Using Microsoft Office on Linux

Illustration of a person using Word on a Linux laptop

LIfewire / Jie En Lee

This guide will show you the best method for running Microsoft Office applications within Linux and also consider alternative applications that you could use instead.

The Major Issues With Installing Microsoft Office

Office's

It is potentially possible to run Microsoft Office 2013 using WINE and PlayOnLinux, but the results are far from perfect, making it far from a great idea to rely daily.

Microsoft has released all of the Office tools as free versions online and it contains all the features you might require for everyday tasks such as writing letters, creating your resume, creating newsletters, creating budgets and creating presentations. Since this web-based version of Office doesn't require you to install anything, you can easily use it from Linux without any additional effort or configuration.

The first few sections in this guide will therefore look at showing how to get access to the online Office tools as well as highlighting their features.

The end of this guide will highlight some other Office applications that you may consider as alternatives to Microsoft Office. 

How to Use the Microsoft Office Online Applications

Microsoft Office Online

 There are many good reasons to use the Microsoft Office Online tools within Linux:

  1. They work without crashing
  2. They are free
  3. You can use them anywhere
  4. No tricky installation instructions

Let us consider why you might want to use Microsoft Office in the first place. The truth is that Microsoft Office is still considered to be the best office suite available but most people only use a small percentage of the features especially when they are using office tools at home.

For this reason, it is worth trying the online version of Microsoft Office before attempting something drastic such as using WINE to install office.

  1. Open your favorite web browser to work in, and head over to Microsoft's Office page.

    Microsoft Office website
  2. Locate and select Sign In in the upper right of your screen.

  3. You'll be taken to a new sign in page. If you already have a Microsoft account for an email address, Windows, or something like Skype, you can use that account to sign in.

    Sign in to your Microsoft account

    If you don't, select Create Account to make a new one. The account is free and will only take a few seconds to set up.

    Create a Microsoft account
  4. Once you've signed in, you'll arrive at your Microsoft Office Home dashboard. Here you can manage your existing documents(When you have some) or you can create a new one by selecting one of the Office application icons in the top portion of the page. Select Word to try it out.

    Microsoft Office online dashboard
  5. Next, you'll arrive on a new page that lets you choose a template for your new Word document. This should be very familiar to anyone that's used Office before. Pick the New blank document.

    Create a new Word document with Office
  6. The tab will shift to look exactly like the Microsoft Word interface. That's because it is the Word interface, only online. Go ahead and try it out. Everything should look and act exactly like you remember from the installed version.

    Microsoft Word Online on Linux
  7. Now you can access your Office Home whenever you sign in. Like other cloud-based solutions, you can access and modify your documents from anywhere, and everything is saved automatically.

An Overview of Microsoft Word Online

Microsoft Word Online

The first thing you will notice when you click on the Word tile is that you will see a list of existing documents attached to your OneDrive account.

Any existing document already installed in OneDrive can be opened or you can upload an document from your computer. You will also notice a number of online templates available such as a letter template, Resume template and newsletter template. It is possible of course to create a blank document.

By default you will see the home view and this has all the main text formatting features such as choosing the text style (i.e. Heading, Paragraph etc), the font name, size, whether text is bold, italicised or underlined. You can also add bullets and numbering, change the indentation, change text justification, find and replace text and manage the clipboard. 

You can use the Insert menu option to show the ribbon for adding tables and most of the features you could require for formatting tables are there including formatting all the headers and each individual cell. The main feature I noticed missing is the ability to merge two cells together.

Other items on the insert menu allow you to add pictures both from your machine and online sources. You can even add add-ins that are available from the online Office store. Headers and footers can be added as well as page numbers and you can even insert those all important Emojis.

The Page Layout ribbon shows formatting options for margins, page orientation, page size, indentation and spacing.

Word Online even includes a spell checker via the Review menu.

Finally there is the View menu which provides option for previewing the document in print layout, reading view and immersive reader.

An Overview of Excel Online

Excel Online

You can switch between any of the products by clicking on the grid in the top left corner. This will bring up a list of tiles for the other available applications.

As with Word, Excel starts with a list of potential templates including budget planners, calendar tools and of course the option to create a blank spreadsheet.

The Home menu provides formatting options including fonts, sizing, bold, italicised and underlined text. You can format cells and you can also sort data within cells.

The key thing about Excel online is that the majority of the common functions work correctly so you can use it for the more common tasks.

Obviously there are no developer tools and there are limited data tools. You can't for instance connect to other data sources and you can't create Pivot tables. What you can do however via the Insert menu is create surveys and add all manor of charts including line, scatter, pie charts and bar graphs.

As with Microsoft Word Online the View tab shows various views including the Edit View and Reading View.

Incidentally, the File menu on each application allows you to save the file and you can see a view of recently accessed files for the tool you are using.

An Overview of PowerPoint Online

Powerpoint Online web page

The version of PowerPoint provided online is excellent. It is bundled with lots of great features.

PowerPoint is a tool that you can use to create presentations. 

You can add slides to the project in the same way as you would with the full application and you can insert and drag slides around to change the order. Each slide can have its own template and via the Home ribbon you can format the text, create slides and add shapes.

The Insert menu lets you insert pictures, and slides and even online media such as videos.

The Design menu makes it possible to change the styling and background for all of the slides and it comes with a number of pre-defined templates.

For each slide you can add a transition to the next slide using the Transitions menu and you can add animations to items on each slide via the Animations menu.

The View menu lets you switch between editing and reading view and you can run the slide show from the beginning or from a selected slide.

Microsoft Office online has many other applications including OneNote for adding notes and Outlook for sending and receiving email.

At the end of the day this is Microsoft's response to Google Docs and it has to be said it is a very good one. 

Alternatives to Microsoft Office

LibreOffice presentation templates

There are plenty of alternatives to Microsoft Office, so don't be disheartened if you can't use it. Like with MS Office, you can choose from running applications natively or using online apps.

Linux-native apps include LibreOffice, WPS Office, and SoftMaker.

Google Docs is the best online alternative.​

Here is a little bit of info about each of these.
LibreOffice

If you are using Ubuntu, LibreOffice is already installed. It includes:

  • LibreOffice Writer
  • LibreOffice Calc
  • LibreOffice Impress

LibreOffice offers key features that has made MS Office so popular: mail merge, macro recording, and pivot tables. It's a good bet that LibreOffice is just what most people most (if not all) need most of the time.

WPS Office

WPS spreadsheets window on illustration of laptop
 WPS

WPS Office claims to be the most compatible free office suite. It includes:

  • Word processor
  • Spreadsheet
  • Presentation package

The compatibility is often a key issue when choosing a different word processor especially when you are editing something as important as a resume. In my experience the major failing of LibreOffice is the fact that text seems to shift down to the next page without any obvious reason. Loading my resume into WPS certainly seems to resolve this problem.

The actual interface for the word processor within WPS is fairly simple with a menu at the top and what we have become accustomed to as a ribbon bar underneath. The word processor within WPS has most of the features you would expect of a top package including everything that Microsoft Office's free versions have to offer. The spreadsheet package with WPS also seems to include all of the features that Microsoft's free online version of Excel offers. While not being a clone of MS Office, you can clearly see the influence MS Office has had on WPS.

SoftMaker

TextMaker window from SoftMaker
 SoftMaker

Before we get into this, here's the deal: It's not free. Price ranges from $70-100. It includes:

  • TextMaker
  • PlanMaker
  • Presentations

There's not much in Soft Maker that you can't get in a free program. The word processor is certainly compatible with Microsoft Office. TextMaker uses a traditional menu and toolbar system instead of ribbon bars and it looks more like Office 2003 than Office 2016. The older look and feel is persistent in all parts of the suite. Now, that's not to say there it's all bad. The functionality is actually very good and you can do everything that you can do in the free online versions of Microsoft Office, but it's not clear why you should pay for this over using the free version of WPS or LibreOffice.

Google Docs

How could we leave out Google Docs? Google Docs provides all the features of the Microsoft Online office tools and is largely because of these tools that Microsoft had to release their own online versions. If absolute strict compatibility isn't on your list, you'd be silly to look elsewhere for an online suite.