Best 6 Free Alternatives To Microsoft Office

To this day, the Microsoft Office suite is pretty much the default productivity suite in most professional contexts. Microsoft no longer sells it as a standalone boxed copy however. Instead, you pay a monthly subscription fee to get access to the latest version of Microsoft Office. 

It’s actually a pretty incredible deal, including licenses for multiple installations and users (using the family plan), oodles of included OneDrive storage and a complete unlock of the mobile Office apps on Android and iOS. 

However, what if you don’t want to spend a single cent? What are the best free alternatives to Microsoft Office?

iWork (macOS & iOS)

For Apple users running macOS or iOS, the best free alternative to Microsoft Office is without a doubt the iWork suite. Since 2017, Apple has made its alternative competitor to Microsoft Office completely free for all Apple users on macOS and iOS. 

The three main parts of the iWork suite are Pages, Keynote and Numbers. If you can’t immediately figure it out, these are the Word, Powerpoint and Excel alternatives on offer. What’s missing here is an Apple version of MS Access, but the vast majority of users have no real use for a database application.

Apple and Microsoft have two very different approaches to creating their productivity software. Microsoft offers a powerful, feature-rich solution, it’s true. However, the user experience is still pretty rough after all these years and there’s a steep learning curve if you really want to get at the good stuff.

iWork, on the other hand, is beautiful to a fault and easy to use. If you want to, for example, create a professional-looking word processor document, iWork makes it a breeze.

Who Should Use iWork?

Obviously, since this is only available to Apple users, it makes sense to give iWork a fair shake before ponying up any cash for Office. After all, it’s already available on your hardware for free. So if it covers all your needs, why spend anything? 

It’s also a great suite for those who value refined user interfaces and beautiful design. There’s a reason Apple’s software has been popular among creatives in the publishing industry for decades.

Google Suite (Browser-Based)

The Google Suite is a free suite of cloud-based productivity apps from, well, Google. Every person who has a Gmail account automatically gets access to Docs, Sheets and Slides along with a number of other neat applications. 

Documents themselves are stored in your Google Drive. 15GB of storage is included for free as well. Google Docs is the word processor, Sheets provides spreadsheets and Slides is of course the presentation app.

The beauty of the Google suite is that it will work on any browser that supports modern web standards. There are also proper mobile apps for both Android and iOS and an offline mode for desktop users.

Google’s apps are, compared to Office, incredibly limited. These are very lightweight pieces of software. However, we’ve been using Google suite apps almost since they were first released and the offering has grown by leaps and bounds. In many ways, an app like Docs is better for its streamlined approach. 

Who Should Use The Google Suite?

Formatting options are pretty limited, but if you’re doing the sort of writing that will be formatted elsewhere (by a web designer or publisher) then it’s a fantastic choice. 

People who write for a living are certainly in that category. Google Drive offers a flexible and secure way to do your writing anywhere on almost any device. It also has some pretty amazing live collaboration tools, which even the Office Live service has yet to match. 

If you, like most people, need to produce documents along with a group of people, Google Docs provides massive efficiency gains over the traditional “round-robin” style of passing a document around for comment and additional writing.

LibreOffice (macOS, Windows & Linux)

LibreOffice is the first open-source alternative to Microsoft Office on this list, which means that the source code is open for anyone to modify. If you’re a coder,this means you can make your own custom productivity suite. 

However, for most people this means that they don’t have to pay anything to use the software. Moreover, there’s an entire community of people updating and upgrading the software.

Apart from being free and open, LibreOffice feels quite a lot like the classic MS Office experience. It doesn’t have the shiny modern user interface or extensive online integration, but it’s a solid suite with the option for full portability. Which is to say, you can keep it on a flash drive and run it on any computer, without having to do a traditional installation.

Who Should Use LibreOffice?

There are a few good target audiences for LibreOffice. Anyone who still yearns for the classic Office experience from the 90s or early 2000s will like the LibreOffice style. It’s a modern suite in terms of functionality, but it does have that feel.

Linux users and anyone who likes to support open-source will also find that LibreOffice is a great alternative to Microsoft Office, without any of the baggage that proprietary software comes with. 

It’s also an excellent choice for students with limited budgets or internet access, since it’s free and doesn’t rely on any internet services to provide its functionality.

WPS Office (Windows, Android & Linux)

WPS Office was previously known as “KSOffice” or “KOffice” in the West. The first version of this “relatively” unknown office suite was released all the way back in 1988. The modern version of this free productivity suite looks quite a bit like the modern MS Office, so if you already like Office you’ll feel more or less at home here.

We’re looking specifically at the free version of the suite here. This is not open-source software and Kingsoft does sell this software with additional features. The free tier includes Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheets. We don’t need to explain what each of these are meant to do.

Format support is excellent, with modern MS Office formats supported as well as a long list of legacy formats. Having a WPS account also lets you sync documents across your devices and platforms. With the exception of iWork, this is one of the most polished productivity suites you can get, especially as a free product.

There are some limitations in the free version worth noting. There’s no access to premade templates and other assets from the WPS online resource. There are adverts that support the free version as well. The free version can’t edit PDF documents and other nice-to-have features such as OCR is missing. However, all the core functionality is there.

Who Should Use WPS Office?

If the rough edges of LibreOffice don’t appeal to you, but you don’t want to spend any money on an MS Office subscription, WPS provides a slick, visually pleasing experience. 

Its unique “all-in-one” interface design blends the feel of a multi-tab browser with an office suite. If you don’t like the all-in-one style, you can switch to a more traditional format, but it makes it great for working on a single-screen laptop and is therefore a good choice for students or writers.

Dropbox Paper (Browser-Based)

Dropbox is best known for offering a fantastic cloud-based storage solution. It’s got fantastic platform integration on various devices and has become a popular way to share files between people who work together. 

However, services like Google Drive also offer convenient cloud storage and offer a way to work together in real time. So now we have Dropbox Paper. 

This is not a full suite as we get from Google, but it does provide a basic cloud-based word processing, perfect integration with your Dropbox drive and well designed collaboration with other users. 

Who Should Use Dropbox Paper?

Dropbox Paper is not really an alternative to Microsoft Office, but if you and your coworkers are already storing your documents in Dropbox, then this is the path of least resistance to working together on the base text, perhaps leaving advanced formatting for an intern to complete. 

Dropbox have really put a lot of thought into helping people work together in Paper, letting you assign tasks and set due dates. There’s some of that in services such as Google Docs as well, but if you’re already invested in Dropbox’s cloud storage, this is a nice bonus.

Graphite Docs (Decentralized Blockchain Software)

Graphite Docs isn’t a complete Office suite, but it’s doing something so new and interesting that it should be mentioned on a list of Microsoft Office alternatives. 

The service essentially offers the equivalent of the Google Docs word processor at this point. With similar collaboration features to boot. So why is this relatively simple online word processor so special? It’s all thanks to how it works under the hood.

You see, when you use something like Google Docs, Google has complete access to the contents of your documents. In some ways that’s necessary. It would be hard, for example, to offer within-document searches if they couldn’t read the data inside. 

However, there’s always a concern that some sensitive or confidential documents could be extracted by someone at the company, or by hackers who compromise their data centers.

Graphite Docs is an example of a decentralized application. It uses the same core technology as Bitcoin (i.e. the blockchain) to provide online cloud services. The actual computing power is provided by the many peer computers that maintain that blockchain. 

So it provides you with most of the benefits you get from Google Docs, but without any of the privacy concerns. 

Who Should Use Graphite Docs?

Graphite Docs is not for mainstream users and it’s very much a new and rather experimental technology. However, if you’re working on stuff that needs a particularly high level of security and privacy, then it’s well worth looking into.

Getting The Job Done

Microsoft Office is a fine product and, to be quite honest, provides a lot of value for the asking price. 

That being said, the only reason it’s so competitive is, well, competition. Every one of the Microsoft Office alternatives listed above are great in their own right, and may well be a better fit for you than the biggest player in the productivity market. 

Since they are all also free, you have no reason not to give them a go either.

Playstation vs Xbox: How To Choose What’s Right For You

While many console makers have come and gone, today there are only two main players – Sony and Microsoft. Of course, Nintendo is still incredibly popular, but its hybrid Switch console isn’t really in competition with either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

These two mainstream console titans is where you’ll find the latest AAA games. With a focus on horsepower and eye-popping graphics, the only place you’ll find more impressive gaming is on the PC. At a price, of course.

The real question is how to decide which platform you should buy. The simplest answer is to buy both, but that’s obviously not an affordable or sensible option for most people. If you’ve decided to go the console route over the gaming PC, then which is better?

The truth is that which product is “better” has more to do with your own values, tastes and circumstances than any sort of objective superiority. To help you pick a side, here are a few key points to consider when it comes to the PlayStation vs Xbox battle.

Where Do My Friends Play?

For many people, video games are largely a social hobby. Multiplayer titles are more popular than ever and a major selling point for modern consoles. If you’re the type of gamer that’s heavily invested in online gaming with your pals, then the decision has almost been made for you. 

For the most part, you can only play with other players on the same platform as you. So if all your friends have gone with the PS4 or, alternatively, the Xbox, you’ll have to follow suit.

That being said, all the console manufacturers are starting to warm up to the idea of cross-platform play. So this may not be a problem in the long term. Specific titles already let you play with gamers on other consoles or even the PC. Barring specific technical limitations, that may very well become the norm in future.

Exclusive Titles

Consoles are merely a means to an end. We don’t want the console for its own sake, we want to play video games! Each console brand has exclusive franchises and titles, which are often funded and developed by the console maker itself. Either through a studio it owns or one it’s contracted to develop exclusive games.

For example, the Halo and Forza games are considered system sellers for Xbox. Gran Turismo and the God of War series would be examples from the Playstation side of things.

Picking between consoles can often be a matter of choosing which set of exclusive game you want to play more. There are a few things to keep in mind here, to help you decide.

Firstly, true exclusives are relatively rare these days. With the exception of first-party titles, many exclusive games are actually “timed” exclusives. Which means that if you wait long enough, it will come to the platform of your choice. 

You should also consider that consoles get cheaper as the generation heads towards its end. So if you’re willing to wait, you can play the other platform’s exclusive titles later in the generational cycle, when the best deals are on offer. If the exclusives on one side of the fence feel like the sort of titles you can’t be patient for, then you should listen to your gut and buy the console that supports them.

Backwards Compatibility

Both Xbox and Playstation have a long history of consoles with fantastic games, but can you play any of them on the latest generation of console? Being able to play older titles on newer systems is a feature known as “backwards compatibility.”

In its true sense, it means having the ability to take the original disc from the older console, popping it into the new machine and playing your game. From that point of view, only the Xbox One has backwards compatibility between the two current-generation consoles. You can put your Xbox 360 or original Xbox discs into your Xbox One console and play them. 

This does have a few caveats however. Only games on a supported list will work and the game doesn’t actually play from your original disc. The disc is proof of ownership, which gives you access to a tested digital version of the game. Which means you do need an active internet connection and the patience to wait for a download. 

It’s not universal backwards compatibility then, but chances are plenty of your existing Xbox 360 and Original games will work. If you don’t own the discs, you can always simply buy the digital versions of these games.

On the PS4, things look very different. There is no PlayStation 1 compatibility at all, at least not at the time of writing. This feature may be added to the PS4 (and PS5) at some point, but right now that’s not the case. This makes the PS4 the first Sony console to lack PS1 compatibility. Likewise, PS2 and PS3 discs won’t work.

That’s not to say you can play any games from the PS1, PS2 and PS3 games on your PS4. Many popular titles have been ported to the PS4 and you can buy them as digital downloads. However, your original discs do not entitle you to these versions and they have been painstakingly reworked to play on the new console.

Raw Power

The power and performance of video game consoles has always been fertile ground for heated debate. Especially when it comes to cross-platform games, where you can compare image quality and performance directly. This is also the easiest area within which to rank the consoles. 

There are actually two PS4 and two Xbox One performance levels, making for four models in total. Here they are ranked from weakest to most powerful:

  • Xbox One and One S
  • Playstation 4
  • Playstation 4 Pro
  • Xbox One X

If you want to know more details about the two high-performance models, check out our article on how to pick between the base and “pro” models of each brand. In both cases, if you are buying a new console anyway, it’s worth going with the higher-end models if you can. That’s if you put a high priority on the technical performance of video games. 

Game developers ensure that their games are fun and playable on the base models of each console. So it’s not a question of bad versus good gaming experiences. Rather, it’s a question of good versus better.

Value-Added Services

When you decide to go with either Playstation vs Xbox, you are not just picking a console. You are also choosing an ecosystem. Both brands come with their own paid online subscriptions, which give you access to multiplayer as well as free monthly games. In addition, members may get exclusive content or price discounts.

Both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold are competitive with each other, but you  may find one to be more to your liking than the other. For example, you lose access to PlayStation Plus “free” titles if your subscription lapses, which is not true for Games with Gold titles.

Microsoft also has the industry-leading Game Pass service, which works a bit like Netflix does, but for video games. There’s a library of titles that you can download and play as long as you’re a subscriber. Even better, you can pay for a version of Game Pass that gives you access to titles on both Xbox and Windows.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is better and more affordable than ever, but it’s still pretty expensive. The most cost-effective AAA VR experience you can get today comes from Sony’s PS4, through the use of the PSVR addon

The PlayStation 4 is the only console that offers VR gaming, so if you are at all interested in VR and don’t want to invest in a PC-based setup, you should strongly consider the PlayStation 4.

Playstation Vs Xbox: The Next Generation

At the time of writing, details about the PlayStation 5 and next-generation Xbox are starting to emerge. It’s still far too early to make good decisions about which of these consoles are best, but your choices during the current generation will have an impact on that decision. 

Both consoles are almost certain to be backwards compatible with at least the current generation of consoles. Which means you can seamlessly move your game collection over to the new machines when they launch. 

Given how expensive video games are, it’s a daunting idea to re-buy your video games on a new brand of gaming machine. So do keep that in mind when thinking about which way you’d like to go today.

Xbox Backwards Compatibility Explained

You might have heard the term “backwards compatibility” thrown around in conversations about current and next-generation consoles. In particular, Microsoft’s addition of backwards compatibility to the Xbox One made quite a splash in gaming circles. 

You may be wondering what the big deal is. What is Xbox backwards compatibility?

The Meaning Of Backwards Compatibility

The concept of backwards compatibility is pretty simple. When a company brings out a new version of media device, it can still play media created for its predecessor. In some cases it may also work with some of the accessories designed for the older machine.

Backwards compatibility was actually pretty common in the past. For example, the Sega Genesis (aka MegaDrive) was actually compatible with the Sega Master System. All you needed was a cartridge adapter. Similarly, the PlayStation 2 was fully backwards-compatible with PlayStation 1 games. 

This meant players had no reason to hold back from upgrading to the new console. They knew that their existing game library would work on the new machine.

However, backwards compatibility can be both difficult and expensive to offer when there are radical and fundamental differences in the hardware between one console generation and the next. Thanks to some experimentation by console makers during the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 era, Xbox backwards compatibility has been put on the backburner. 

With the next generation of consoles looking to stick with current-generation architecture however, it may again become a standard feature from this point onwards.

A Recap of Xbox Console Generations

There are three existing generations of Xbox console, with a fourth generation coming in hot at the time of writing:

  • Xbox (now referred to as the “Original Xbox”)
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox One (Which includes the beefed up Xbox One X)
  • Xbox Series X (the upcoming next generation)

Each of these have their own backwards compatibility eccentricities. So let’s look at which games will work on which consoles. 

Xbox Backwards Compatibility By Console

The original Xbox has no backwards compatibility at all. Which makes perfect sense, since it’s the first Xbox generation. It was released to compete with the PlayStation 2 and so it’s games look and feel like most titles from that era of gaming.

The Xbox 360 is backwards compatible with original Xbox titles. However, it’s not compatible with all of them. There’s a rather short list of original Xbox games that are certified to work on the Xbox 360. You also need an Xbox 360 with a hard drive, since compatibility for these games are added through system updates.

The Xbox One did not launch with backwards compatibility and no one expected it, given how different Xbox One hardware is from Xbox 360 hardware. Then the geniuses at Microsoft had a breakthrough with their Xbox 360 emulator and now there’s a long list of tested and certified Xbox 360 and original Xbox games that will work on the Xbox One.  

As for the console that will follow the Xbox One, it’s almost certain that it will be backwards compatible with Xbox One games, but according to the system designers, the aim is to make this new console backwards compatible with every previous generation of Xbox. Time will tell whether they succeed.

How To Play Backwards-Compatible Xbox Games

If you are an Xbox 360 owner, then all you have to do in order to play original Xbox games is pop the disc in. After making sure that you are running the latest version of the system software, that is. You can also find original Xbox games as digital downloads on the Xbox Live store, but of course you’ll have to buy them.

The process is largely the same. When you insert your Xbox 360 disc into your Xbox One, the console will download a digital copy of the game that has been optimized to work with the Xbox 360 emulator on the Xbox One. The disc itself is only used to verify that you own a copy of the game. 

If you’ve bought Xbox 360 games digitally that are on the backwards compatibility list, you can simply download them to your Xbox One. These don’t require the original disc to be in the drive. Should you put an Xbox 360 game into the Xbox One that isn’t on the backwards compatibility list, you’ll get an error messaging telling you the game won’t work yet. 

Be sure to update your system software, in case that title has been added in the meantime. Although, at the time of writing, Microsoft has paused the certification project.

Limitations & Things To Keep In Mind

The Xbox One isn’t backwards compatible with previous-generation consoles on a hardware level. Which means it uses emulation to play older titles. Essentially, this is a software technique that creates a virtual version of the older console, tricking the software into thinking that it’s running on original hardware. 

Virtualizing an entire console takes quite a lot of processing power, so it’s quite impressive that the Xbox team were able to make it work so well given the limits of the base model Xbox.

If you’re lucky enough to own one of the beefed-up Xbox One X consoles, then certain Xbox 360 titles offer an “Xbox One X enhanced” mode. These games feature higher resolutions, faster and more consistent frame rates and generally run much better than they ever did on the original consoles.

However, thanks to the reliance on emulation, it’s unlikely that every previous-generation game will be added to the list. At least not when it comes to the Xbox One. With the more powerful Xbox generation on the horizon, we may very well see the list of compatible titles expand dramatically.

The 10 Best Couch Co-op Games For The PS4

Historically, one of the best things about video game consoles was the ability to plug in a second controller, plop down on the couch with a friend, and have an absolute blast playing a game together on one screen. PC gamers had to put together a LAN party, which is awesome but requires a lot of preparation. Console gamers just had to, well, switch the console on.

Sadly, those days seem to be behind us when it comes to home consoles. Local multiplayer on a single console and screen is a rarity, even on the most popular console of this generation – the PS4. Honestly, it sometimes seems that the only reason to have a second controller for your PS4, is to swap it out when the controller battery dies. 

Except, if you know where to look, there are some truly awesome Playstation 4 games that you can play with someone in the same room. Here are 10 (unranked) PS4 couch co-op games you can play with whoever you can convince to sit down and grab a controller.

Diablo III: Eternal Collection

The first Diablo revolutionized the computer role-playing world and it even got a console release on the PS1. However, until the advent of Diablo III on consoles, no one had really nailed this traditionally mouse-centric genre using a controller. 

Diablo III not only manages to successfully bring the Diablo experience to the PS4, it manages to be the best version of the game to play. Yes, even better than the PC version! Best of all, Diablo III has a brilliant couch co-op mode. Up to four players can play on one screen, tearing through hordes of demons and other monsters with mind-bending attacks and powers. 

The only issue with how this dark fantasy RPG handles local multiplayer is the lack of split-screen. All characters must remain close to each other and, worst of all, players have to take turns accessing menus.

Although there is a quick-equip system in place to help reduce how much this needs to happen. If you want a classic Diablo II experience on the PS4, with proper independent split screen, consider Titan Quest for PS4. It’s somewhat buggy and a little clunky to control, but still a heap of fun.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

Borderlands 3 may already be out and it’s a decent game for Borderlands fans, but Borderlands 2 remains the peak of this addictive looter-shooter’s series. Borderlands 2, with all DLC, is included in this bundle along with Borderlands The Pre-Sequel.

With a wonderfully bent sense of humour, great first-person shooting and immensely fun split-screen mode this is a must-have for anyone looking to play something with their friends. The Pre-Sequel’s low-gravity gameplay may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but consider it a nice bonus in addition to the main course.

Rocket League

Explaining what Rocket League is can be difficult. Basically, you play soccer using RC cars. Sounds like a simple concept, right? However, in practice Rocket League is a game of extreme skill. Controlling your car and getting that ball into the goal is no simple feat. It’s addictive fun and playing online against skilled opponents can be incredibly rewarding. 

You can also play with a friend in split screen couch co-op mode locally, which works incredibly well. Best of all, you can team up and play against other players as well. Rocket League is pretty inexpensive, but will provide you with hours of semi-frustrated joy and amazing moments of “did you see that?!”. Definitely deserving of a spot on this list.

Minecraft PS4 Edition

Minecraft is an absolute phenomenon and remains one of the most popular games to play online with a group of friends. In case you didn’t know, Minecraft is a unique game of survival and creativity. Players can freely build objects from in-game blocks in Creative mode or try their hand at surviving in the harsh, blocky wilderness in Survival mode. Where you need to craft everything you need before the critters of the Minecraft world get you.

Console versions of the game (with the exception of the Vita) have an exclusive split-screen mode. Which means you and a buddy can while away the hours running from creepers and building that perfect replica of the USS Enterprise from dirt cubes.

Don’t Starve Together

The original Don’t Starve offered us a quirky survival game, with an art style reminiscent of Tim Burton and a world strongly channeling Lovecraft. It’s built quite a following. The only thing fans really wanted for the game was multiplayer and the developers eventually delivered on that request. Except, they decided to package and sell it as a new game called Don’t Starve Together

In the end this was justified, because the game had to be significantly redesigned for multiplayer balance. It’s not particularly expensive though, if you and a friend want to pit yourselves against the dark and brooding wilderness while maintaining your sanity. 

It’s also available as part of a mega-pack, so if you don’t already own the original game, that’s the best deal around.

Guacamelee

So-called “metroidvania” games are as popular as ever. The key gimmick of these games, named for Metroid and Castlevania, is that your progress is blocked by a lack of certain powers. So you’ll hit a brick wall, backtrack until you find the right power, and then use it to move forward again. 

It’s a fun and addictive formula, but Guacamelee (and its sequel) are quite possibly the best modern take on this game genre.

Set in a unique, Luchador-centric world full of spicy South American charm, this game features great humour and tight action, when it comes to platforming and combat. You die, you are reborn as a luchador, you have to save the damsel. 

It’s pretty straightforward as an elevator pitch, but you and a buddy will find Guacamelee offers a comedic trip like no other game of its type. It’s a must-have.

Trine Series

If you’re an older gamer, you may remember a game called The Lost Vikings. It was developed by a little studio called Silicon and Synapse, who would later go on to become Blizzard Entertainment. You probably haven’t heard of them.

In The Lost Vikings you take control of three characters, each with unique abilities. You have to use their unique powers to make it to the end of each level.

Now replace “The Lost Vikings” with “Trine” and you’ll have a pretty good idea about what this modern game is all about. Trine 1 came out way back in 2009, but both its sequels are also on the PS4. It’s filled with whimsical story-telling, neat gameplay and a solid couch co-op game mode where each player can take control of the thief, wizard or knight to solve the puzzle, beat the baddies and make it to the next section.

Overcooked Series

Even PS4 fans have to admit that Nintendo games have a certain charm and fun that’s hard to find outside of their walled garden. Overcooked is one of those games, which may very well have been a Nintendo game in another universe.

Overcooked is built around local co-op, which is why it shines when played with someone manning the other control. The idea is to work together to complete food orders. Dishes need specific ingredients put together in a certain order. The only way to get this done within the time limit is to work with the other person like a well-oiled machine. 

It may have cutesy graphics, but make no mistake about how frantic and challenging this can get. At the time of writing there are two mainline Overcooked games, both of which are a blast to play on the couch with a friend.

Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil has received a lot of love on the PS4, especially with the remakes of the original games. However, Resident Evil 5 still has the best implementation of split-screen co-op in the entire series. 

It also has a unique African setting and tense combat against interesting enemies. If you like excellent third-person action games and know someone else who also likes that sort of thing, you can’t go wrong with RE 5.

Divinity: Original Sin II

Widely considered to be one of the best video game RPGs of the modern day, Divinity: Original Sin II offers a story-rich, less frantic alternative to Diablo III. Combat is not the main focus of this game, although it is clearly very important. Instead, there’s a strong emphasis on role playing and exploration. 

The game features a proper split-screen mode, with each player having independent control of their characters. This game is fantastic as a solo experience, but the addition of local co-op adds effectively unlimited hours to the already voluminous play time offered by the core single player game. 

Sadly, there’s no cross-platform multiplayer here, but you and your local buddy can team up with two other players online to form a party of four, so it is quite flexible. 

Divinity: Original Sin II has virtually universal acclaim among both professional reviewers and fans, so if you have any love for computer RPGs at all it should already be on your shopping list. 

OTT Explains : Is Facebook Listening To Me Through My Smartphone?

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you. You’re having a chat with someone about something you’re planning to spend money on. Maybe a holiday or a new laptop. Then, the next time you open the Facebook app, you find an advert for exactly the thing you were talking about earlier waiting for you. 

It’s chilling! You’re creeped out! That’s perfectly understandable. It’s enough to make you wonder, is Facebook listening to me? The simplest answer is “no”. Why? Well, Facebook has made an official statement clearly stating that they simply don’t do this. Of course, any good conspiracy theorist wouldn’t be swayed by a mere denial. Of course they’ll deny it. 

So, let’s take a different approach to this question. Instead of taking Facebook at their word, let’s look at how feasible it would be for them to record, process and mine everyone’s recorded speech in order to provide targeted ads.

First, CAN It Be Done?

The whole premise of Facebook listening to you is moot if it’s a technical impossibility to pull off. However, if you were hoping this is the case, prepare for disappointment. 

On paper it’s entirely possible to record someone through their phone’s microphone, process their speech into text and use that text to create targeted advertisements. All the technology needed to do this exists.

After all, we use smart speakers and voice assistants such as Siri and Cortana every day. They are always listening for their trigger words, can accurately transcribe your speech and even “understand” what you’re asking to perform tasks.

Of course, services like these require quite a lot of cloud-based processing power. When you speak to Siri, your speech is sent to a data center, where powerful server hardware turns it into information the software can understand. This is an important point, because the data center isn’t free.

Every time you use something like Siri or Google Assistant, someone has to pay for it. For an on-demand service such as a voice assistant, this cost is manageable. However, here we are talking about recording and processing hours and hours of speech on the off-chance you’ll get useful information for targeted ads. Advert revenue margins are already razor-thin, which means there’s little if any economic justification for such a project.

That being said, modern smartphones are powerful enough to local voice processing. Google, as one example, are already offering offline speech recognition on some Pixel phones. Of course, users would quickly notice the battery drain. However, since real-time processing is not needed, phones could quietly process batches of voice data overnight while charging. 

This would mean Facebook could get the data for free. Then again, it would be almost impossible for someone not to notice this sort of thing happening and exposing it. 

So, the bottom line is that it’s entirely feasible from a technical standpoint, but doesn’t make financial sense to do.

Cui Bono – Who Benefits?

Which brings us to the next big question you should always ask in this sort of situation – who benefits if Facebook is listening? We already alluded to this above, but if the idea is that Facebook makes targeted adverts from this data, how does that benefit them?

For this to make any sense, the targeted ads made from this data would outperform those made the usual way. Since these would cost more to create, advertisers would have to pay more for them as well. Which would imply the existence of a secret advertising tier with substantially better returns. 

Once again, someone would have noticed this. Most conspiracies are untenable because they require a large number of independent people to perfectly keep a secret. If Facebook were doing this, you’d expect multiple, independent whistleblowers to come forward. Which simply hasn’t happened in the years this story has existed.

Alternative Explanations

None of the above does anything to erase the core observation that triggered this idea in the first place. Sometimes you’ll get hit with a Facebook advert about something you just had a conversation about. Heck, sometimes you’ll see an advert for something you were just thinking about! Although, thankfully, the idea that Facebook is reading your mind has not yet gained major traction.

So how can we explain this? There are actually more than a few alternative hypotheses. More than we have space for here, but these three are probably the most likely and, sadly, rather pedestrian explanation. 

Counting The Hits, Not The Misses

It’s human nature to give more weight to things that are notable than things that aren’t. As a species, we’re actually pretty terrible at estimating things like probability because of this. For example, when deciding whether to buy lottery tickets, people pay way more attention to the one person who wins the jackpot than the millions of people who won absolutely nothing.

Similarly, there’s a good chance that you only notice this Facebook phenomenon because it’s such a weird thing to happen. You don’t recall all the times you opened up the app and didn’t see an advert related to a recent conversation. So, it’s probably just a weird coincidence, but it’s not a totally random one. 

Thanks to the way Facebook works, the odds of this sort of thing happening is higher than you think, which brings us to the next alternative explanation.

You Already Gave Facebook The Information

Facebook uses algorithms that take your data and then matches adverts to you. You’ve already willingly given Facebook as much data as it could possibly want. Photos, posts and profile information contains just about every detail about your life. More importantly, Facebook can make inferences about what you’d like to buy based on the behavior of other people. 

We’d like to think that we are all unique snowflakes, but in truth if you and a group of other people share similar interests, there’s a good chance you’ll follow their buying behavior as well.

Which means there’s a non-random, non-zero chance that something you’d be talking about with someone will also happen to be a topic or product predicted by Facebook’s software. Which leads to a false positive connection in your brain that one caused the other. Instead, it’s a third factor related to both events.

You’re Tapping Into The Zeitgeist

How much free will do you have? Are your thoughts really your own? OK, let’s not get too philosophical here, but you can’t be sure that your conversation hasn’t been influenced by a larger trend.

We’re more connected than ever and your stream of consciousness is going to reflect the Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) to some degree. In other words, you’re likely to be talking about stuff that’s trending, which also makes it likely that Facebook will provide you with topical ads as well. At some point those two processes are going to intercept, causing a creepy event you’ll remember.

It Doesn’t Mean No One Is Listening!

While, most likely, Facebook isn’t recording all your conversations and trawling them for ad keywords, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t listening. There have already been multiple accounts of questionable practices surrounding devices like smart speakers and smart cameras. 

Moreover, government agencies such as the NSA have the money, time and motivation to make this sort of practice feasible. Then there’s the issue of hackers, who can infect your phone with malware and record whatever’s happening around the device.

So while the “Is Facebook listening to me” conspiracy theory is most likely bunk, that doesn’t mean we can sleep on the issue of digital privacy in general. The good news is that the privacy and security measures in smartphone operating systems are improving all the time. Which makes it harder for rogue apps to spy on you. 

There is no such thing as perfect privacy or security, but it’s not an all-or-nothing situation either. As for the Facebook conspiracy, we can probably lay that particular concern to rest. At least for now.