout is similar to earlier versions of Word (up until Word 2003). AbiWord takes up little space on the hard drive: only 20 megabytes. With AbiWord, you can create tables, embed graphics, and automatically fill in fields in e-mails with the Mail Merge tool.

With a long list of plugins, the features can be expanded by installing AbiWord. The import filters, for example, are used to read and save most file formats, including docx files. In practice, however, the layout has to be reworked in some formats. AbiWord also offers a platform with AbiCollab.net where you can work on documents with other people in real time. AbiWord doesn’t have a function for exporting documents as a pdf. The programme works alongside Windows and Linux on the operating system QNX, FreeBSD, and Solaris.

Advantages Disadvantages
✔ Lean programme ✘ No export of pdf documents
✔ Also saves docx files ✘ Extra plugin required for many features
✔ Collaboration platform  

WriteMonkey: writing without distraction

WriteMonkey is the right choice for anyone who wants to write without being distracted by advanced layout features. The full-screen mode is most similar to the simple white (or depending on the settings, black, green, or another colour) paper, where you can let your creativity run wild. Right-click to access the menu, which will then allow you to fade out certain parts of the text, or be able to jump between different paragraphs. You can set the timer for the amount of time you want to concentrate. The built-in word completion also saves a lot of time when typing.

WriteMonkey is the smallest of the desktop programmes mentioned here. It doesn’t need to be installed, which means that WriteMonkey can be used on a USB stick and then put onto other computers. To open WriteMonkey, simply download the application file folder, copy it to a random folder on your hard drive, and then open the WriteMonkey.exe file. Texts can be saved by WriteMonkey as a txt file, or exported to Word, also as a docx file. WriteMonkey only works on Windows.

Advantage Disadvantage
✔ Fullscreen mode for full concentration ✘ Only for Windows
✔ Timer ✘ Layout isn’t very elegant
✔ Works without installation  
✔ Also saves docx files  

Google Docs: online word processing

Google Docs is an online writing programme. If you have a Gmail account, click on 'Documents' in the tool bar to go to Google Docs. You can also open your documents using Google Drive. In Google Docs, you can create new documents and work with multiple users on the same document at the same time. You can see straightaway what changes other users have made to the document. This is especially useful when you want to write a text together with others, or when working with editors. As with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and LibreOffice, Google Docs also provides features for creating tables (sheets) and presentations (slides).

The disadvantages of Google Docs are that it’s slower and has fewer features than Microsoft Word alternatives that are stored on the computer. The layout options of Google Docs are much more limited. Also, many users have reservations about trusting the internet with confidential information. In addition, the functionality of Google Docs depends on the quality and security of the internet connection. Fortunately, there is also a Google Docs app that you can download to your computer or smartphone and then work in offline-mode.

Advantages Disadvantages
✔ Work from anywhere ✘ Fewer functions that desktop programmes
✔ Simple to use ✘ Slightly slower

Additional online writing programmes

Of course, there are also Google Docs alternatives. Buzzword is the online editor from Adobe and requires a free account, just like Google Docs. Zoho offers the most features out of all the online word processing programmes, such as an e-mail programme and many layout options. Zoho also requires registration with an account and is therefore especially suitable for users who regularly edit texts online. For occasional group work, Etherpad is accessible without an account. Etherpad has less text processing capabilities - but is the fastest tool when it comes to group work.

  Available for Mobile version Docx files Special features Languages
OpenOffice Writer Windows, Linux, Mac OS X Yes, for Android Can only open them Similar to Word Many different languages available through the language packages
LibreOffice Writer Windows, Linux, Mac OS X Viewer for Android Can open and save them Many updates Many different languages available through the language packages
Abiword Windows, Linux, QNX, FreeBSD und Solaris No Can open and save them - Many languages available through plugins
Writemonkey Windows No Can open and save them Write without distractions 14 additional languages available other than English
Google Docs Everything online Yes, for Android and iOS Can open and save them Work together in real time Many languages available