Microsoft Office remains the gold standard in office applications. Sure, Office alternatives exist, but Microsoft’s file formats dominate. People with access to Office tend to have an easier time than those who lack it, because while alternatives like LibreOffice can export to .doc or .xls, the formatting isn’t 100% compatible.
Still, many people flinch at buying Office because it’s expensive. A home version is $99, which is significant to most consumers. There are a few ways to dodge to the retail price and use Office for free, however – within limits.
Microsoft itself offers a collection of free Office utilities formerly known as Office Web Apps and now called Office Online. They are essentially browser-based versions of the latest Office suite. You can use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint without paying a dime.
Restrictions apply, of course. The online versions only provide the most basic features of each respective application. Word Online, for example, does not include text boxes, WordArt, equations, charts and more. You can still write a term paper, but you won’t be able to compile a company report.
Still, the web versions can open, save to and print Microsoft’s popular file formats with accuracy, which is what most will probably use them for. Users who only need Office to print or send documents once every few months, yet still need reliable formatting, finally have a solution.
Office Mobile is basically the mobile version of Office Online. Originally available for Windows Phone, the suite can now be used on Android and iPad as well. The same core apps of Word, Excel and Powerpoint are represented, along with OneNote and OneDrive, which aren’t bound to Office, but complete the package.
Most of these apps are available to download and use for free and have restrictions similar to their Office Online counterparts. Basic tasks can be completed with ease but more advanced formatting options are not present. However, the iPad version requires a Microsoft Office 365 subscription to edit documents.
Microsoft has made many changes to Office in its latest edition, Office 365, so you may want to give it a spin before buying/subscribing. Microsoft provides that opportunity with a free one-month trial.
Like most trials of subscription services, you’ll need to enter payment information and you will be charged if you continue beyond your free month. With that said, though, this 30-day trial is the easiest way to try the current version of Office and the quickest way to obtain full access if you need it in a pinch.
Done with your Office 365 trial, but not ready to pay up just yet? There’s one more place you can turn. Microsoft offers a trial of Office Professional Plus 2013 that lasts 60 days. The package is aimed at business users, but offers everything a home user would expect.
Unlike the other trial, this one does not require payment information. You do have to provide some information about your “business” but don’t worry – Microsoft isn’t going to check up on you. Speaking of checks, be sure to un-check the boxes that give Microsoft permission to contact you regarding promotions.
Buy Hardware With Office Bundled
Office is not bundled with desktop computers but there are a few other devices that provide a free version of office. Here are your options.
Windows RT hardware: All Windows RT devices come with a free copy of Office for RT installed.
Windows 8.1 tablets 8 inches or smaller: Most come with a free copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013. Good luck using it on an 8-inch screen, though!
Select laptops: Microsoft sometimes runs a limited-time offer that bundles Office with a select laptop. The current offer provides a free version of Office University to students who buy a certain Toshiba touchscreen laptop at Staples.
Ask Your School Or Employer
Everything I’ve covered so far allows you to grab Office for free, but also comes with limitations, such as availability, functionality or a need to buy new hardware. There may, however, be a way to grab Office for free with no strings attached.
This chance may come from your employer or, if you’re a student, the school you attend. Many companies offer a low-cost or no-cost version of Office for a fairly obvious reason; the people working or studying there need it. Academic institutions often participate in Microsoft’s DreamSpark program (formerly MSDNAA), allowing them to offer professional software to their students and employees for free.
Not every employer or college provides this chance, of course, but it’s worth looking into before you go elsewhere. You may find Office is readily available for free or, if not free, at a very drastic discount.
Grabbing a full version of Office for free may not be possible for some, but at the least you can expect to use it for 90 days by checking out the Office 365 and Office Professional Plus trials. Throw Office Online into the mix and you’ve got a nice selection of options. Users not worried about document formatting and printing may never need to buy the full edition.
Do you know a way to use Office for free, or at a significant discount? Share your secret in a comment!