Most business computers and tablets benefit from office suites that enable users to perform tasks like editing documents, working with spreadsheets and creating presentations. More often than not, that office suite is Microsoft 365, but there are plenty of alternatives that may pique your interest…
What's in an office suite?
Office suites are also called 'office software' or 'office packages'.
An office suite is a software package which consists of several pieces of software that are closely linked. They are usually bundled together and sold or rented as a single entity.
The tools usually include:
- A word processor, to create, edit and save documents such as reports and letters.
- A spreadsheet app, for calculations and manipulating data on a grid.
- Presentation software to build a set of slides for use during a talk or lecture.
- An email and calendar package, to allow you to use email and manage your diary.
Most office suites will include some complimentary apps, too; note-taking software, accounts packages, database systems, customer relationship management software, graphics, design and desktop publishing packages are just some examples.
Office suites are designed so their individual components function well together. For instance, you can create graphs in a spreadsheet then copy them to a presentation, or share documents for review via an online collaboration tool.
Web-based office suites are now more commonplace, and offer fully-functional versions of the tools mentioned above that can be accessed from any web browser and on virtually any device.
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Types of office suite
There are three main types of office suite for your company to consider:
- Commercial office suites are used by many businesses. Produced by big software companies, they cost £30 - £300 per copy. By far the most popular office suite is Microsoft 365 which is available in on- and off-line flavours.
- Open source office suites can be downloaded and installed for free. Many can open and save files produced by commercial office software. OpenOffice is the most popular open source office suite. The main alternative is LibreOffice.
- Online office suites don't have to be installed on your computer. Instead, you log on through a web browser and edit files directly. Google Apps and Microsoft 365 are both great examples with brilliant tablet and smartphone companion apps.
Choosing between office suites
There are several key things to consider when choosing an office suite for your business:
- Functionality. It's important your office suite delivers the functionality your business needs. In reality, most packages will offer the basic features you're most likely to use. Many office suites also provide functions which are useful for advanced users.
- File compatibility. Ensure any new office suite can open your existing files. And if you frequently exchange files with people outside your business, check the software can open and save files in the formats they use, too.
- Familiarity. Your staff are likely to have used particular office suites in the past. Choosing one they're familiar with will reduce the time it takes them to learn the software - and could cut your training and IT support costs, too.
- Price. The cost of buying an office suite is less prohibitive these days thanks to the dominance of cloud software and low monthly pricing, but fees vary, so be sure to choose a solution that fits well within your budget.
Because office suites are among the most frequently-used business tools, they can often be linked to other parts of your company's IT system.
For instance, you might be able to save files directly to a cloud computing service. This can make it easier for several people to work together on a document by tracking who edits it and what each person changes.
Most office suites come in several versions - from a 'basic' package offering the core software up to more comprehensive 'professional' versions.
Don't worry if a suite includes an office program you won't use - providing it's cost-effective for the ones you will use.