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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    September 01, 2016

    So, You Want To … Find Free Alternatives to Microsoft Word

    If you don’t own Microsoft Word but need to comply with the Wisconsin court system’s new e-filing requirements, here are free software options to consider.

    Tison H. Rhine

    closeup of typewriter

    In the July/August Wisconsin Lawyer, in discussing how to remove metadata from documents, I mentioned that Wisconsin’s new e-filing rules would require proposed orders to be filed in a Microsoft Office Open XML format (such as .docx, first introduced with Microsoft Word 2007). This led many of you to ask: “What if I don’t use Word in my practice? Do I now have to purchase new software?”

    Fortunately, the answer is no. If you do not already own Microsoft Word, you do not need to go out and purchase it merely to submit documents in an Open XML format. There are many other programs that can handle this format, and many of them are free. Let’s discuss a few of them now.

    OpenOffice. OpenOffice, developed by Apache, is one of the most established open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office. Its word processing application generally looks like a slightly older version of Word, but its feature set is deep, and the program is constantly being improved through updates and extensions. Because of its deep and changing nature, the more advanced features of OpenOffice may require a bit more effort on the user’s part to learn than a Microsoft product, but the capability is there, and helpful resources are readily available from an engaged community of devoted users. This is a good option for those looking for modern features in a more “vintage” style.

    Tison RhineTison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.

    LibreOffice. LibreOffice shares the same beginnings as OpenOffice but struck out on its own in 2010. It still has much in common with OpenOffice – an active community, powerful extensions, and the ability to deal with complicated document layouts – but the packaging is a bit more modern and “Office-like.” If you are looking for a robust word processing program with modern design – at no cost – this is definitely one to try.

    FreeOffice. FreeOffice is the free version of developer SoftMaker’s commercial office suite, and although it is not quite as fully featured as some of the other options listed here, it still has a lot going for it. Not only is it a light and fast program to use (limiting the time spent opening the program or documents themselves), the simplicity of its interface makes for an approachable design regardless of your preference for more traditional or modern software. Additionally, the program supports a wide variety of file formats (even proprietary ones) natively.

    If your word processing needs are relatively basic, or you find yourself having difficulty with file format conversions when using other software, make sure to try FreeOffice.

    Google Docs. This option might especially appeal to you if you already use Google Docs or do not want to download any new software. Google Docs’ Office Compatibility Mode will allow you to open and edit Office files through your web browser, as well as save and export files to docx. Conversions won’t always work well with things such as macros, embedded charts, and SmartArt, but Google Docs can handle your basic needs.

    Microsoft may still be king of productivity software, but there are many other good programs out there if you know where to look.

    Microsoft Office Online. Yes, you can actually just use Microsoft’s own free, web-based version of Word (should I have led with that?). Because Microsoft Office Online is web based, just like Google Docs, you can use it on almost any machine – as long as you have an Internet connection. You will also need a Microsoft OneDrive login to save your document drafts, but you can download copies (in docx, PDF, or ODT format) directly to your computer. This free online version of Word lacks some features of the version that comes with Office365 or is sold as stand-alone software, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it.


    So there you have it. Whether you are looking for free word processing software solely for the purpose of filing proposed orders or to use every day, take a look at the options listed above. Microsoft may still be king of productivity software, but there are many other good programs out there if you know where to look.

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