This article was first published on 2007-08-08. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.


One of the things about owning a PC was there always seemed to be a program on my computer that would open Microsoft Word documents or spreadsheets.  The computer either had MS Office or the trimmed down MS Works. 

So what happens when you switch over to a Mac and try to open a recipe from a friend that is in Word document format(.doc) or a spreadsheet(.xls) from your financial planner?  Chances are that the MS Office 2004 for Mac Test Drive will open up and take you through the free trial sign up screen. This may give you peace of mind for a little while, but what about after that 30 day trial?  You will then be met by a screen nagging you to purchase the software. 

What do you do then?  Do you have to use MS Office to open Word documents and Excel spreadsheets?  The answer is no.  There are actually several free alternatives to Microsoft Office that you can get on the web that will import, edit, and exchange files with Microsoft Office.  One option is the free NeoOffice software suite. 

NeoOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, and drawing program.  It is based on the free, community built OpenOffice.  The difference between the two is that NeoOffice is built specifically for the Mac operating system.  To keep up with the costs of development and hosting of NeoOffice, they ask for a small donation for each download, but you can download without donating. (Updated)

Just like MS Word, NeoOffice Writer will undoubtedly be the most used program in the NeoOffice suite.  Those of you used to MS Word may think that a free product such as NeoOffice would lack all the bells and whistles of a paid for product.  Well, You’ll be surprised to find out NeoOffice has many of the same features as Word in a familiar look and feel.  The editing and formatting functions are located across the top in fully customizable toolbars.  Writer contains the obligatory spell check and a very easy tables setup feature.  One area that NeoOffice may lag behind in compared to MS Word is clip art.  Writer has a gallery feature but it lacks the numerous stock images included in MS Office.

 NeoOffice Writer window

Two things that may come up when using NeoOffice:
When opening Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents, you may want to check the formatting to make sure no adjustments are needed.  Although most files stay formatted correctly, it is wise to make a quick scan to be sure nothing is out of place.

If you are going to be sending a file to someone, you will probably want to send it the correct MS Office format for that application. This option can be selected from the Save As… menu. The default format is OpenDocument.  Just choose Microsoft 97/2000/XP from the drop down list instead.

Extra points:
To make NeoOffice become the default application when opening Office files, download RCDefaultApp.  This program runs in the System Preferences pane and will allow you to choose the the default application for various file types and file extensions.

Leaving Microsoft Behind
Uninstalling MS Office 2004 for Mac is easy. Find the Office 2004 for Mac Trial folder by searching for "Test Drive" in Spotlight and and then select "Remove Office."

NeoOffice is one of many options available to Mac users that are leaving MS Office behind.  Many of the Office suite options are available to Windows users as well and deserve a look.  They can be found in the Dig Deeper section below.

Did this NeoOffice overview give you the confidence to quit the Microsoft habit? Give it shot since you’ve really got nothing to lose. The price sure is right!

Have you found any other solutions you want to share? Let us know in the Comments section below!