Our Favorite Applications ("Office" etc.)
August 1, 2019

Our Favorite Applications ("Office" etc.)

Office Suites

All of these observations are of course personal observations - your mileage with these applications may vary.

I started looking around for an alternative to MS Office after repeatedly running into serious installation issues. Just yesterday I spent an afternoon struggling with a fairly new and very clean machine that came with Office 365 32-bit "personal" edition. We have a subscription to Office 365 Business, so I wanted to isntall that. Running the web-based installer simply didn't work. No error message was shown, it was just stuck on 0%. Repeated reboots didn't help because the web installer would just start back up again and there was no (easy and sane) way to "kill" it. MS has also made the offline installer a royal pain to use. You have to download a command-line utility, edit an XML file, then run the utility which shows you a black box. MS literally states on their website:

It can take a while to finish downloading and it may look like nothing is happening while the files are downloading. You'll know the installation is complete once the dialog box closes on its own, and a new folder called Office appears in the ODT folder you created earlier.

Reads like a joke but it's not, it's your time being wasted because the product design team at MS either thinks you're an idiot or simply doesn't give a $*(@ about you or your time. We had progress indicators when downloading large files back in the 90's, but it's 2019 and if you want to download the offline installer of Office you get to stare at a black CMD dialog for an hour.

Once it downloaded I ran the installer and it complained that you can't install the 64-bit version if the 32-bit version is installed as well. I have no idea why one Office installation has any effect on another Office installation, I'm able to have various versions of other software on my computer without problems, but whatever it's MS so they write their own rules. I then proceeded to try to uninstall the leftover trial 32-bit version. However this failed repeatedly because the "web installer" I ran previously kept spawning up in the background. Eventually after several reboots I realized I can block the web installer from running by denying it when the UAC prompt comes up - and then I managed to uninstall it.

Finally the 64-bit edition offline installer was able to run (but even so it took about 20 minutes).

So, there are serious serious issues with Office 365, especially the installer. MS seems to think all of its users are complete morons. Honestly, what group of nincompoops made up the product design team that thought that providing the user with things like a progress bar and an explanation of what is happening is a bad idea? Why did they think that having a "Cancel" button on the installer is bad? Why does the installer - that hangs for hours - keep spawning itself back up after a reboot?

I'm also not a big fan of subscription-based software.

End of rant.

Begin search for a new Office!

#1: Microsoft Office 2007/2010/2013

Microsoft Office used to be great and previous versions still are - my favorite is Office Professional 2010.

Benefits Drawbacks
+ Fairly stable - Occasional crash
+ It starts up and runs faster than newer versions - Things like conditional formatting in Excel and multi-level lists in Word have lots of quirks and can take hours of work to get right
+ Lots of features - Annoying "Ribbon" UI (although you might like it)

#2: FreeOffice / SoftMaker Office

These are two versions of the same software. The free version is lacking some features of the commercial version, and they don't make the difference obvious on their website but a simple web search will provide you with answers.

Made in Germany (supposedly), this is my current #1 choice as an Office alternative. It has a lot of features and runs quickly. I will share more of my experiences after I've used it for a while.

Benefits Drawbacks
+ Fast startup
+ Can read and write xlsx/docs AND the paid version can read and write xls and doc!

#3: LibreOffice

This is probably the most popular Office suite after MS Office. It is a fork of OpenOffice (Apache). This is a good solution as well, I find it a bit sluggish though.

This is a great program however there is something suspicious about such a complex piece of software being offered for free, and the fact that it's made in China doesn't inspire confidence. I don't recommend it for several reasons. (1) My firewall showed that the software "phones home" every few minutes - and not just one process, but 3-4 different processes. (2) It also adds at least 3 new startup items that run in the background, without asking you. (3) "wpscenter.exe" was hogging 10-15% of my CPU even if WPS office hadn't been opened after a reboot:

And (4) the uninstallation process is quite obnoxious, initially there isn't even an option to uninstall it until you give a reason as to why you don't want it anymore:

Other alternatives:

Our Favorite Applications ("Office" etc.)
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