No matter how good MS Office was in the past and how long this had lasted for, those one-to-rule-them-all times are over. The weakest point of MS Office (and the reason for its eventual downfall) is its price. Yes, it offers vast possibilities, but it's simply out of reach for most people. Besides, its new versions didn't always suit our taste either. Some might like the idea to have all your documents stored online, but others are more security-oriented. Needless to say, not everyone approves of Windows Live Account binding.
Still a few steps behind but constantly catching up, there are free office suites; and the best three of them are: LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and Kingsoft Office. They all are similar, as they serve same purpose: do what MS Office did several years ago. For instance, you may recognize earlier MS Word versions in LibreOffice and OpenOffice (the one in Kingston Office looks at least a bit more modern). Microsoft proved that those interfaces can be efficient, so why invent something new? Let's see if the free office suites offer at least some creativity in other respects.
OpenOffice is distributed under the Apache 2.0 License, which allows you to use it for any purpose, be it domestic, commercial, or educational, completely free. Your documents are saved in the open standard format, but it is also possible to open files created in other Office packages (including MS Office).
Some users may actually welcome the possibility to contribute to the development of this tool, either by reporting bugs or by providing new ideas. For others, though, this community-driven approach means nothing short of lack of direction. There is at least one definite advantage here, though: you can get help much quicker. You receive answers from the community, and regular users are quicker to react than a support team for a commercial product.
LibreOffice is very close to OpenOffice in its development stage, which is hardly surprising given that it emerged from the same source code. Along with main features that you can also find in OpenOffice, this one also provides integration with Content Management Systems and online document storage via the CMIS standard. So you can easily access your files stored on ECM systems. In this regard it is close to the latest MS Office, which stores your files in SkyDrive.
Besides, some might find it interesting that it's possible to personalize your LibreOffice copy. This is done with the help of Firefox Themes, which are used as background images for the interface.
Kingsoft Office stands out a bit from the rest, as it also allows you to add watermarks to your documents and convert PDF files. I also was pleasantly surprised to see that Writer documents were organized in the form of tabs within a single window, which should make working with several files much easier and quicker. This suite is actually very similar in look to the recent MS Office interface styles, but you can customize it. Still, like other free competitors of MS Office, it still lacks some of the functionality only the commercial suite can provide.
Summing up, these programs may actually work as good substitutes for Microsoft Office, especially if you're not expecting too much. If all you need is to be able to type in a document and do some basic text formatting, any of these will be enough. They all work in Windows, but OpenOffice and LibreOffice also have Linux and iOS versions, and Kingsoft Office is available for Android.
Picture credit: asform.fr.