Essential PC Productivity Applications

Man working at computer with business chart and notebook

 Westend61/Getty Images

Word processing and spreadsheet programs have become synonymous with personal computers. These applications are what defined the earliest computers consumers purchased and used, and as the computers have developed so have the applications. When a consumer purchases a new computer, generally it will feature either some software or a trial for a service for dealing with these tasks. Since they are universal applications that almost everyone needs, here are some of the options that consumers have that either come with their systems or they can get if they happen to need it for their PC which did not feature any.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft is definitely the company that holds the largest share of the productivity software market thanks to their heavy marketing to corporations. Most consumers tend to want to run the same software as the companies they work for, primarily for the ease of moving files between the two. As a result, they are generally the de facto productivity software included with most new computers. Of course, the way it is offered has changed dramatically.

Microsoft's Office software for the longest time was a standard program that you purchased and installed on your computer. For many consumer systems, they were offered a stripped down version called Works that was included with the purchase of a brand new computer. That generally offered basic Word and Excel functions. The difference is that now Microsoft is doing subscription services for their software now compared to the old program and license. Most new computer purchases that feature the Windows software come with a link to trial the Office 365. This is essentially the full Office software suite that includes Word, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Publisher. It even includes cloud storage with Microsoft's OneDrive.

Now the free trial may be for a single month or some systems include a full year of the service for free. The important thing for consumers to remember is that after the trial period, there is a reoccurring charge to continue to use the software. This can be an issue for those on tight budgets. Students should check with their schools though as sometimes they can get the program for free while they are a currently enrolled student. The subscription and software can also be done for multiple computers and accounts within a home and is also compatible with Mac OS X systems.


If you happen to purchase an Apple Mac computer or even one of the iPad tablets, Apple typically includes their full productivity suite for download and use for life. Applications include Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentation). This covers the most common productivity tasks that most consumers will need from their computer system.​

Open Office

While many people would like to have Word, the cost of office software is something that many find much too high. As a result, a group of open-source software developers created Open Office as a free alternative. It is a complete software suite that includes Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet) and Impress (presentation). While the interface may not be as clean as the others, it still is fully functional and capable. This makes it a great alternative for those who don't want to spend the large amount on the more expensive suites. There has been some controversy over the Open Office suite though once it was purchased by Oracle. It has since been taken over by the Apache group. The software is available for both Windows and Mac users.


After Oracle became involved in Open Office when they purchased Sun that originally owned development, a group took the open source code from it and formed their own group to continue development free for any corporate involvement. This is how LibreOffice was formed. It offers many of the same base applications as OpenOffice and is also free for anyone to download. The software has a very good level of compatibility with Microsoft's Office applications and files that make it an excellent choice for anyone that does not want to have to either subscribe to or pay for the software. It is available for Windows or Mac users.

Google Docs

Another free option available to consumers is Google Docs. This differs from the other software mentioned because it runs all online through a web browser and is tied heavily with Google Drive cloud storage system. It has the advantage of allowing you to access and edit your documents from any location or computer. The downside is that you are essentially required to have an Internet connection in order to use it. It does have offline modes with the Chrome browser but some functions and features may not be accessible. It includes a full suite of applications including Documents (word processing), Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawings, And Forms.


Many users may be concerned about the compatibility of files generated by one productivity software platform being opened and edited in another productivity suite. While this used to be a problem some years ago, most of these issued have been worked out in the latest versions. This means users of non-Microsoft Office suite shouldn't be too concerned about opening Word or Excel files. There are still some issues with the files, but it mainly comes down to items such as font selections that can be different between the programs and computers.