Not so long ago, Microsoft released a new version of Word and its other Office apps every few years. These releases were eagerly anticipated, with relatively few new features in between.
While Microsoft still produces standalone versions of these apps, many of the new features are behind the paywall of Microsoft 365. A subscription offers plenty of functionality besides Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but if you'll only be using basic functions it can be difficult to justify the cost.
Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative options if you're looking to get started with Word or any of the other Microsoft Office apps. You can access these across all your devices, whether you're working on a phone, tablet, laptop or PC.
We've outlined some free workarounds below, as well as significantly discounted offerings, but should you go through all this and decide you don't want Microsoft Word at all there is also plenty of free alternative office suites that are compatible with Microsoft's software.
Download the free Office apps for iOS, Android and Windows
Microsoft's aim is for all your files to seamlessly sync between devices via OneDrive. With that in mind, its Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps are free to download for Android and iOS. All the relevant links are below.
Although Windows Phones have been discontinued, the apps are still available on Windows 10 Mobile until 12 January 2021.
While these are free for any device, they don't simply allow you full access to all the functions, with the full functionality held back for Microsoft 365 subscribers. See our full Microsoft Office buying guide.
You'll always be able to open and read documents for free, but can only create and edit them for free on a device with a screen smaller than 10.1 inches. That means you can edit Word documents from a smartphone or small tablet, but if you're on a larger tablet, laptop, or desktop PC you can only view them.
On iOS, the distinction is simpler at least: you can create and edit documents for free on any iPhone, regular iPad, or iPad Air or Mini, but iPad Pro users can only view files.
It's worth noting that even on a device with a smaller screen, you only get what Microsoft calls the 'core' Office experience, with some editing tools and features held back from free users.
Try Microsoft 365 for free
Being able to view documents alone is of limited use, so if you're using a device with a screen bigger than 10.1in you'll want some extra functionality.
The easiest solution is to sign up for Microsoft 365, the company's cloud-based subscription service, which costs from £5.99/US$6.99 per month for a Personal account. It offers the same apps listed above, but simply unlocks their full feature set on any device, while saving your work in the cloud so that you can access it wherever you are. You also get access to programs like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.
A number of new features were added in the April 2020 rebranding of Office 365 to Microsoft 365, details of which can be found here.
The good news is there's a one-month free trial of Microsoft 365, so you can try it for free without committing to paying a penny.
Get Microsoft Teams for free
If you often collaborate with other people you can also sign up for Microsoft Teams for free which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote Online apps. Teams lets you chat, share files and start video calls from within the platform. There are premium plans as well starting from £3.80/month per user.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Microsoft is also offering the business plan for free for six months. Teams will also be making its way into Personal and Family Microsoft 365 subscriptions in the coming months.
Get Microsoft 365 Education for free
Teachers and students can get Microsoft 365 Education for free, which includes Office Online (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) and Microsoft Teams, as well as unlimited personal cloud storage.
You need to be a full-time or part-time faculty or staff member or student with a valid school email to be eligible. Check if you qualify here.
Microsoft Home Use Program Discount
While it's not completely free, you can save 30% on a Microsoft 365 subscription through your employer via Microsoft's Home Use Program for 365 Family or Personal subscriptions.
You would need to check your eligibility by entering your corporate email address. If your employer qualifies, you would receive a verification link via email to authenticate your Microsoft account which enables access to the 30% discount. See if you qualify here.
Note that the Home Use Program is only available in the UK right now.
If you need more functionality than the Office apps give you for free, but don't want to pay for Office 365, there are various alternatives to Microsoft Office out there that are completely free.
Our recommendation is LibreOffice which is a full suite that's regularly updated and allows you to open and save documents in Microsoft formats.