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A friend of mine I running a non-for-profit organisation which was recently donated a couple of old PCs without any software licenses.

The computers are intended for a typical office use, sending emails, preparing documents, brochures, presentations etc.

All the users are familiar with Windows and MS Office but buying those is not an option due to the costs. (I am actually not sure if there is any special pricing for this type of organisations in Ireland)

So my question is: are there any free alternatives to running Windows and MS Office in this situation?

  • some of the correspondence they receive is in a MS office format so the alternative software needs to be able to read it/ and convert back to this format
  • there is no IT technical support person there so the solution would need to be easy enough to setup and maintain

Thank you in advance for any suggestions


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11 Answers 11

Sure, OpenOffice

For an OS, try Ubuntu or LinuxMint

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Apart from Open Office that others have metioned there is Google Docs.

Actually MS do offer pretty deep discounts for Charities and some not-for-profits, in Ireland and other places. See - here.


Although not stable enough for everyday usage yet, ReactOS is going to be a fantastic option for such organizations when it reaches a more mature codebase.. It is a Windows clone, so anyone familiar with MS Windows will understand it instantly.

Additionally, it is binary compatible with Windows. That means your existing Windows apps will 'just work' on ReactOS (as many do). Its a big plus because people don't have to make drastic changes to get a free operating system. – Tim Post May 4 '09 at 2:17

Almost any modern Linux distro will come with Open Office.

Ubuntu is pretty Windows like and should be easy enough to get running on any old hardware


Given the original questioner's requirement for MS Office file format compatibilty, Open Office must surely be preferred over Google Docs (although I notice that OffiSync is offering a solution to the lack of interoperability between those two systems to date). Google Docs also imposes a file size limit which may be a problem.

There are differences but a little training in the differences as well as reminders to always save in the MS Office file format (this can be set as default) and there should be no trouble.

As for operating system, another vote here for Ubuntu. Whilst the purists will hate me, it can be easily configured to look almost identical to MS Windows - important for less-experienced users who are used to things being that certain MS way.

That said, do take the time to explore the discount options from Microsoft for charity/educational software licences first.


I was able to hand a laptop with a default Ubuntu 8.10 install to a friend who is an average computer user to use in college while her laptop was getting fixed. She was able to do most tasks, although she couldn't figure out how to get Java installed, and had issues getting footnotes to work in OpenOffice. Email, internet, viewing powerpoint, and instant messaging was no problem. Ubuntu and OpenOffice should work fine, but you may want to check and see if someone from a local Linux user group would be willing to give an hour or two of training to the people working at the non profit to ease there learning curve.


I second the suggestions for OpenOffice. It's great if you install it on all PCs (not so great for collaborating with other MS Office users).

For KDE there's KOffice, and GNOME has its suite too.

There's also the Office 2007 look-alike Lotus Symphony, if the PCs can handle that resource pig.


Google Docs.

It's free, it's web based ( no installation). Although it doesn't have a lot of fanciful features Microsoft office has, but it's more than enough for office use.

I use Google Docs to write my specification, do my spreadsheet, create my presentation. It works very well. Oh, no to mention that now you can access your documents from anywhere, as long as you have a fairly modern browser and Internet connection.


Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice out-of-box. Both will fit your requirements, and OpenOffice will read and write .doc/.xls/.ppt files. Microsoft Access files are problematic in that there is no free solution, although there are tools that will open the files and expose any data inside of a mdb.

share has, of course, been mentioned, but there is a more featureful fork called Go-oo which is not controlled by Sun Microsystems.


Although I don't specifically add any new software within this answer I can second that Open Office is working great for a non-technical environment.

I administer the IT-system of a small lawyer firm where all of the employees are typical "non-technical" individuals. They are now running Ubuntu and Open Office without any major issues. Some initial hick-ups but for the last year it has been running rather smoothly with no real problems. They occasionally send and receive MS-Office files in different formats (PowerPoint, Excel, Word, etc.) when communicating with external clients.

Usually there are few formats that the Ubuntu + Open Office combination won't handle in normal real-word situations. At least in this environment. Also it is a breeze to export documents as PDF files (in Open Office) which is really a preferred way of sending documents that are not to be changed by the receiving party. Such as invoices, business proposals, etc.

I can recommend this solution for most non-technical environment. Don't underestimate your users or assume that they really want MS-Office. They might say that they do, but they really mean that they want a word-processor of some kind. The employees here still refer to Open Office as simply "Office" or even sometimes "Microsoft Office"...


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