MS Office for Under $10 and Legal: Are You Eligible?

Note: I realize this won’t apply to most people, but then again, it might be applicable to more than one would think. So in case it might help someone who wouldn’t otherwise be aware, I’m sharing how I got Microsoft Office, legally, on the cheap.

After my diatribe about Microsoft Word a few weeks ago, I ended up buying it. As noted in that blog post, OpenOffice is a great alternative to Office, but not a perfect one. So when I got an email at work saying I could purchase Office for my own use at home, for $9.95, I checked it out right away.

MS Office Pro PlusOf course, skeptic that I am, I thought it sounded too good to be true. But the email was from an official U.S. Air Force channel, and the link went to, so I clicked.

The offer comes from the Microsoft Home Use Program, which the U.S. Air Force participates in. Many other government agencies do too, as well as many private companies. I had no idea this was available to me until I saw it in a newsletter I get at work. Best of all, it’s available to on-site contractors as well as government employees.

From what I understand based on the information at the Microsoft Home Use Program, it looks like any company that participates in Microsoft’s Software Assurance Program and chooses to participate, can. The link above goes to a U.S.-specific site, but they may have programs in place for other countries, too. Some companies that are eligible to participate choose not to, in many cases due to misinformation.

Of course, there are a lot of terms and conditions. The main one to note is that, if you leave your eligible job, you’re supposed to discontinue using the software. It doesn’t have to be used just for work purposes, and the only information you need to supply is your work email (for the eligible company/organization), and the basics like your address.

I figured for $10*, why not? As I work on formatting my book for print, I’m finding a lot of details easier to implement in Word than OpenOffice, like sections, for instance. For most other word processing, I still use OpenOffice, because I prefer its menu-based interface. But if you work for a large company or government organization, it might be worth checking with your IT department to see if they offer this program!

*The $9.95 price is for a download. You can get the product on CDs, but it’s an additional charge of around $12 or so.

Thursday Thoughts: An Alternative to Microsoft Word?

Last summer when I got a new computer, my 10-year-old CD of Microsoft Office 2000 finally bit the dust. The disk had become corrupted; the files would no longer copy from it to install.

So I investigated alternatives. I ruled out the new version of Office immediately: we have Office 2007 at work, and I hate it. Most people who, like me, have been using Office for many years hate it too, or at least did until they resigned themselves to its new interface. Come on, the “ribbon” takes up way too much screen space, even on a big monitor. And I have to re-learn where everything is? Just give me back my damn menus!

Microsoft Office ribbon

Oh, Office Ribbon - how do I hate thee?

Of course, there are older versions of Office for sale, unopened, on Ebay, some at great prices. But none were certified to run on Windows 7, which came with my new computer (and I’m quite happy with). Luckily, there’s also another alternative, for an even better price: OpenOffice. And it’s free – honest-to-goodness, legally, free. Just go to and download it.

It includes an alternative to each of the major components of Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access. It also comes with a drawing program.

The only part I’ve used enough to really evaluate is Writer, the Word-alternative. I’ve dabbled a bit with the spreadsheet, and so far, it seems like a decent facsimile of Office 2000’s Excel.

Open Office menus

Yay! Menus!

Which makes me happy, because I don’t need all the whiz-bang features Microsoft’s added to the later versions of Office. OpenOffice has most of them, but best of all, it has menus, not that silly ribbon interface.

Granted, not everything’s in the same place. For example, Word’s Track Changes feature is on the Revisions ribbon. In older versions, it was in the Tools menu. In OpenOffice, it’s in the Edit menu, and it’s simply called Changes. But if I have to hunt around for features, hey, I’d rather do it in a free program! (They do take donations, if you’re so inclined.)

I have run into a few problems with OpenOffice Writer, however. Most of these show up when I save a document in a format other than .doc (Microsoft Word 2003 and earlier) or .odf (OpenOffice’s native format). .rtf is the worst. I’ve seen it muck up line spacing, and change fonts – and the latter not consistently. It’s made the first letter of every paragraph – and only the first letter – a different font- sometimes even a Chinese character!

It also corrupted the .doc file of my manuscript for Time’s Enemy. I didn’t find this out until I sent it to my editor, and it crashed her system every time she tried to open it in Word. I thought this might have been due to the fact that she uses a Mac, but when I tried it on my daughter’s computer (which still has Word 2000 installed on it), that blew up, too.

Luckily I could still open it on my computer in OpenOffice, and copy the content, and re-save as an .odt file. I then opened it in Word at work, and resaved as a .docx file, which worked fine for my editor.

So is OpenOffice a true replacement for Microsoft Office? After a year, the jury’s still out. But hey, at least the price is right! Now all I have to do is find a newer version or replacement for Quickbooks, that will read my Quickbooks 2005 data…

Know of any accounting software I should check out? Or do you have a software WTF to share? Feel free to vent here – we feel your pain!