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 the Microsoft Office 365 subscription model, which spreads the cost throughout the year. Thankfully, free word processing software has come a long way in recent years, and there are some great alternatives to 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.
We update this guide regularly, so you know you're always getting the most accurate information about the best software available right now.
WPS Office Free's word processing component, Writer, has a slick design very similar to the current version of Microsoft Word. It features a ribbon interface and almost identical icons. If you like using Office 2007 or later, the move 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 (below), WPS Office isn’t open source. Instead, it’s supported by ads, but these are unobtrusive 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're pretty sure you'll be impressed.
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.
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.
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).
If you've plunged into the Google ecosystem, you're probably already familiar with its Microsoft Word analog, Google Docs.
Opening existing documents can be a bit of a hassle – you need to upload them to Google Drive before you can start editing them in Docs. Although there's good file format support, imported Word documents might look very different if they use formatting and features not supported by Docs, or rely on locally stored fonts.
That said, formatting isn't the main purpose of Google Docs – collaboration is. Provided they have a Google account, it's easy to invite colleagues, friends and family to work together on the same document simultaneously. If several people are working on the document at once, different colored cursors will appear on the page to indicate where they're working.
If that sounds like chaos, you can also restrict editing and just allow collaborators to make comments, which you can implement or ignore.
If you're not a fan of Google products, you can also take a look at Microsoft Office Online, which works in much the same way, but with better support for DOC and DOCX files – all synced to OneDrive.
- Need more than just Word? Check out the best free office software