Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

As a small business owner, purchasing office productivity software from Microsoft can be painful.

Luckily, there are free options available that work REALLY well.  I will look at two here:  Open Office and Google Docs.  But first, here is a list of what I think the free options need to fulfill to be a viable option for the small business owner:

  1. A word processor similar to Microsoft Word.
  2. A spreadsheet similar to Microsoft Excel
  3. A drawing program similar to Microsoft Visio
  4. A presentation program similar to Microsoft PowerPoint
  5. The ability to save documents in PDF format.
  6. The ability to save documents in Microsoft format and read Microsoft formatted files (optional for me, but, essential for those in the corporate world or with collaborators who use Microsoft products)

Open Office (

open office logo

I started using Open Office many years ago and still use it today (even though I am drifting more and more to the cloud).

The latest versions of Open Office are very robust and easily interface with the world of Microsoft.   I use Open Office daily for invoices and spreadsheets for income vs expenses for JBB Cleaning Services.

Here is a screenshot of the features offered by Open Office taken from their web site:

open office description

So let’s see how Open Office stacks up to my feature criteria for a free office suite:

  1. A word processor similar to Microsoft Word. (Writer)
  2. A spreadsheet similar to Microsoft Excel (Calc)
  3. A drawing program similar to Microsoft Visio (Draw)
  4. A presentation program similar to Microsoft PowerPoint (Impress)
  5. The ability to save documents in PDF format. (Yes)
  6. The ability to save documents in Microsoft format and read Microsoft formatted files (optional for me, but, essential for those in the corporate world or with collaborators who use Microsoft products) (Yes)

Open Office meets all of my feature requirements.  And the price is right….FREE.  :-)

Google Docs (Use your Google log in)

google logo sort of

In my old business (which I will hand over to the new owner on Dec 31, 2014), and as TechyMike, I have used, and will continue to use, Google Docs almost exclusively (having switched from Open Office slowly over the past few years).

My invoices, drawings, signs, documents, presentations, and collaborations are all done via one or more of the Google Docs programs and stored on Google Drive.  And the BEST thing (other than not worrying about backing up my work) is that I can continue to work, and collaborate, from my SmartPhone using the Google apps for Docs, Sheets, Slides, and, Drive.


Enough with unbridled enthusiasm……How does Google stack up to my more objective feature requirements?

  1. A word processor similar to Microsoft Word. (Docs)
  2. A spreadsheet similar to Microsoft Excel (Sheets)
  3. A drawing program similar to Microsoft Visio (Drawings)
  4. A presentation program similar to Microsoft PowerPoint (Slides)
  5. The ability to save documents in PDF format (Yes)
  6. The ability to save documents in Microsoft format and read Microsoft formatted files (optional for me, but, essential for those in the corporate world or with collaborators who use Microsoft products) (Yes)

Per #6…Google Docs translates Microsoft documents to Google Docs format, but, does not translate Open Office documents.

google works with word


Small businesses need to save money.  Using free office suite software makes a lot of sense so you, as a small business owner, can use the money saved for marketing and advertising.

TechyMike bc snip

Build Your Own App for Android or IOS


Originally published on one year ago.  I will be publishing new stuff soon, life has just gotten in the way.

I bought a book on programming a few months back.  But….I decided I was just too damn old to learn all this stuff again.

I wished they had an app maker that was easy to use that worked well and did not require detailed programming knowledge.

Maybe one exists…or more than one.  As I was surfing the Internet today, I ran across this list on MASHABLE.  I will copy the first three (I hope they don’t mind…), then you have to visit the web site to see the rest.

I may give one or more a try….below is the article.  

Go HERE for the rest…of the list.

If you’ve ever wanted to build an app for your business, blog, product or service, but the heavy investment of both time and money put you off, you’re not alone.The good news is that entering the mobile market no longer necessarily requires thousands of dollars and months of work. There are many mobile platforms available to help you build an app on a budget — quickly, and with no coding knowledge required.With a small investment, you can create and manage your mobile site or application using one of the platforms listed below, and start reaping the advantages of offering your customers a dedicated mobile experience, including increased awareness, engagement and revenue.

  • 1. Appery


    Appery is a cloud-based mobile app builder that you can use to create apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, and includes Apache Cordova (Phone Gap) with access to its built-in components.

    Since the builder runs in the cloud, there’s nothing to install or download, and it’s easy to get started quickly. It includes a visual editor using drag and drop components to build the UI. You can connect to any REST API and use it in your app, and instantly add a cloud database and backend to your app if you need to store data.

    You can add powerful functionality with the Appery plugin catalog, or create your own custom private plugins to use in your apps. Collaboration is simple, allowing you to share your mobile project with development teams, business users and customers in real time.

    Price: Plans start at Free and go up to $180 per month for Premium

  • 2. Mobile Roadie


    Mobile Roadie is an app creator that allows anyone to create and manage their own iOS or Android app. The platform supports all media types, with automatic importing of RSS, Twitter or Google News keywords, and an auto-refreshing fan wall through which users can chat with each other in real time.

    You can use the free Mobile Roadie Connect app to preview your app accurately, just as your users would on their devices. The app also guides you through the submission process, with Mobile Roadie checking the quality and appropriateness of your content.

    You can push content straight to your app and pull content from it to your own site or blog. The API is language agnostic, so you can pull data in a variety of formats, including XML, JSON, PHP, CSV and HTML. You can easily craft a custom look and feel for your app and apply that to all platforms, and use the suite of marketing tools once your app is launched.

    Price: Plans start at $125 per month (Core) and go up to $667 per month (Pro).

3. TheAppBuilder


TheAppBuilder provides a suite of apps to suit employees, clients, events and brochures, with two different approaches available. You can build the app using the online toolkit, and either the training provided or TheAppBuilder itself will work with you to define and build the structure of the app and populate it with initial content.

Using the dedicated AppLibrary, you can provide your users with a window into multiple apps and even customize it with your own branding. You can protect both public and private apps with usernames and passwords, and distribute them via the app store, making use of TheAppBuilder’s Active Directory integration to enable login with existing credentials and user groups.

Updating the structure and content of your apps is easy, even after you go live, because you can make unlimited updates and publish on multiple mobile platforms in one click. The platform supports native iPhone, iPad and Android, with updates going live within 60 seconds of submitting a change.

Price: Pricing available upon request

Taking A ScreenShot with Android

screen shot android

Got a Samsung (I have an S4) Android phone and need to take a screenshot?

Here is how you do it.

Hold the power button down and  the main / home button on the bottom of the phone…SIMULTANEOUSLY

Look in your pictures…..

Easy as 3.14. Here is a GREAT video from Android Authority that covers more devices.

Happy Screenshotting…..

Geek Christmas list coming soon….I have been distracted with all kinds of shit……


TechyMike Resurfaces in Tracy, CA


Back from the ashes of TelBitConsulting, YeOldeTechy, and AltamontCowork, the technical wizard we all know, and sort of love, Mike Pihlman has once again resurfaced in Tracy, CA.

Mike was spotted yesterday at Orchard Supply wandering the aisles. While he looked confused and disoriented, don’t be fooled.  Mike’s brain was actively thinking of the next step in technology….one that no one will understand for at least 20 years, or maybe, he was just confused and disoriented.  We may never know.

BUT….from that visit, the phoenix has arisen in the form of this new venture:  TechyMike

Armed with new knowledge (social media, web sites, apps, smartphones, yada)………TechyMike is ready, once again,  to help those less technical.

So stay tuned here for all the latest in technology.  First up…..the famous TelBitConsulting, now TechyMike, Geek Christmas List 2014.

Venture where no man has gone, may the geek be with you….

If you see this man aimlessly wandering around Tracy, CA….shake his hand and tell him you understand.  $1.00 donation would help.

techymike pic


Internet Speed Testing

I spent a few minutes doing some Internet speed tests here at AltamontCowork.

I tested various configurations (wired vs wireless vs different wired jacks vs different wireless speeds). In other words I did a lot of testing……and had some FUN.

Here are my tests from this morning (the various options all worked about the same, or, as expected if they were different).

Interesting result:  The wireless 802.11n option working at 5 Ghz is line speed….VERY cool. I have a NetGear N900 wireless router.

I used Speakeasy and Comcast speed test (this morning I had Comcast Business 16 Meg down, and 3 Meg up).

SpeakEasy (wired)

speakeasy speed test

SpeakEasy (5G Wireless, 802.11n)

wireless 5 g members

Comcast (wired)

comcast speed test

Not bad, but, I remember a day—before I did some cost cutting—that I had screaming FAST Internet .  I decided to get that back, so I called Comcast and within 10 minutes I now had Comcast Business class with 50 Meg down, and 10 Meg up.

Comcast after Upgrade (wired or 5G 802.11n wireless….both the same!)

upgraded comcast


AltamontCowork once again has SCREAMING FAST…Internet access.  :-)


A year or so ago, I pretty much gave up on TelBitConsulting (my video conferencing centric technology blog) choosing to concentrate on AltamontCowork (a coworking location in Tracy, CA) instead.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine fired up his new videoconferencing related site, so I paid $13 to WordPress and redirected all of TelBitConsulting’s readers to David’s new site (check it out here).  He now has tons more traffic to get off the ground with….;-)

BUT today I realized….I could NOT access all my old blogs!!!!  I wanted to show a visitor to AltamontCowork some of the stuff I pioneered, and son of a bitch, I had to jump thru hoops to find it.  I have 8 years worth of blog stuff I couldn’t see anymore…I NEED to see it.  The WORLD needs to see it…haha

Sooooooo, today I uploaded all my old stuff HERE!

Not only that….every now and then I still get the urge to write about something technical.  NOW, I have a place to do that again.  Like my Christmas Geek Gift list….

If you care:  Wendy, Ginny, Tommy (see his 2014 China adventures on, Peter?, I don’t know???, Me.  1956 or 57?


Google Chat on Motorola Atrix Smartphone

In the process of evaluating the ZTE ZXV10 T700 (I will post the entire product review by weeks end…I hope), I went ahead and made a three way video conferencing call using  our friends at cloud-based video conferencing service provider Vidtel.

The picture above shows a Google Chat connection via my Toshiba Laptop computer (middle), the ZTE using H.323 (top), and my Motorola Atrix smartphone again using Google Chat (bottom right).

On the phone, I can change the camera, mute the mic, and send text chats.  In fact, Vidtel recognizes some of the text chats as commands…..very cool!

The moral of the story is this:

You are no longer tied to a conference room to participate in a video conference!  Anytime, anyplace, anywhere is here……NOW!

More to follow….

iGoogle Going Away

The world is changing again!

My comfortable iGoogle homepage has served me well for quite a long time (I moved to Google from Yahoo a few years ago…).  I use Chrome (fast, reliable, etc) and have almost totally moved to the Google universe…and I am very happy here.  But….

Now I see a banner on my iGoogle home page that says iGoogle is going away.  Yikes!

After clicking on the information link, and pondering what this meant….not one to let grass grow under my feet…..I moved on and downloaded separate apps that give me quick access to the Google features I use the most:  Mail, Docs (Drive), Chat, Voice, News, YouTube, etc.

As I work, I will add more….Ah….Calendar…see…the more I work, the more I add…how funny.  :-)

My new Chrome homepage looks like this:

Alternatively, I can have this page showing my most visited sites show up:

Google Chat and Voice show up in the top right hand corner of Chrome:

Using the NEW WAY

I moved very quickly to using the separate apps to access my Google universe.  I suspect since I was already doing this on my smartphone, the move to this way of navigating on my computer was virtually painless.

Time marches on….keep up or fall behind…


Video Conferencing As We Know It Is Changing: Ready or Not

I have been working in the video conferencing industry since hmmmm, about 1988 and have  been blogging about it since 2006, or so.  Yikes!  So many products, so many conferences, so many changes, so much fun….

Anyway, so much for nostalgia….lets roll with the FUTURE….

The title of this blog entry kinda says it all:

Video conferencing as WE know it, is changing…..and unlike previous years, this upcoming change will wait for no one, as it will be driven NOT by the video conferencing industry, but, are you ready for this, by our USERS.  Wow!  Did you hear that?  USERS will drive this industry from here on….do you know how profound that is?  Up until now, the video conferencing industry has been providing a (really cool) TOOL, that no one (well, not exactly, but, you get my point) knew how to use.

Sure companies and individuals “used” video conferencing technology (for same old reasons like “it saves money on travel”) but did they REALLY understand how profoundly video conferencing could change their lives both at work and at home?

NOPE.  Not even close.

Up Until Now…

Video conferencing companies sold their USERS a TOOL.

Then the companies taught these USERS how to set-up that TOOL, how to use that TOOL (…here is a device we call a shovel……this is how you use it……DIG!), and sure enough, the users used that TOOL, but, only as instructed:  Sit down around this table, call this number by punching this button, talk, hang-up.

They did nothing more….they just used the TOOL.

Day in and day out, month after month, year after year….the users sat around a nice table  in a conference room, meeting with similar people in far off places.  Boring.  (But, I must say, it was amazing for it’s time….but, I am getting too nostalgic).

For 20 plus years, we provided our USERS with this (amazing) TOOL that had no external benefit except to “save money on travel” (did I already say that already?) .

THEN we added stuff to this TOOL like:  Application sharing (great!), improved audio quality (Grreat!), and high definition video (eh) so we could all sit in that expensive, beautiful, BORING, conference room and see our counterpart’s wrinkles, waddles, yellow teeth, bad hair, as they sit and (Play football?, Run?, Throw a ball?….no they) TALK (i.e. is move their lips, maybe turn their heads a bit, or roll their eyes) in glorious high definition?  You don’t need HD video to do your job, or talk to people (take off your glasses to experience SD, or worse), you DO need to collaborate effectively by: Working on documents, exchanging ideas, drawing up timelines,  throwing out ideas that can change the world, and getting feedback on those ideas…. then…. collaboratively writing papers that let the world know how dang smart you all are.

THAT is collaboration.  Voice, video, and data  working in harmony as if you were all in the same location….but, remotely located from each other.  Very Personal Telepresence like….oh, see here for the ORIGINAL Personal Telepresence concept.

But, I digress.

The Future….the kids will change our world…..

As I was saying….the world of HD / Telepresence conference room video conferencing to “save money on travel” (or to provide a wonderful human to human communication “experience”) is ending (shhhh, listen to the screaming of discontent….hear it?).  Our future USERS will end it, beeeeccaaauussseee, our USERS are finally understanding the true value, the true usefulness, the true beauty, of video conferencing.  Yipppeee!

They finally understand how to use the TOOLS we gave them to enhance their lives both at work and at home.

But not ALL of our users……mainly……just the kids.  The teens of today, the young 20 somethings, these are the USERS that will change (in the next decade or two, maybe sooner, maybe later, but it will happen) our entire world (from a video conferencing perspective).

The kids of that age grew up with computers, they grew up with the Internet, and now they go bonkers over social media in all it’s wild and diverse forms: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Blogging…..whatever.

The kids of today are comfortable with communicating virtually, they are comfortable with remote work, they are comfortable with……video conferencing.  These wunder kids call it video chatting and it comes in all forms (thanks to us for providing these TOOLS):  Skype, ooVoo, Google+ Hangouts, even Facebook tried it (it was awful and they are trying again), etc. etc.

The difference is…..

The kids of today (and leaders of tomorrow) do not care to drive to a conference room and chat in HD (even though they are, by and large, wrinkle & waddle free).  They do it from Starbucks, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, the bedroom, the family room, the airport, the airplane, trains, a corn field, playground, and, yes, the conference room…..ANYWHERE!

The kids of today do not seem to have a sense of  TIME (believe me I know…I wake up at 3 AM and do my obligatory safety check around the house, and my 20 year old is on Facebook, or video chatting).  They video chat (i.e. meet and do homework) with friends……ANYTIME!

And the kids of today are helping us old farts figure this stuff out too.  Suddenly, Grandma and Grandpa can now EASILY video conference with family (thanks to a TOOL called a Smartphone).  They can use Facetime, or Skype, or any number of really cool apps on their Smartphone.

NOW, truly, the time has come that video conferencing can be used as easy as making a phone call (ahhhh, how long have I been saying this was needed….too long…) by…..ANYONE!

Let me ask THE question:  Are these kids going to have an impact on how video conferencing is used in the workplace in the near future?  YES!

And therein lies my point…..the world of video conferencing (as we know it) is going to change to a virtual work environment (not saying when, or even saying completely, so don’t get all worried about losing your job…..yet).  People of the future WILL be working from ANYWHERE, collaborating with ANYONE,  at ANYTIME.

The conference room of tomorrow will be a virtual meeting place in the cloud (for giggles read this article on virtual work I wrote in August 1995).

The video conferencing TOOLS that WE (the collective we in the video conferencing industry) provided……are finally being understood, and utilized to their true potential, by the KIDS of today.  :-)


Anytime, anyone, anywhere.  Visual collaboration leaves the conference room and finds true love….