The Best Free Open Source Word Processors for Windows
Free Alternatives to Microsoft Word
There are some great open source word processors out there, which can provide a genuine free alternative to Microsoft Word. The average user will find that these free alternatives have all of the features and functions which you are familiar with using in Word, and some of the best even have extra features which can actually improve on Microsoft's products.
If you want to, you can get a whole suite of office software to replace all of your Microsoft products completely for free, including spreadsheet alternatives to Excel, presentation software to replace PowerPoint and more. Alternatively, you can just get a basic word processor which is quick to start and doesn't take up much space on your hard drive.
The development of open source software is usually led by a small not-for-profit foundation which is supported by optional donations from users, but a large part of work is often done by volunteers contributing their time and skill for free. They provide an excellent resource for people who do not have the money to purchase commercial products, opening up access to technology for the unemployed and the citizens of developing countries. If you have the money and you like the product, therefore, please do consider making a small donation to the foundation running the project whose software you are using, in order to help support their further development - your donation will almost certainly still be less than what you would pay for a commercial product and you will be helping to provide a valuable service to people who need it. Feel free to test the software out for free first though, and only donate if it really does prove to be useful and to save you money!
LibreOffice actually comes as a whole suite of free office software all packaged up together in a single install. The word processor which comes included with this is simply called 'Writer'.
The other components of the LibreOffice suite are:
- Calc: An Excel alternative for creating and editing spreadsheets.
- Impress: A tool for creating presentations, as an alternative to PowerPoint.
- Draw: A graphical editor which is a big step up from the free 'paint' program you get with Windows.
- Math: To make writing and editing mathematical formulae quicker and easier.
- Base: A desktop database program which provides an excellent alternative to Microsoft Access.
One of the great things about LibreOffice is how well integrated all of these different programs are. That means that you can easily access the functions and features of any of these other programs from within Writer. If you hit the FC2 button, for example, the math bar will pop up, allowing you to write mathematical symbols and formulae into your word processing documents much more easily. You can also access data from any databases or spreadsheets which you have saved on your computer and embed them within your document, and you create and edit images using the features of Draw from within Writer, meaning you don't have to open up another piece of software to create your images then save and import them.
The LibreOffice suite is the most popular free open source collection of office software programs, and actually comes pre-installed as the standard office software within many distributions of the (also free and open source) Linux operating system.
When you save your documents created with LibreOffice Writer the default file format used will be OpenDocument (.odt). Although this may be unfamiliar to you, do not worry - these documents can be opened and edited within most commercial word processors, so you can safely share them with Microsoft Word or Apple users. You can also choose to save your documents in other formats, including as MS Word documents, and of course this means that you can also open and edit Word documents using Writer.
Other features of Writer include:
- Save and export your documents as a pdf.
- Create and edit html documents.
- Use wizards and templates for creating common document types, and easily create your own templates.
- Advanced chart creation features to embed data visualization into your documents.
- Embed media such as videos or music in a wide range of formats within your documents.
- Wiki page editing and publishing tool.
- Adding 'extensions' developed and submitted by the community allows you to expand on the standard Writer install with the features you want.
- Most of the other features you will commonly find in word processing software.
You can download LibreOffice here.
Screenshot of a New Document Created with Writer
An Example of a Document Created in Google Docs
Google Docs provides a suite of free office software tools which specialize in allowing you to easily save your documents to the cloud (internet storage servers), access them from any other computer, and collaborate with other writers without having to keep sending documents backwards and forwards between each other.
In addition to the word processor there is also a spreadsheet program, a presentations tool, and an image editor. You can save documents to your computer itself as well as the cloud, and you can use a wide range of different file formats.
Although the features for creating documents within the Google Docs word processor are more limited than competitors such as LibreOffice, the collaboration tools make this the number one choice for anybody who wants to work closely with a colleague to create a document.
To get started you just need to download the Google Drive software to your computer.
AbiWord is basically an upgraded version of the WordPad program which comes free with every Windows computer, taking it a bit closer to the full functionality of MS Word.
It doesn't have anywhere near as many features as Writer, but if you just want a basic word processor then this will give you everything you need in an easy to use package, and won't take up as much space on your computer.
There is also a collaborative editing feature similar to what you can do with Google Docs.
You can download AbiWord here.
Jarte is a stripped down word processor which is also based on Microsoft WordPad. The idea behind this project is to make a program which starts quickly, and which enables you to create and edit any document quickly. They do this by stripping away many of the more advanced, and less commonly used features you will find in other word processors, and organizing the basic features - which are all most regular users need - in an accessible and user-friendly way.
Although the interface of Jarte - the bit you actually see and use - is quite stripped back and basic, there is actually more going on in the background than you might think. This means that you can still open and edit documents with advanced formatting such as charts and complex tables without everything being thrown out of whack (as often happens with other basic word processors).
You can download Jarte here.