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Free Office Software

Word, PowerPoint, Excel & others

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Nick | Edited by Steve N

Updated 15 May 2016

He could've got it free...

The open source movement means there's now more top quality, legit free software than ever floating around the web to kit out your computer with.

We've explained how to get Microsoft Office free if you're eligible, and – for those who aren't – cherrypicked some of the best free alternatives, along with plenty of other software for PCs and Macs (and a few for Linux). To make sure your computer's well protected online, see the Free Antivirus Software guide.

Always check any software you put on your computer's suitable and compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused from acting upon the info given.

How can it be free?

Free software falls into two categories: promotional freebies, usually hoped to serve form of commercial again, and software developed to help people fight back against big software providers.

The latter has grown hugely as more people have embraced open source projects, where the building blocks – big chunks of code – are free for everybody to adapt and improve.

Click the categories below to read more about the types of free software available.

Free software as a commercial giveaway

Open source software

Freeware and shareware

Urgent. Free upgrade to Windows 10

Open Office

If you've Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, until 29 July you can upgrade for free to Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. Go quick though, if you wait until after this you'll need to pay for it (currently it's priced at £99.99).

Microsoft recently touted that Windows 10 is now on 300 million machines, but over half of all desktop users are still on an older version of Windows which is eligible for the upgrade.

If you've installed any security updates (many do automatically) within the last year or so, you should've been prompted to register for Windows 10 and have been told you can download it by now, but if not you can force it through.

The upgrade won't work if you've Windows 8, though upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1 is free – see these instructions. There is no Windows 9 (perhaps 7 ate 9?).

How to get your copy of Windows 10

Before carrying out major software updates, it's worth backing up your data. You can do this via an external hard drive or online (see our Free Online Storage guide for some options).

To get started make sure your machine has the latest Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 updates – run the Windows Update program for this (to find the program, click on the Start menu and then type 'Windows Update' in the search bar). You'll also need at least 3GB of space available.

Then head on over to the Windows 10 upgrade page and click the 'Download now' button, which should download the Get Windows 10 app. Click 'Run' in the popup and the app will walk you through the upgrade process.

Quick questions

Will my existing programs still work if I upgrade?

Will it always be free?

Free Microsoft Office for students and teachers

Open Office

If you're a student or working in education and have an academic email address that can receive external email, you may be able to get a couple of decent freebies from Microsoft.

Free Microsoft Office

  • What do you get? The ability to download the entire Office software suite – including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Access – on up to five PCs or Macs (the last two are on PC-only).
  • Who can get it? Students and staff at universities, colleges and schools which have licensed Office institution-wide through the Microsoft Volume Licensing programme. Microsoft says 99.9% of universities, 87% of colleges and a "large number" of schools in the UK are eligible.
  • How do I get it? Enter your academic email address on the Office website. You'll be asked to log in through your institution's online portal and if you're eligible, you'll be redirected to a page where you can download the software.

1TB free online storage

  • What do you get? A whopping 1TB of free online storage through OneDrive (others now only get 5GB free) and use of collaborative platforms like Yammer and SharePoint.
  • Who can get it? Again, this is aimed at students and staff with an academic email address, though the university, college or school doesn't have to have licensed Office as above.
  • How do I get it? Enter your uni, college or school email address on the Office website. You'll be asked to log in through your institution's online portal, then follow the instructions.

How long can I get these for?

You can use the free Microsoft Office and/or the free online storage for as long as you're enrolled at or employed by the academic institution. Microsoft says student eligibility may need to be be reverified at any time.

If you graduate or leave, the Office applications enter a 'reduced-functionality' mode (meaning documents can be viewed but you can't edit them or create new ones). OneDrive and other online services accessed through your academic address will also stop working.

What if I'm not eligible?

If your school doesn't qualify, Microsoft suggests asking your IT department to consider licensing Office through Microsoft's Volume Licensing program. Alternatively, if you really must have Microsoft Office and the alternatives below won't do, full and part-time students at academic institutions can get a four-year subscription to Office 365 University for £59.99.

Microsoft Office alternatives

For those who aren't able to get Microsoft's Office suite for free, the package is a costly proposition with the single-user subscription costing £59.99/year (or £37.50 on Amazon at the time of writing).

Yet you can furnish your machine with equivalents to most of its applications for nothing, thanks to open source alternatives.

LibreOffice Just like MS Office

Open Office

LibreOffice is an open source project which includes six word-processing programs. It's compatible with many Microsoft documents.

The newest version, 5.1.3 is now out, and it looks and feels much more like its Microsoft counterparts. The programs included in LibreOffice are:

Writer: A word processor, it's the equivalent of Microsoft Word. Calc: A spreadsheet program, its equivalent of Excel. Impress: Presentation software, it's the equivalent of Microsoft PowerPoint. Base: A database, it's the equivalent of Microsoft Access. Draw: A design program, especially useful for flowcharts. Math: A simple tool for equations. Charts: A program for creating and embedding charts and graphs.

Combined, they make for a powerful suite of programs. It also works with Microsoft's "docx" standard, which most free office software isn't compatible with.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

OxygenOffice OpenOffice with extras

Open Office

Based on the source code of OpenOffice (which is a good alternative if you've a Mac) and similar to LibreOffice, OxygenOffice adds a wealth of templates, clip art and photos.

Over 3,400 graphics are included, and you also get more than 90 new fonts and a more detailed help guide. For some people, these extra features will seem like unnecessary bloat, but if you'll use them, it's well worth considering.

To get it, click the link above, scroll down and look for 'see your downloads'.

Download:

Windows Linux

Online office alternatives

The alternative to downloading an office suite is to use one of the many online options. With these, there's no installation to worry about, you can store your work online, and easily collaborate with others. The obvious flipside is you must be online for them to work.

Here are the best:

Microsoft Office Online Online MS programs

Open Office

Microsoft's stripped-down Office Online includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. They operate through your browser, and work on Macs too. Anyone with a free Microsoft account can use them, along with 5GB of storage on the OneDrive back-up service, which you can use to store documents.

If you're used to the Microsoft packages, they're worth a try, but bear in mind these are hobbled versions of the software. After all, Microsoft doesn't want to cannibalise its profitable business of selling the full versions of Office.

Try 'em:

Office Online

Thinkfree 100% compatible with MS Office

Open Office Thinkfree online is a free suite which bears a striking resemblance to the official Microsoft software.

It's received glowing reviews all round. It includes the equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, looks pretty, and most importantly for an online suite, is responsive and simple to navigate.

It also holds a trump card in the way it hides your web browser window when in use, so you can use regular keyboard shortcuts to control it without upsetting your browser. Neat.

You also get 1GB of cloud space free per account (if you need more, see our Free Online Storage guide).

Try it:

ThinkFree

Zoho Ideal for simple tasks

Open Office

This basic-but-superfast package is fine for simple tasks, but if you're going to need advanced features it's best to look elsewhere. It's largely aimed to help directors of small businesses who need to use various applications.

While it offers a wider range of applications than ThinkFree, they aren't as detailed. Zoho stores all your documents in its free online storage space, and allows you to share them with (member) friends via email invitations.

Try it:

Zoho

Google Docs, Sheets, Slides & Forms Good for file collaboration

Open Office

Google's suite of online tools places more of an emphasis on collaboration than others. You can select a few people to work with you on the same document, spreadsheet, presentation or form, and they can all see it and make changes in real time.

It includes plenty of useful document, spreadsheet, and presentation templates which you can use to get going. You can even set-up offline access when using Chrome.

It's also the most web-oriented, since if you publish one of your Google Docs, you can use all manner of Google's whizzy analytics tools to track its progress too. Google Docs works in conjunction with Google Drive, so you'll have 15GB of free storage (if you need more, see our Free Online Storage guide).

Try it:

Google Docs/Sheets/Slides/Forms

The big free software directory

Here's a list of all the top free software for PCs, Macs and Linux, sorted by category.

Improve computer performance

The longer you use any computer for, the slower it'll get, since operating systems leave a trail of hard drive-clogging mess behind. Thankfully, there are plenty of freeware options to help you spring clean your PC, keeping it powerful.

Double-check it's suitable for your system before downloading.

CCleaner Dump the junk

CCleaner

This super-fast program cleans up unused files in around a second, getting rid of all the crap (that's what the first "c" stands for – honest) as it goes. CCleaner doesn't run all the time, just have it give your machine a quick spruce-up each week to keep it shipshape.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX

Ultimate Windows Tweaker 4 Windows 7, 8, 8.1 & 10

Ultimate Windows Tweaker

Allows you to control all your Windows settings in one place, letting you customise your computer's interface as much or little as you want.

Great for those that like modifying their software, but aren't into coding.

Download:

Windows

Defraggler Speed up your hard drive

Defraggler

From Piriform, the same stable as CCleaner, Defraggler is a defragmenting tool. Fragments are made when your computer splits up files because there's not enough space in the place they were originally saved. It has a significant effect on performance, since when re-opening these files, your PC has to find two (or more) pieces instead of one. Defragmenters join the pieces together again, thus speeding up the computer.

Windows has its own Disk Defragmenter, which can be found in the System Tools menu, but it takes ages, as it'll only go through your entire hard disk at one go. Defraggler can be used to do the job on a smaller scale: just choose the files and it'll process them in a few seconds.

The free version doesn't come with product support, or the paid-for version for £19.95 does.

Download:

Windows

StuffIt Expander Compression tool for Macs

Stuffit expander

While OSX is perfectly capable of packing/unpacking .zip files, if you want to open or use the wealth of other compressed file types out there, you'll need a third-party expander.

Smith Micro's free version of StuffIt fills this void perfectly, and offers a simple drag-and-drop interface which works just as well as any paid-for version, so you can focus on more exciting things, like, erm, anything.

Download:

Mac OSX

Quicksilver Speed up your Mac's productivity

Quicksilver

If you've got the time to learn it, Quicksilver is a clever productivity tool which'll allow you to launch applications, files and folders without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Many more advanced features mean it can totally change the way you use your computer for the better (and faster), and plug-ins extend its capability yet further. Read Lifehacker's Beginners' Guide to see if it's for you.

Download:

Mac OSX

SuperCal Improve your Mac's display for free

Supercal

It's worth trying out SuperCal even if you think your display looks fine. It's a display calibrator which can clean up the image you see on screen by tailoring your computer's output to the characteristics of the monitor you're using.

The results should be better tonal colour gradients, clearer text, and better long-term eyesight for you.

Download:

Mac OSX

Utilities

It can be a nightmare when you're having trouble opening certain file types or trying to get them to work on the right device. Solutions for those fiddly little tasks can be a life saver, and fortunately more often than not it's possible to find free tools online to get the job done.

Zamzar Free file converter

Zamzar

This is a nifty, user-friendly site which can convert over 1,200 types of media file formats between each other. So, if you've a CV document from Word, and you'd like to make it a PDF instead, you simply put in your email address, upload the file to convert, and choose ".pdf" in the drop-down box.

Zamzar will do the hard work, and then email you a link to download the new file. One thing though, since it stores your files online before conversion, it's not advisable to use it to convert sensitive documents.

For non-paying users, you can upload a maximum of 100MB of data split between up to five different files. But if you sign up for a paid account you can upload files up to 2GB in size.

Try it:

Zamzar

Image & photo editing – downloads

Go top end on graphics software and you can easily spend £1,000s, so it's good to see that capable freebie programs exist. As the majority of photos are now digital, there are some great free photo editing programs emerging too.

Paint.net Probably all you'll need

Paint.NET

The beauty of basic-yet-surprisingly-powerful Paint.net is if you've used the simple Paint program that comes with Windows, then you'll be able to navigate it with no problems.

It's the most straightforward program to use for basic image cropping and editing, and will optimise images for quick loading on the web too. In short, if you only need the basics, Paint.net should be your first port of call.

Download:

Windows

Gimp Advanced image editing

The Gimp

If you're looking for a Photoshop equivalent, oddly-named Gimp is probably the closest you'll get.

Now in version 2.8.16, it offers powerful editing and filtering tools for photos and graphics, and is further boosted by a range of free add-ons.

For an insight into its capabilities and how it works, check out the screenshots hosted on its site.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Inkscape Fun with vectors

Inkscape

Inkscape is a free program similar in operation to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Xara.

It's made for building "scalable vector graphics" – the ones which remain perfectly sharp no matter how much you zoom in or out, making them ideal for serious design work.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Sketchup 3D modelling

Google Sketchup

If you're planning an extension to your house, or are simply redecorating, the free Sketchup tool makes it relatively easy to build an accurate 3D model to work from.

There are plenty of video tutorials to set you on the right track. Once you've used it a few times, you'll be impressing everybody with your designs.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX

Pro AutoDesk software Free for students

AutoCAD

Students can get AutoDesk's computer-aided design software free for three years simply by registering.

The package includes over 40 AutoDesk products, including AutoCAD which retails at $2,100 (c. £1,460) for a year's subscription! These are the most common computer-aided design packages used for everything from mechanical engineering design to urban planning.

You get full functionality for three years, provided you're not using the software for commercial purposes.

Any student or teacher with an ac.uk email address can sign up to the AutoDesk Education Community where you download the software, as well as access forums, support and content sharing. It doesn't matter if you are part-time or about to graduate.

Please note, some of this software will come with built-in features to prevent it being used commercially, such as a stamp on any printouts.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX

Image & photo editing – online

There are also a few free options out there for photo and video editing online. Although you must be connected to use them, operating via the web means you can store your work online and easily collaborate with others - plus there's no need to install anything.

Photo Gallery Photo organiser

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery, part of Microsoft's OneDrive suite, is an application for photo storage and online editing. It's very similar to Google Photos below, though adds a couple of extra features.

Which you choose is likely to depend mostly on whether you've a Hotmail or Gmail account, and which of the tech behemoth's you like most.

See the Free Online Storage guide for more info on OneDrive.

Try it:

Live Photo Gallery

Google Photos The Google equivalent

Google Photos

Replacing its now-retired photo organiser Picasa, Google Photos offers basic photo editing, though its strengths lie in storing and sorting your collection. It makes navigating ill-organised photos scattered around your computer more straightforward than the Live offering above.

It also offers unlimited photo storage for free (with a few limitations). See the Free Online Storage guide for more info on Google Photos.

Try it:

Google Photos

Desktop publishing – downloads

Desktop publishing software is often pricey, but there are some free programs you can download that can provide a professional touch without having to shell out a fortune.

PagePlus Easy-to-use DTP

Page Plus

Part of the free suite of Serif programs, PagePlus is the most user-friendly desktop publishing program we've come across, with professional-looking results.

The company hopes that after using it, or the other free applications, you'll spend £90 on the full version, which has extra features.

Download:

Windows

Scribus More complex and powerful

Scribus

An acclaimed open source desktop publishing program, Scribus offers features usually only found on more expensive suites like MS Publisher or InDesign, such as CYMK colour and ICC colour management.

If that means nothing to you, but you want to make a professional magazine, then download this and read some of the detailed free tutorials. Also available for Linux.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Audio & video – downloads

As well as a free sound recording program to banish Windows' Sound Recorder forever, there are ways to organise your MP3 collection, an alternative media player which'll play almost any format, and a clever converter which lets you play any video you like on your iPod.

ImgBurn Perfect for making DVDs, CDs, etc

IMGburn

If you need to burn disk images on DVDs, Blu-rays and the like but don't want to be besieged by millions of options, ImgBurn is a good bet. Skip its advanced mode and you've a fairly foolproof tool which seldom wastes your CDs.

Download:

Windows

Audacity Pro wave editing

Audacity

Audacity is a proper wave editing and recording program. It lets you record audio, add effects, and even create your own soundscapes from scratch.

It's not the most user-friendly tool, but its power more than makes up for this.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

The Levelator Podcast powerhouse

Audacity

Designed for podcasters, the sole purpose of The Levelator is to normalise audio files and make them sound crisper. There's no way to change its settings, you just drag audio files into the program and it does its thing, making all but the most appalling recordings listenable.

As of the end of 2012, The Levelator is no longer supported or being updated, though you can still download and use the most-recent versions.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

MusicBrainz Picard Organise pesky "unknown" MP3s

MusicBrainz Picard

If you've got hundreds of untitled MP3 tracks on your machine, MusicBrainz Picard will analyse them and add all the relevant artist/title info for those that match tracks in its database.

It also offers a wealth of other options for keeping your collection organised.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

MediaMonkey Sidestep iTunesMP3s

Media Monkey

While iTunes is a necessity for most of us, the sheer number of features it now offers means there are far more streamlined music library options available, especially on Windows machines, where iTunes is especially slow.

MediaMonkey offers the ability to manage iDevices without iTunes, and some find it far more useful (and less salesy) than Apple's offering.

Download:

Windows

VLC Media Player Plays everything

VLC Player

Another of the free software greats, VLC Media Player is the most widely compatible player available.

It seems no matter how esoteric a music or video format you throw at it is, it's got it covered. Plus, nowadays it's using more and more hardware acceleration to make proceedings more snappy too.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Flip4Mac Player Upgrade Quicktime on your Mac

Flip4Mac

Like it or not, if you watch video content online, you may come across Windows Media .wmv files, which Quicktime doesn't natively support.

The previous solution was to download Microsoft's basic Windows Media Player for Mac, but thankfully you can now just get Flip4Mac, a plug-in for Quicktime which allows it to play these files.

Download:

Mac OSX

Videora Converter For video iPodders

Videora

Videora Converter converts a range of formats, including the ever-popular DivX, into files playable by iPods and other Apple products, meaning you needn't buy all your video from iTunes after all.

Several versions are available, so make sure you find the right one for your player.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX

HandBrake DVD to MP4 converter

Handbrake

Like the Videora converter for Windows, in essence HandBrake DVD to MP4 converter which makes files playable on a portable media player.

It's better than Videora in its support for the likes of Dolby Digital and multi-track audio, and also runs really rather fast.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Audio & video – online

There are also free audio tools available to use online, if you prefer not have to download and install programs - ideal if you only need something for occasional use.

AudioTag Identifies songs

AudioTag

Upload a sample or link to a web-hosted snippet of a song (15 seconds will do), and AudioTag will identify it.

Try it:

AudioTag

Communication tools

As well as those you'd expect, like Skype, there are a number of communication tools which bring all your disparate instant messaging accounts together, and some sharing apps too.

Skype

Skype

Skype barely needs inclusion here as you probably already have it installed.

There are other VoIP services available which are dedicated to internet calling, and there are certainly cheaper ones for calling landlines and mobiles. But for straight PC-to-PC calls, Skype's still the leader, simply because it's the most popular.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX Linux

Trillian Astra

Trillian

Clever tool Trillian allows you to keep track of all your instant messaging and social networking conversations from one centralised location.

It looks like any number of the IM clients you're probably familiar with, and has a straightforward interface, plus all manner of handy features, like instant URL-shortening for Twitter users.

Download:

Windows Mac OSX

Adium

Adium

If you're a Mac user and your online social life includes more than one instant messaging program, Adium is a neat way of combining them all in one easy-to-use window.

It supports AIM, Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter among others. It's also highly customisable with add-ons aplenty.

Download:

Mac OSX

Free software listings

This list covers the best all-rounders, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of sites out there with vast listings of free programs.

If you're looking for free antivirus software, read our dedicated Free Antivirus Software guide.

Or, if you're looking for a storage solution, take a read of the Free Online Storage guide. Beware though, there are a lot of fakes out there which can download malware and viruses onto your device. Always triple check before downloading.

Also check out the Techie Stuff board, where regulars are keen to help (though remember there are no guarantees they're right). These sites may help too:

Ninite

Ninite

Designed for when you reinstall your operating system and want to get up to speed quickly, Ninite installs a whole range of top free software in one package.

Just go to its site and tick the boxes for the software you want, and it'll install as many or as few as you choose. Everything is neatly categorised, so it's a good place to get the basics together quickly.

Osalt

Osalt

Osalt is a software database with a difference, as it only lists open source equivalents to commercial programs. You just tell it which commercial program you want, and it'll list free programs which are most similar to it.

Download.com

download.com

Cnet's Download.com for Windows and OS X hosts practically all the programs listed in this guide. It reviews bigger programs and charts the most popular, so it's well worth a browse.

FileHippo

filehippo

A user-friendly and well-organised site, FileHippo catalogues browsers, firewalls, audio tools, DVD tools and more. It also promises no pop-ups when you visit the site.

SnapFiles

snapfiles

A bit slicker than FileHippo, SnapFiles has the added bonus of user reviews and feedback, though it can be hard to find what you're looking for.

Tucows

tucows

Like Snapfiles, Tucows downloads includes its own and users' ratings and also has sections for Linux and Mac users.