Skip to content

Wayne State University

Aim Higher

May 11 / Geoffrey Nathan

Microsoft Word disappeared—what can I do?

Although all Wayne State employees have the ability to download and use the Microsoft Office Suite (including Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.) it is only available to current employees. When you retire you will probably find that eventually the license will expire. Then what do you do?

One simple possibility is to purchase an individual license for the Suite, which is available from Microsoft for $99/year. If you are not comfortable doing that, there are several options available that I will outline here.

If you really want to stay within the Microsoft environment, all Wayne State employees, students and retirees have access to the online versions of all of these programs. The online versions are not as powerful as the desktop versions (for example the online Word doesn’t have Track Changes, which makes it useless for sharing editing tasks), but they are good enough for most tasks, and are free as long as you have access to Wayne Connect.

Otherwise, if you are comfortable in the Google universe, there is a complete set of tools available for free from Google. These include Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. They only work online, but all of them allow conversion (and downloading) to the more widely used Microsoft equivalents (and conversion can go both ways). The interface is quite different from the Word (etc.) interface, but does everything that most people need to do (Sheets probably doesn’t do the kind of complex statistical and modeling that Excel can do, nor the complex formatting you can do with Word or similar dedicated word processors). Here’s a screenshot of what a sample CV document looks like in Google Docs:

Google Docs image

Second, if you are willing to spend some money there are high-end competitors to Word that do some tasks better than Word. I have for twenty years used Notabene, a powerful academically-oriented word processor written for those in the humanities. It has built-in support for commonly used scholarly languages (anything using the Roman alphabet, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic) including the ability to mix left-to-right and right-to-left orientation in the same line, a powerful, built-in bibliography program that both stores and inserts references following commonly used style sheets, and a textbase app that permits you to index your files and search for anything, then insert the relevant context into a document. But it’s about $400 (although you can try it out for free—it just won’t print). On the other hand, that’s a one-time only expense, since you’re actually buying it, not licensing it. Here’s a screenshot of a multilingual document in Notabene1[1] :

Finally, there are some decent free alternatives beyond the Google suite. I have been playing with WPS Office for Windows, which is a free download for Windows, iOS, Android and Linux. It has a user-friendly interface that greatly resembles Word (and Excel etc.) and can handle their files with ease. It’s free, although there’s a relatively reasonable subscription version (WPS Office for Windows Premium) that goes for $25/year. You can find it at wps.com/office-free.

Another free competitor comes in at least two flavors: Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. They are very powerful office suites, but I find their interfaces somewhat user-unfriendly for those who are used to the Microsoft varieties. These programs are open-source, which means that they are being developed by communities from computer source code that is open to anyone. As with all the other alternatives, these permit conversion to and from the more familiar .docx and .xlsx formats.

Here are links to OpenOffice and LibreOffice.

Finally, if all you want to do is read Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, you can download viewers that permit you do just that: Word Viewer.

In short, although it’s a little annoying, you can keep working from home after you retire. As I plan to do…


[1] I am not affiliated with Notabene, but I have been using it since 1987. Another multilingual word processor is Nisus.

One Comment

Leave a comment
  1. Bert Schreiber / May 13 2017

    You should also mention that Pages and Numbers are available for Apple users. They are adequate for many purposes, and they import and export to Microsoft Office formats. It’s a bit clumsy, but it works, and the working features are nice.

Leave a comment