Everyone needs a great word processor, and Microsoft Word is one of the best thanks to its wide format support, integration with other Office apps, and huge range of high-quality templates.
However, that power and convenience doesn’t come cheap – even with Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription model, which spreads the cost throughout the year. Free software has come a long way in recent years, and there are now superb alternatives to Microsoft Word that don’t cost a penny.
Lightweight distraction-free writing software has its place, but here we’re looking for fully-featured word processors with support for templates, advanced formatting, and compatibility with Microsoft file formats. You could switch to any of these programs today and begin working immediately.
The best free alternative to Microsoft Word, with a smart interface, full Word compatibility, cloud backup, and free mobile apps
WPS Office Writer's slick design is very similar to the current version of Microsoft Word, with a ribbon interface and almost identical icons. If you like using Office 2007 or later, the move to WPS Writer will be pretty much seamless.
There's tabbed browsing for multiple documents (a feature not found in Word, but one we love), and WPS Office Writer can open pretty much any text document format you can throw at it. It has its own proprietary file format (WPS), but new documents default to Microsoft’s DOCX format for convenient sharing with Word users.
WPS Writer includes built-in cloud support with 1GB free storage (comparable to Microsoft OneDrive) for easy backup and syncing. There are also free mobile apps for Android and iOS that are fully compatible with Microsoft file formats, and let you edit and sync documents on the move.
WPS Office Writer comes with a good range of templates pre-installed, with more available to download.
Unlike LibreOffice and OpenOffice, WPS Office isn’t open source. Instead, it’s supported by ads, but these are unintrusive and won't stop you getting on with some serious work. There’s a premium version of WPS Office that removes the ads and throws in bonus PDF tools, but the free edition is superb. Give it a try – we think you'll be impressed.
Download here: WPS Office Free
The best open source Microsoft Word alternative, with a buzzing developer community and regular updates to add features and squish bugs
If you feel most comfortable using the older, pre-ribbon versions of Microsoft Word, you’ll love LibreOffice Writer. Its interface is very similar to Word prior to the controversial introduction of the Ribbon in 2007, so if you’re familiar with the older interface, you’ll be up and running in seconds.
It'll take a little longer if you're only used to newer versions of Microsoft Office, but the menus and icons are simple and intuitive, so don't be put off.
LibreOffice Writer is fully compatible with Microsoft Word documents (including DOC and DOCX) as well as other common text file formats, so you’ll have no trouble sharing files with friends or colleagues using different software, or opening your old files.
Writer also integrates seamlessly with the other tools in the LibreOffice suite, so you can easily import a spreadsheet from Calc, or a graph from Charts – just like you could in Word.
What sets LibreOffice Writer apart from other free Microsoft Word alternatives is its lively community of users and developers, who have created hundreds of free plugins and templates for you to download and use. LibreOffice itself receives regular updates too, adding features and security that help it keep pace with Microsoft Word.
The only thing lacking is integrated cloud support, but you can easily sync your files using Dropbox or OneDrive, so this is a minor drawback.
Download here: LibreOffice
Another open source Word alternative. Not quite as fresh as LibreOffice, but still an excellent option
LibreOffice is a fork of Apache OpenOffice and the two share the same code base, so it’s no surprise that there’s little to choose between the two. Both offer excellent compatibility with Microsoft Word documents, and work seamlessly with their linked spreadsheet, database, and presentation applications.
There’s almost no difference between the programs’ features or interfaces, either – both use a classic Microsoft Office style system, with a handy sidebar for formatting options.
OpenOffice provides fewer templates than LibreOffice by default, but there are thousands available to download, so this isn't a concern.
The main difference is that OpenOffice only receives one or two updates a year, whereas LibreOffice is updated every couple of months thanks to its larger team of volunteer developers. This means that reported bugs and vulnerabilities are likely to be fixed sooner in LibreOffice, and new features are added sooner.
Download here: Apache OpenOffice
TextMaker is very good, but would be superb if it could save documents in DOCX format
SoftMaker FreeOffice TextMaker's interface is less cluttered than most free Microsoft Word alternatives, but it doesn't skimp on tools and settings. Some features are tucked away in sub-menus, but you can customize the toolbars by adding, removing and rearranging the icons (you can find more by clicking the small arrow buttons on the right).
All the essentials are there, and FreeOffice TextMaker makes it particularly easy to create interactive documents with fields and bookmarks, which you can then save as PDFs. The selection of templates isn’t huge, but they look good and will satisfy most of your needs.
The drawback of TextMaker is its inability to save your work in Microsoft’s DOCX format. This is a shame, because this newer format has several advantages over DOC, including more consistent appearance in different word processing programs and superior file compression.
You can open files in DOCX format using FreeOffice TextMaker, so you won't be locked out of your existing documents, but if your friends and family use Word, you might prefer one of the alternatives listed above.
The premium edition of SoftMaker Office adds DOCX support for a one-off fee of £48.20 (about US$60, AU$75).
Download here: SoftMaker FreeOffice
AbiWord replaces Microsoft Word's key features, but its developers have chosen to focus on Linux rather than Windows
AbiWord is the most pared-back of the options here, but could easily replace Microsoft Word for your everyday writing and editing if you don’t rely on Word’s advanced features.
It’s an open source project, and is much less demanding than the other Microsoft Word alternatives here, making it great for low-powered notebooks.
AbiWord has excellent format support, including DOC and DOCX, making it a good choice for document-sharing. There’s a basic selection of templates (or you can create your own from a document), and a collection of plugins to extend its file compatibility.
It’s an excellent text editor, but sadly AbiWord has a shortage of volunteer Windows developers. This means that although the Linux version is in active development, the Windows edition hasn’t been updated for quite some time, and lags behind by several versions.
At the time of its original release, AbiWord’s standout features was AbiCollab, which lets multiple users work on the same document simultaneously, with automatic syncing – a feature that has been superseded by Google Docs.
The basics of word processing haven’t changed much, but if you’re looking for a future-proof alternative to Microsoft Word, we think you’d be better off with WPS Writer or LibreOffice.
Download here: AbiWord