And no, we're not suggesting you download pirated software from BitTorrent websites or "borrow" a friend's disc.
Instead, the following are five ways to pull this off, though as you might expect there's usually some sort of caveat for each suggestion.
Office Web Apps
Though not widely known, Microsoft's Office Web Apps offer free access to limited versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Create documents right in your favorite web browser — which can then be opened and edited in the desktop versions of Microsoft Office, if need be. Better yet, the free Windows Live SkyDrive lets you access, edit or share these password-protected files anywhere in the world via a computer or mobile device. In fact, SkyDrive gives you 25 gigabytes of free cloud storage, per account (and you can have multiple accounts).
Microsoft Office Trial Version
You've got a major essay due at school in a few weeks or must create a stellar PowerPoint to pitch new business. Rather than blowing your budget on software you're not sure if you want long-term, Microsoft offers a free, 30-day trial for its full-featured Office Professional 2010 suite. This consists of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher. All that's required is an email address, first and last name, and country. Mac users can download the trial for Office 2011 for Mac here.
Microsoft Office for schools, businesses
Sometimes referred to as the Microsoft Enrollment for Education Solutions program, Microsoft often offers free (or significantly reduced) software to schools or organizations that meet a number of requirements -- all of which are outlined in this document. Qualified customers with as few as five full-time equivalent employees or students can acquire an Authorized Education Reseller license, while larger customers with a minimum of 1,000 employees or students can license through a Large Account Reseller agreement.
Older versions of Microsoft Office
While Microsoft doesn't provide older versions of Microsoft Office — for free or otherwise — you might be able to find one dirt cheap at your local electronics store, though more likely at smaller retailers opposed to big box chains. Or if it's a reputable seller, you could probably find a legit copy on Ebay — but be aware you'll need to "activate" the software online to use it, so don't be afraid to ask the seller if it's been activated already (depending on the version, you're allowed three installs, such as the "Home and Student" editions). Also, be sure it's the full version instead of just an upgrade.
Microsoft Office competitors
There's little reason to break the bank on expensive software to remain productive when there are many free solutions for your personal computer. For example, you can download and use free Microsoft Office competitors like OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice, both of which offer a word processor, presentation maker, spreadsheet creator, and more. And yes, they're compatible with Microsoft office files, too, including .doc, .xls and .ppt files. They're usually not as full-featured as Microsoft Office, mind you, but can probably handle 90-odd percent of what you throw at it.