Microsoft Office is as ubiquitous as it is expensive. Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010 (contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) is priced at $119.99. Microsoft Home and Business 2010 (contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook) is more expensive at $199.99. When shopping for a new computer last month, I asked myself whether Microsoft Office was worth the hefty price tag. The answer: not really. I found these alternatives to Microsoft Office:

 Open Office

Apache's OpenOffice is the world's most popular open-source office software suite. It works on all common computers and can be downloaded and used for free for any purpose. I’ve been using OpenOffice for years and often forget that I'm not using Microsoft Office.

OpenOffice contains programs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases that perform essentially all the same functions as their Microsoft Office counterparts.

There's no need to worry about compatibility: OpenOffice stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages.

To download your free copy of OpenOffice, click here.

Google Docs

Google Docs is not as similar to Microsoft Office as OpenOffice, but it is still a good, viable free alternative to Microsoft Office.

Create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more with Google Docs. And since the suite is supported by cloud storage (meaning your documents are saved on the Web), you can access your documents from any computer at any location at any time. What's more, Google Docs makes it easy for users to share and collaborate on documents.

To use Google Docs, you must first create a free Google account here.

Save on Microsoft Office

If you decide that you are more comfortable using Microsoft Office rather than a free alternative program, here are some ways to save:

  •  If you use Microsoft Office at work, ask your IT department if they can install Microsoft Office on your home computer. In some cases, your employer’s licensing agreement may allow it.
  • If you are a college student, check out the Microsoft Student Store which offers special discounts exclusively for college students:  Microsoft Office University 2010, $99.99, and Microsoft Office for Mac University, $99.99.
  • Microsoft Office is available in multiple editions. Pick the edition that has only the features you need—you probably don't need every feature and program in the top edition.
  • If you need Microsoft Office on more than one computer in your home,  buy the “family pack” version of Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010 is $149.99 for installation and use on up to three computers. That’s just $49.99 per computer.
  • Purchase an older edition of Microsoft Office for much less than the current edition. At you can purchase Microsoft Office for Mac Home & Student 2008 for only $42.09. Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Student 2011 is just $119.99 — that's a savings of 65 percent!
The 'Write' Stuff: Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office