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Some of us have been using Microsoft Office products since our very first computer. MS Word is so familiar, we often mistake this expensive, proprietary software for a de facto standard. If you are disseminating information outside of your own company, and you are saving that information in an MS Word, Excel, or PowerPoint format, you may be frustrating your end user.

Outside of the largest corporations, among freelancers, Mac Users, and other miscreants, an investment in Microsoft Office software is anathema. With free alternatives like Google Docs, LibreOffice and software, users can get (almost) all the tools they could need for nothing. These applications should be your first start if you can’t open a Mcirosoft .doc or .docx file (even older versions of ‘Word’ need additional software to work with these files.)

There are some drawbacks to using LibreOffice, or Google Docs – but these are often limited to very specific use cases. You won’t know it isn’t way better until you get under the hood. So get cracking.

Download LibreOffice here.
Download OpenOffice here.
Get Started with Google Docs here.

Change is Terrifying
Not ready for a new suite of software? Then make it easy on people. If you are distributing a document that is only to be read, .PDFs are a good format, and if someone somewhere has escaped ever using a .PDF before, there are lots of free apps to make this painless.
If you are really looking for the lowest common denominator, you can save your document as a rich-text format ‘.rtf’ file to keep your bolding and bullet-points, or as a humble plain-text’.txt’ file if there isn’t any formatting to speak of. If you are creating a document intended to evolve through collaboration, I can’t stress enough the value of the Google Docs approach. Never stare down a filename like this -Document_01_09-14_ar_viewed_Final Final Revised.docx – again. By updating one master document with Google Docs (with multiple viewers at once, if you like) you can save time and heartache when ‘unofficial’ versions escape into the wild. Of course, you should have naming conventions in place, but this is just another way to work smarter, not harder

If you’ve got the freedom to experiment, try an open-source alternative and let me know how it worked out, or if you’re a recovering Microsoft addict, you probably have a moment of truth to share – I promise to read your comments if you leave ’em.