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. The number of choices in applications has also dramatically dropped over time. Most new computers will generally come with one of two packages, but some may not include any as a means to reduce price.
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. This of course increases the portability of documents between computers.
Recent changes have made what applications you get in the productivity suite a bit more confusing. While Works is still the most common included suite, Office has splintered into many different versions. What is included in the versions vary, as well as the license for what the software can be used for. Pretty much every version of Office includes Word (word processing), Excel (speadsheet), and Powerpoint (presentation). For additional information on what is included in each version, consult Microsoft's What's In Each Edition? page.
Corel Word Perfect
Word Perfect was considered to be the major word processing program in the earliest days of personal computers, but that position has changed greatly. Corel purchased the Word Perfect software along with a range of other productivity software that has been put together into a suite. This is generally offered by manufacturers as a low cost alternative to the Microsoft Office and Works suites. It includes Word Perfect (word processing), Quattro Pro (spreadsheet) and Presentations (presentation). More information on their various versions can be found at their Office Suite page.
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 other two packages, 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. The software is now managed by Oracle after its purchase of Sun.
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. It has the advantage of allowing you to access and edit your documents from any location or computer. The downside is that you are required to have an Internet connection in order to use it. 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.