Google Drive: the free alternative to Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office is one of the most essential pieces of software available on computers. All over the world people use it to write letters, create presentations, write reports, and develop spreadsheets. Unfortunately, if it didn’t come free with your computer then it is pretty expensive. Although the price can vary, here is the current price at Amazon.com:
The good news is that you may not have to pay that much. There are free alternatives available such as Google Drive that may not be quite as good, but for many home users will be good enough.
What is Google Drive?
Google Drive is basically a Microsoft Office clone that lets you write documents just like Microsoft Word, create spreadsheets just like Microsoft Excel, and create Presentations just like Microsoft PowerPoint. It does not contain an alternative to Microsoft OneNote, but few people use that anyway and there are many other free alternatives such as Google Keep and Evernote.
It is also compatible with Microsoft Office. Any documents you create in Google Drive can later be downloaded into Office and saved as Office documents. Any thing you create in Word or Excel can later be uploaded into Google Drive. It isn’t 100% compatible, as I have found that sometimes the more complex spreadsheet formulas I use aren’t recognized in Google Drive, and a document normally needs to be reformatted just a bit to get it to look just right.
I use Google Drive on my home computer and Microsoft Office on my work computer. In general, Google Drive just isn’t quite as smooth as Microsoft Office. When working on spreadsheets you will notice a little bit of a lag as you are editing formulas and there doesn’t seem to be quite as many options as you have in the Microsoft product. However, Google drive offers two distinct advantages. First of all it is free, secondly it is all cloud based. More on that later.
Who should look at Google Drive?
If you are a heavy user of documents and spreadsheets, you are probably better off with Microsoft Office. I spend all day at work in Microsoft Office where the slightly frustrating experience of the slightly choppy Google Drive would become maddening after a few hours. At home though I use spreadsheets and documents considerably less and am willing to put up with just a bit of lag to save $140.
Even if you aren’t a light user, you might find you prefer Google Drive because of the benefits of cloud based computing. Sure Microsoft has a cloud based product called Microsoft 360, but why would you pay for that when Google Drive is available for free?
Cloud Based Computing
Cloud based computing basically means that the software isn’t working or being stored on your computer, it is being stored and processed somewhere on the internet. There are several advantages to this:
- You don’t have to worry about saving that is all done automatically and continually.
- You don’t have to worry about backing up or losing your data if something happens to your computer. The hard drive on your computer will eventually fail, but cloud based program are stored on multiple secure servers somewhere on the internet where it is unlikely they will ever get lost.
- No need to carry around USB drives or other storage devices. You can just call up your document from any internet connected computer.
- Google drive works on multiple devices. You can create it on your computer, then edit it later on your phone or tablet while you are on the go.
- You never have to worry about learning or paying for updates. Microsoft will come out with a new version of Office every few years until eventually your version is obsolete and you are forced to pay for the upgrade. With Google Drive, you are always on the latest version. New features will appear from time to time as it is continuously upgraded with no new installations required on your part, all for free.
- Easy collaboration. Want to share your document with somebody else or even allow them to edit it for you? That just takes a few clicks and it is done. Frequent ABC readers will know that I sometimes work with other personal finance bloggers as we post articles on each other sites. Google Drive is a tool I frequently use when I want to work together with another blogger.
You might decide that the advantages of cloud computing outweigh the slightly smoother experience you would have with Microsoft Office. My ten year old son uses Google Drive because he needs to work on his homework from many different locations and he is not responsible enough to not lose a USB drive because he is a typical ten year old.
Other advantages to Google Drive
Besides being a Microsoft Office clone, Google Drive also is free web based storage. I have all of my pictures from my android phone automatically backed up to my Google Drive account so I don’t lose them if I lose my phone.
Also, it’s free. Did I mention that?
How to get Google Drive
If you have a Gmail account, your Google Drive account is ready to go, already. Just head over to drive.google.com and give it a try. If you don’t have a Gmail account, that is free too. First sign up at Gmail.com, then your Drive account will be created automatically.
Photo by Doug Woods