I have recently been having problems with my laptop computer.
The nature of these problems is not relevant to this discussion but it did necessitate what Microsoft call a ‘Reset’ of the PC. I opted to keep all my personal files. I thought I could re-install the applications I had bought and paid for from Microsoft after all it was the same PC they had originally been installed on and I had bought a valid license key for that computer right !
Wrong ! Microsoft have stopped re-activation of license keys for previous versions of Office software. This was a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2010 which I had been forced to buy after Microsoft destroyed my previous laptop with the disastrous Windows 10 upgrade. I bought this software in September 2016 so I have had just over 18 months use out of it and now Microsoft refuse to re-activate the license key.
For many years Office has been a very profitable product for Microsoft.
Software has different characteristics to normal products, the development costs are high but the production costs are low. This means that for a small company who aren’t selling very many copies the development costs are a large percentage of the profit for each copy sold but for a large company who are selling a large number of copies the development costs become tiny compared to the profit for every copy sold, particularly at the excessive prices that Microsoft charge.
This is what destroys many small software companies. However Microsoft are not a small company and they have sold many copies of Office and looking at the differences between Office 2010 and Office 2013 they have done little or no development in those three years. But now they have become even more greedy than they were previously.
They have moved their business model over to ‘SaaS’ or ‘Software as a Sentence‘. So they have stopped the service to activate the license key by telephone which means that a license key which needs activation can be activated just once online. If it has already been activated then it can no longer be re-activated. They are trying to kill off older versions of Office. They are trying to force everyone onto the rental version, Microsoft Office 365 because it generates a steady revenue stream for Microsoft.
Be warned, if you have a copy of Microsoft Office previous to Office 365 installed on your machine do not un-install it unless you really mean to get rid of it completely because you won’t ever be able to re-activate it on any computer ever again, not even the one on which it was originally installed!
So what alternatives are there for people who don’t like being milked by Microsoft.
Microsoft Office Professional 2010 consists of Word, Excel, OneNote, Power Point, Publisher, Access and Outlook.
Mozilla Thunderbird is a worthy replacement for Microsoft Outlook. I don’t think there is another program either commercial software or free software that can beat it.
Libre Office Calc can do almost all the things Excel can do but with a quaint old fashioned looking interface.
Libre Office Impress can do almost all the things Power Point can do but again it has an old fashioned looking interface.
Libre Office Base is a very different animal to Access, the user interface is not as good but the capabilities of the database exceed those of access. The back end of Base is the HyperSQL database. The user interface is different to Access and will take some getting used to.
Libre Office Draw is not a suitable replacement for Publisher. It is quite awkward to use, it can produce good documents but it takes a lot more work than in Publisher. Inkscape however is a lot more capable and although the user interface is not as intuitive as it could be you do get used to it with experience. If you want a full desktop publishing solution then Scribus is far more capable than Publisher ever was.
OneNote was never a very good solution to note taking, it has a nice graphical user interface that is quite intuitive and it has a lot of features but many of those features were only added to tick boxes in the advertising feature list and they were added with no consideration for how they would be used. For example OneNote has a tagging system but it is designed in such a way that if you have more than about 30 or 40 tags then it starts to become unusable.
There are many suitable replacements for OneNote both commercial and free. The free programs aren’t quite as good for note taking as the commercial programs and none of them is similar to OneNote, most of them are similar to two pane outliners. Treesheets however is quite novel, it is like a spreadsheet for text. Among the free solutions are Treesheets, KeepNote, SEO Notes and Cherry Tree.
Libre Office Writer is not a suitable replacement for Microsoft Word for one simple reason, it doesn’t do Outlining. The absence of this crucial feature in Writer is what is holding Libre Office back from becoming the Office suite of choice for business and academia.
Outlining is a good way of analysing a problem, divide and conquer, keep on dividing the problem into simpler pieces until the pieces are easy to do. Businesspeople want to organise documents in an outline, Lawyers want to organise case notes in an outline, students want to organise assignments in an outline. It is one of the basic tools which helps people to put their ideas into a document and arrange them into a coherent whole.
Microsoft Word has a very good, well designed and easy to use outlining mode and once you have finished organising your document you can go back to the normal mode and concentrate on the formatting and presentation of your document. But at any time you can switch back to the outline mode and re-organise/re-arrange things. As an outliner Word is hard to beat.
The outlining feature has been requested many times on the Libre Office forums but the developers at Libre Office say “well we have Navigator and it does the same thing”, no it doesn’t. Navigator was designed to move about documents and find things, it is not an outliner, it does some of the things outliners do but it is not a fully functional outliner.
Unfortunately if you want to stick with free software you will need a separate outlining program and word processor. So unless the outliner has very good formatting and printing you will need both programs and there will be problems with re-organising things unless you maintain two versions of your document.
If you are willing to pay a little money then the available options become a lot more numerous. None of the programs here are rental versions. When you pay you actually get the program, you don’t have to keep on paying for it over and over again.
For Office suites there is SoftMaker Office, it is quite expensive but at least you get the software indefinitely and don’t have to pay rent (although there is a rental version of the Office Suite as well). I haven’t used SoftMaker Office so I cannot comment on its performance or features and it is pretty pricey.
For something a little more affordable Ability Office is quite good and this is one I have got.
Ability Office Professional consists of a database, a paint program, a presentation program, a spreadsheet and a word processor. They claim to be Microsoft compatible and to be able to load and save files in Microsoft format and this is largely true apart from the database where it can load the tables and queries from your Access files but not the forms.
The word processor ‘Ability Write’ doesn’t do outlines, it doesn’t even have anything as functional as Libre Office Write’s Navigator, but as a basic word processor it is OK.
Ability office has some nice features like being able to link data from one document to another so you can have numbers in a table in your Writer document which come from the spreadsheet and this link can be both ways so you can change figures in the table and it changes the numbers in the spreadsheet. The same links can exist between the database and the spreadsheet and between the database and the word processor.
You can also set up Ability Office to have conventional toolbars and menus and get rid of the ribbons.
The lack of an outliner in Ability Office Writer is a big limitation but there is another solution out there. Scrivener from Literature and Latte is a word processor designed for authors to write books. It has a lot of nice features to help in producing long documents and of course it does outlines. For each project there is a section containing research notes or background information. If I was writing a long complex document like a thesis then Scrivener would be my word processor of choice for such a task. If I wanted to produce a quick half page note then Scrivener probably wouldn’t be suitable. Scrivener is quite reasonably priced.
As far as desktop publishing goes then Serif PagePlus X9 is very good and is also surprisingly suitable for producing long documents. Serif are heavily promoting their new replacement for PagePlus called Affinity, it looks good on the website but its someting I haven’t tried yet so I can’t give an opinion on how good it actually is.
There are many note taking programs out there for sale. If you don’t want too many complex facilities and are satisfied with a strict hierarchical structure and no universal links then there is a note taking program called ‘Right Note‘ which is fairly simple to learn and also does spreadsheets as a type of note.
I was going to do a review of Right Note sometime in the future but a preview would be, simple to learn, attractive user interface with plenty of colour and quite useful features but not very sophisticated. A lightweight! However sometimes a lightweight program is all you need.
For something with a little more power then you could choose MyInfo or ConnectedText but there are some problems. The developer of MyInfo is threatening that the next version of MyInfo will be a rental version (Software as a Sentence), if that is true then I won’t be updating my copy.
ConnectedText is very good and very powerful but I cannot honestly recommend it for new users as it is no longer being developed, version 6 (the current version) will be the last.
If you want something with lots of power but a very steep learning curve then you could try InfoQube. InfoQube is a lot more than just an outlining program or a note taking program but it is a formidable program to learn. InfoQube also links to and synchronises with Google Calendar.
As far as e-mail programs go Mozilla Thunderbird is as good as any commercial program and it’s free but if you really want to pay some money then Essential PIM Pro is just as good and quite reasonably priced.
There are many alternatives to joining the Microsoft hegemony both free and commercial. Microsoft are a big company and their attitude seems to be that they can do whatever they want and their users will just have to accept it.
Unfortunately the version of SaaS they have chosen is a very pernicious one, if you stop paying the rent the program stops working completely. In other words they are holding your documents and files hostage against your future payments. There are some other companies which have chosen a less aggressive version of SaaS, like The Brain Technologies, if you get TheBrain on a rental deal and stop paying the rent then the program continues to work you just don’t get any upgrades or online services.
So help to promote more diversity in the software marketplace, switch to a non-Microsoft solution today!
Your money would be better in the hands of small software developers than in the hands of a corporate giant that treats their customers with contempt !