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Helpline: Alternatives to Microsoft Office and just what is Zendesk Chat? – Houston Chronicle

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Chronicle column mug of Helpline computer columnist Jay Lee photographed in the Chronicle studio Friday, April 20, 2007, in Houston. ( Photogapher / Chronicle )
Q. A while back, I subscribed to Microsoft Office 365 Personal on my laptop that runs Windows 10 Pro. The subscription costs me $70 per year. I do not need the 1 TB of cloud storage. All I would like to have is Microsoft Office Pro 2016. Can you please advise of the safest and least expensive way to go about getting my laptop updated to end the 365 subscription and have Office Pro up and running?
A. The subscription model of Office 365 is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a low-cost option to have the most current version of Microsoft Office installed on your PC. On the other hand, if you cancel your subscription the software simply stops working.
I am not a big fan of what I call software rental. I would prefer to own the application outright. But the purchase price on the stand-alone version of Microsoft Office is pretty steep so it’s easy to see why people might opt for the subscription version.
MORE HELPLINE: Read all of Jay Lee’s tech helpline columns
You might be able to save some money if you look for an older version like Office 2016 which can be found on sites like eBay and Amazon. But purchasing something like this from these sites is not without risk and potential headaches. If you decide to go that route, just be sure and do your research.
If you’re looking for a free alternative to Microsoft Office, you might want to check out Apache Open Office at www.openoffice.org. Apache Open Office is compatible with all of the file formats found in Microsoft Office so there’s no problem working with files created in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and others.
Q. In recent weeks something called Zendesk Chat has been popping up on many websites that I visit. I haven’t done anything that I know of to initiate this. I don’t know what Zendesk Chat is so I close it whenever it pops up. Is there anything I can do to stop this from popping up?
A. Zendesk Chat is a software tool used by many commercial Web sites to allow visitors to ask questions from a customer support representative. The chat is built into the page you are visiting and I don’t know of a way to block it.
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It can be a little intrusive, but it’s easy enough to close when it shows up.
I’ve actually found this to be quite useful when I need to get some additional information about the products and services that are offered by various companies. I’ve even used this or something similar when getting warranty support from companies like Dell and Apple.
It’s much more convenient in many cases to interact with customer service in a chat window than it is over the phone.
helpline@chron.com
Jay Lee previously co-hosted the radio show Technology Bytes on KPFT 90.1 FM and now works full time in the IT department of a local university.
If you have a technology related question you can send it to helpline@chron.com. Lee cannot personally answer all reader questions.
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