What’s the most popular application software in the world? Most likely, Microsoft Office. You use it, your colleagues use it, your relatives use it, and just about everyone you know uses it.

You certainly aren’t getting the most out of it, though. That’s where downloads can make the difference. We’ve assembled 15 great downloads to help you use Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint more effectively. With these downloads, you’ll be able to cut through e-mail clutter, create PDF files for free, use Excel to run a business, and shrink massive PowerPoint files, among other things. And they’re all free or almost free.
It’s time to get downloading and boost your productivity.

General Office Downloads

The following three downloads are a great place to start if you’re looking for overall help with Office. With these programs, you can recover lost product keys, kill privacy-invading information, and even replace Office with a free alternative.

ProduKey

Say you need to reinstall Office or some Office component. To do so, you need Office’s product key–but if you can’t locate the CD from which you installed Office, you no longer have the product key. What to do?
Get ProduKey. Run the program, and it shows all product keys for every one of your Microsoft Office applications; it also displays them for Windows, Windows Server, and Microsoft SQL Server. Once you have the key, you’re ready to go. For techies or network administrators, the tool has a variety of command-line options, such as for obtaining a product key from a remote PC, and for saving product key information to a text file.
Download ProduKey | Price: Free

Metadata Analyzer

What’s hidden in your Microsoft Office documents could harm you. A lot more information than you may imagine is lurking in your Office documents, and anyone who receives and views them can see everything. Documents hold hidden text, names of authors, revision history and markup, hidden cells, hidden spreadsheets, the total number and time of revisions, and other details.
Think that doesn’t matter? Think again. In 2006, Google accidentally told the world about highly sensitive financial projections because it posted a PowerPoint presentation containing notes with the confidential information. And in 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s top communications aide, Alistair Campbell, released a Word document with hidden information that proved that the British government had used plagiarized documents as a way to justify its involvement in the Iraq war.
This free program will make sure that nothing similar happens to you. Point it at any document, and it analyzes the file, showing you all the private information lurking within. The program will then clean up the document so that the information drops out of sight.
Download Metadata Analyzer | Price: Free

OpenOffice

Microsoft Office costs hundreds of dollars, depending on the version you buy. If you’re looking for a new office suite but you don’t want to hand over that much money, grab this free, surprisingly powerful suite instead. It has a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a database, and a drawing program, and even a “mathematical function calculator” if you need that sort of thing.

No need to worry about compatibility with Microsoft Office formats: OpenOffice handles all of those, as well as open-source formats. Each program in the suite offers just about all the power you’ll require.

If this free suite has any drawbacks, it’s that the interface isn’t as polished as Microsoft Office’s, and it lacks a few bells and whistles. Still, free is free, and if you’re seeking a way to avoid spending big bucks for a suite, it’s a great choice.
Download Open Office | Price: Free

Outlook Downloads

Outlook is the program everyone loves to hate. It’s bulky, and it can be slow, but it also gets the job done. Plenty of tools promise to improve Outlook–the following are our favorites. You’ll cut through e-mail clutter, find Outlook information quickly, shrink the size of this bloated application, handle attachments better, and more.

Xobni

If you suffer from e-mail overload and want more out of Outlook, you need this program, which makes finding messages, contacts, and anything else in Outlook exceedingly easy. It’s the best Outlook add-in I’ve ever used.
The program runs as an Outlook sidebar. For each e-mail, it shows information about the person with whom you’re communicating, including all the “conversations” you’ve had with them; in essence, it sets up a threaded list of every e-mail between the two of you. You’ll also see a list of every file you’ve exchanged, as well as the person’s phone number and “social network,” a list of people with whom that person has exchanged messages. It includes icons for sending an e-mail to the person and scheduling a meeting via Outlook, as well. For anyone who lives for statistics, the total number of messages you’ve exchanged appears at the top of the screen, along with more information that isn’t of much practical use but is interesting regardless.
The add-on offers plenty more, too, including a Xobni Analytics utility that gives you more information than you need about your e-mail use. Want to know the average amount of time you take to respond to people by day, month, and week? It’s in there. So is the median time you take to respond to specific people, and to people at a particular domain.
Those statistics, though, aren’t the real reason for using this program: It’s the only Outlook add-on I’ve ever tried that actually lives up to the promise of solving e-mail overload.
Download Xobni | Price: Free

Lookeen

This add-in for Outlook 2003 and 2007 performs lightning-fast searches, and offers several tools for managing and finding e-mail.

It integrates directly into Outlook, so you don’t have to fumble with a separate program when doing searches. Thanks to its various organizational tools, you can list all conversations with a specific contact, for example, and show all e-mail messages for a given day, week, or month. The program also automatically summarizes messages.
Lookeen does its job by indexing your files and then searching that index, rather than your entire data store. Because of that, you’ll have to wait a little while before you can start using it; the program may take up to 20 minutes to finish its initial indexing.
Download Lookeen | Price: Free

SendShield

Worried that the Office documents you send may have private information buried in them? This program, like Metadata Analyzer (see the previous page), solves the problem. When you send a Microsoft Office document in Outlook, the utility examines the document for private information. It then shows you the results and lets you delete that information. The program deletes information only from the copy you send; the original file stays intact.
Download SendShield | Price: Trial; price not currently set

Outlook Duplicate Items Remover

Duplicate information–multiple copies of e-mail messages, contacts, and other details–tends to clutter up Outlook. It may arise because you’ve imported data from an earlier version of Outlook, or it may show up for no apparent reason.
The free Outlook Duplicate Items Remover solves the problem handily, adding a new Outlook menu option that will eliminate duplicates for you. Click the ODIR menu option, choose Remove Duplicate Items, and select a folder. Then click Remove Duplicate Items. The program will kill the copies, but it will also keep a backup, in case you want to restore anything.
Download Outlook Duplicate Items Remover | Price: Free

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