Not necessarily. It’s hard to ignore MS Office, but you don’t need to blow 400 bucks to get your work done. In fact, you don’t need to install any programs at all. Sign up for the free Google Docs (documents.google.com) or Zoho (zoho.com), and you can do everything in a Web browser. The programs look similar to Word, Excel and PowerPoint and offer all the same features (save for a few lesser-used ones like certain spreadsheet formulas). Zoho even kicks in a few extra applets like a Wiki-building tool. Best of all, these applications let you access your files from any computer that’s online.
If you don’t have reliable Internet access or are more comfortable installing programs on your computer, there’s no shortage of competition, either.
The programs in Corel’s WordPerfect Office suite ($300; corel.com) can also open and save documents in MS Office format. There are free open-source suites as well, such as openoffice.org and the Mac-only neooffice.org. Besides their lower cost, most of these programs have other small advantages too, like saving docs in PDF format without installing extra software—a feature still not available on Office 2007 for Windows. Just one more thing to think about before handing your money over to Microsoft.