For many Mac users there is one important question: do I need to spend a fortune and buy Microsoft Office software, or is there a free alternative that is compatible and will do everything I need to be able to do?
Normally we would advise our readers that Apple’s free suite of office apps, known collectively as iWork, is a great alternative. However, there is another option that is also free and will probably feel a lot more familiar to those who are looking for something that looks like, and matches the features of, Microsoft Office: ONLYOFFICE.
What’s in ONLYOFFICE?
Like Microsoft Office and iWork, ONLYOFFICE is available for desktop (ONLYOFFICE Desktop Editors) and iOS (ONLYOFFICE Documents). There is also a web based version (ONLYOFFICE Docs). You can find it here: https://www.onlyoffice.com/
Where Microsoft Office includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Apple’s iWork suite includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote. In both cases these are individual apps. ONLYOFFICE is different: it includes Document, Spreadsheet and Presentation editors, but each of these are found in the same app.
There are benefits to the whole suite being contained in the one app, with each type of document appearing side-by-side in tabs like tabs in a web browser. One advantage is that it stops your Mac desktop becoming cluttered with multiple windows.
All three editors feature a tabbed toolbar that makes it easier to find what you need and will be familiar to those used to the ribbon interface in Microsoft Office. The tabs include File (for saving, printing and advanced settings), Home (editing and formatting tools), Insert (adding and editing images and shapes), Layout (adjusting margins and orientation), Collaboration (sharing options, commenting, version history and co-editing), Protection (encryption) and Plugins (to add even more functionality). Some tabs are specific to the app in question, for example, the Spreadsheet editor has a Formula tab and a Pivot Tables tab, while in the Document editor you will see a tab for References.
Each editor has an impressive collection of editing and formatting tools, we’ll run through some of the highlights below:
ONLYOFFICE’s document editor is a fully-featured word processor with all the usual styles, text formatting, bullets and numbered lists options. There is also a wide range of text art (clip art), which is something that Pages lacks. We love the Change Colour Scheme option that offers a large collection of colour sets that complement each other. You can add and edit tables in your document.
There are some excellent tools for editing images via the Plugins tab, including a Photo Editor that can make adjustments such as blur, sepia and tints.
If you are familiar with a spreadsheet app such as Excel you should be able to find your way around the ONLYOFFICE spreadsheet editor, which offers many of the same features including more than 400 formulas and functions, a choice of table templates, and the ability to add charts, sparklines and other graphics. There’s also support for filtering, customisable cells, and the ability to analyse data and work with Pivot tables. You can also create and run macros.
ONLYOFFICE’s presentation editor has the same text formatting options, bullets and numbered lists, and range of text art as the document editor. You’ll also find a set of pre-made templates for your presentations, which are all fully editable. You can inset objects into your slides, including images, autoshapes, charts, tables and graphs.
As with the document editor the ability to pick a set of colours from the Change Colour Scheme drop down menu is a real bonus when creating stylish presentations. Plus to finesse your presentation you can add transitions.
Each editor has a number of plugins, which are like extensions in a web browser. They enable you to extend the basic toolset of ONLYOFFICE with additional features, and even download or create new plugins for particular actions.
For example, you can insert a YouTube video, translate from one language to another, use OCR (optical character recognition), or even convert your document to WordPress. You can find more plugins here: https://www.onlyoffice.com/en/app-directory.aspx
If you need to collaborate with clients and colleagues you all need to be using software that can open the most popular formats. iWork and ONLYOFFICE open the various Office apps without any difficulties and preserved the formatting (something that is often lacking from the free online version of Microsoft Office).
But it’s not enough for everyone to be able to open and edit the different file formats. If you need to collaborate on files and utilise version tracking then you all need to use the same set of apps. ONLYOFFICE was clearly built with collaboration in mind.
ONLYOFFICE supports a number of cloud solutions to enable real-time collaboration, including its proprietary cloud option that offers 2GB storage for free per user. Even the free cloud version, ONLYOFFICE Personal, supports any number of users editing a document simultaneously with their changes either appearing in real time, or after each contributor has saved.. ONLYOFFICE lets users track changes, add comments, and even chat with other contributors.
With collaboration comes the issue of security. One of the great things about ONLYOFFICE is that everything is encrypted. In addition there are a selection of permission options you can apply to each file: you can add a signature to a document, encrypt the file with a password and use two factor authentication. It is also possible to deploy ONLYOFFICE over a private network via a free self-hosted version called ONLYOFFICE Docs Community Edition, with up to 20 simultaneous connections. For a more scalable solution, with more simultaneous connections and access to professional editing features (for example, document comparison and content controls), a paid license is required.
If you are a home users or a small to medium-sized companies looking for a free alternative to Microsoft Office that offers a professional selection of tools in a familiar format and excellent collaboration options then ONLYOFFICE is a great option.