What’s the cheapest way to get Microsoft Office 2010?

I get this question so frequently, it makes you wonder why computers don’t come with it pre-installed for no extra charge.

Well, they do. But it’s only a 60 day trial.

First, let me define Microsoft Office, which is different from Microsoft Windows. Office refers to the programs typically used in a business setting – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, and more.  Windows is the Operating System that all your programs run on. You must have Microsoft Windows or another Operating System before you can have anything else.

Frankly, Microsoft Office is expensive, complicated, and confusing. There are multiple versions, including Home and Student, Home and Business, Professional, Professional Plus, and Enterprise. Home and Student costs $150, which is expensive when you’ve just spent $500 – $1000 on a new computer. Plus, it has tons of features that aren’t easy to figure out. Options from Office 2000 have been removed, changed, moved, or deleted.  And when was the last time you took a class to learn the new features of Office? So, what’s the cheapest way to get the software you need?

Technology and computers have changed greatly in the past 10  – 15 years. In the past, you needed Microsoft Office to do anything work-related. However, the landscape has changed so much that’s no longer necessary. I’ll explain how.

Years ago, the internet was slow. You couldn’t do much online without waiting for everything. So applications installed on the computer enabled you to do tasks quickly, then upload or send your work on. For instance, you would write a paper or article in Word – then print it out, or email it.

Today, things are different. The internet is fast enough that applications can reside on the internet – and do NOT need to be installed on your computer. Think it’s a pain in the neck to install and setup software? You’re right. So, use a web version of software – and don’t look back.

Microsoft provides Office Live – free web applications of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote. The only thing you need to use these applications is a Windows Live ID, or Hotmail email address, or MSN log-in.

The advantage of web based applications like this is that your files are automatically saved online. No need to backup, no need to make sure you’ve saved – all of it is done automatically.

Admittedly, the Office Live web applications do not provide all the features that the fully installed programs do. But how many users really know all the features of Word and use them regularly? I’m guessing about 2%. For creating documents, editing, formatting, printing – the web applications are more than adequate.

If you want an alternative to the Microsoft Office Live Web offering, Google Docs provides extremely similar functionality.

But what if you want something installed on your PC? What if you prefer all the applications installed?

Open Source software has come to the rescue. OpenOffice.org has created a full suite of programs to match Microsoft’s offerings. There’s Writer (Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (Powerpoint), Draw (Publisher), and Base (Access).  The software is free to download, install, and use.

So, there are alternatives to expensive desktop software!