Looking for a cheap alternative to MS Office? Try these out

There are several productivity suites that can match MS Office in terms of features, but at a much lower price--sometimes even for free.

Despite the appeals court ruling in Microsoft's favor last week, many readers have told me they'd just as soon use a non-MS software suite if a decent alternative were available. There are good alternatives to Microsoft, though many people are stuck with Microsoft Office, like it or not, because their company or their clients use it. For the rest of you, here are some options. These programs are competitive with Microsoft in pricing, and some of them are even free!

Let's start with WordPerfect Office, long a favorite with law offices in particular, whose most recent version (2002) has received a very favorable rating from ZDNet Reviews' Edward Mendelson. Like Microsoft Office XP, WordPerfect Office 2002 comes in several versions, including Standard, Professional, and Academic. The Standard version includes WordPerfect 10, the Quattro Pro 10 spreadsheet (which can read and write Excel files), Corel Presentations 10, and Corel Central 10, a personal information manager (PIM). A quick search on Computershopper.com showed the best price to be at Page Computer for US$316.68, with a US$6.01 shipping charge to my New York apartment, for a total of US$322.69. Page has a 15 percent restocking fee and charges sales tax on all California ship-to addresses.

THE WORDPERFECT PROFESSIONAL VERSION adds the relational database Paradox 10 and the Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation module. It was also cheapest at Page, with a price of US$398.02, or US$404.03 delivered to me in New York.

If you qualify for an upgrade (and many people do), Page had the best price for the Professional Upgrade, US$202.81, or US$208.82 shipped to me.

Before I go on to other alternatives, I want to point out a particular bargain: WordPerfect Family Pack 2, a bundle that includes the previous versions of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro (Version 9 of each), plus Corel Print Manager, Corel Photo House, Compton's Encyclopedia, National Geographic Trip Planner, and more. I found it cheapest at Page, for US$58.47, plus a US$5.53 shipping charge, for a total of just US$64.

LOTUS SMARTSUITE Millennium Edition is still around, with the latest version being 9.6. It includes Lotus WordPro, Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Organizer, and Lotus Approach. A search on CNET brought back the lowest price to be Atomic Park, at US$394, with free shipping. Atomic Park also had the upgrade version for US$156, with free shipping.

There are two free alternatives that are actually quite good. The first is Sun's Star Office 5.2, which is available for download here. It's available for Windows, Linux, and Solaris Operating Systems. StarOffice is a bit quirky at first, but it's quite usable, and there is even a site devoted to its users. Finally, a Czech software company, Software602, Inc., offers an interesting free suite called 602 Pro PC Suite. It includes a good basic word processor, spreadsheet, and photo editor, and is available for free download. There's a Plus Pack shareware module that adds a thesaurus and a photo organizer that you can use free for 14 days. After that, registration is US$49.95.