One of the most basic tools in the student or professional’s toolkit is an “Office Suite“. When discussing software, suite means,

A set of programs with a uniform design and the ability to share data

In this case, it refers to a collection of applications that cover the basic needs that every professional and student has in regards to producing documents. There can be lots of extras, but at the most basic, everyone needs the following:

  • Word Processor
  • Spreadsheet Software
  • Presentation Software

These three together allow a knowledge worker to create written media, work with numbers, and present ideas respectively. We’re fortunate today in that there is a wonderful variety of free and paid options from which to choose. You’ll probably go your college career using the Microsoft Office suite, but if you plan on doing a project that involves basic tech skills, you should take into account that this can be a costly choice. Let’s explore some of the most popular office suites out there.

Popular Office Suites

Microsoft Office

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The most recognizable and popular office suite out there. MS Office is considered to be the gold standard in personal productivity. Offices and schools around the world purchase licenses for this and for good reason. These apps are extremely powerful and because they’ve been around for so long, there is a tremendous amount of online support —both official and third party.

Application Names

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint

Cost and Availability

MS Office is available for both Mac OS X and Windows operating systems. The cost of MS Office is kind of a weird topic right now. Lots of companies are trying to move to a subscription model where you don’t buy software outright, you just lease it, paying forever. Honestly, we don’t want to put any figure down on this guide because who knows what it will be in th future. Just know that it costs money for every machine you want it on, so if your project involves teaching Office, take into account that you’re going to have to figure out what it costs in a specific dollar amount.

Office Online, is available for free.

Luckily, at least for now, UCSC students have access to a free copy of MS Office! To claim yours, go to products.office.com/en-us/student and click the button that says, “Find out if you’re eligible”. You’ll be asked to put in your UCSC email address, create an account, and then you can download the installer.

We love being counter-hegemonic around here, but honestly, the world runs on MS Office so it pays to get familiar with it. Plus Excel is the best spreadsheet application there is.

iWork

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Apple has always dabbled in personal productivity software, but a while back they kinda gave up and just resigned to the fact that everybody was using MS Office anyway so why try? But back in 2005 they started making a real effort to do their own thing with the iWork Suite.

iWork doesn’t have the same depth and scalability of other platforms like MS Office or LibreOffice, but it’s going for more of a “It plays really nice with all the other shiny Apple stuff” in that it has great iOS versions and shares nicely with other Apple apps. All that said, it doesn’t play nicely with other programs. If you submit a paper in .pages format, your professor or TA will hate you because the .pages format can only be opened by Pages.app. You can make some really nice looking things using iWork, but just be warned that the rest of the world propbably won’t be able to see it unless you work really hard to ensure compatability.

Application Names

  • Pages
  • Numbers
  • Keynote

Cost

iWork is free for all Apple computers purchased after September 2013. There is also an online iWork version available to Windows users.

Google Docs

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Contrary to popular belief, Google Docs are not restricted to online use. They function perfectly fine offline through the Google Drive app and Chrome Browser. To activate this feature, please consult this article or do what this post author did and Google the phrase, “Use Google Docs offline”. (Pro Tip: that’s how everyone learns everything around here).

Application Names

  • Docs
  • Sheets
  • Slides

Cost and Availability

Google Docs, are free, cross-platform, highly intuitive, and extremely conducive to online collaboration. Anyone who has ever worked with 30 other people on a midterm study guide knows how good it is at collaboration. Files created on Google Docs can be downloaded in all popular formats.

LibreOffice

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This is a “fork” of OpenOffice, another open source office suite. They’re very similar, but LibreOffice is more actively developed, especially for Linux distributions. If you want a cross-platform, free, suite with a big community behind it, LibreOffice is the way to go.

Application Names

  • Writer
  • Calc
  • Impress

Cost and Availability

LibreOffice is free and available for download on all platforms.

Are There Others?

Yes there are! As with all apps, there are a multitude of other options, both free and paid. Check out AlternativeTo.net.

The Deeper Lesson

By now, you know of 4 different office suites, but the real take away from this post is that there is a thing called “office suite”. The actual apps that fit into that category are arbitrary. Growing as an Everett student and techie means being able to identify the digital needs of yourself and your partners. Once you understand a need, you can identify the “type” of app that would satisfy it, and then you can find apps and evaluate their usefulness. A major step towards that is being able to find the generic name for the thing you’re looking for.

What Other “Types” of App Are There?

Well…a lot. But here is a short list of some generic terms for commonly used applications:

  • Photo Editor
  • PDF Reader
  • Text Editor
  • App Launcher
  • Mail Client
  • Chat Client
  • Web Browser
  • Task Manager