Pretty well everyone who computes realises that Microsoft Office is the king, and also realises that there is a good, free alternative to the expensive software from Redmond.
The Presentation programme in the free Softmaker suite is fully compatible with the Microsoft version, but comes with the same problem: how to make a PowerPoint interesting.
But fewer seem to realise there are alternatives _ plural _ for the same price as the long-running Open Office, which has, in any case, recently been replaced by Office Libre.
- Kingsoft Office 2012 is an up-to-date suite with fast, simple modules. But before we get to any good stuff, it is important to know the bad stuff.
Kingsoft speaks horrible Thai. Compared with Microsoft Office and Open Office, for example, Kingsoft reads and writes Thai like a second-grader. (Please believe that I am an adult who is an expert on second-grade Thai writing ability, as spouse will laugh and confirm.)
This is a strange drawback for software that is made in Asia, that Kingsoft Office speaks Thai far worse than programmes made in the US and Europe.
Apart from this problem, Kingsoft is a nice office suite, with modules called Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentations which are compatible with the Microsoft Office versions. I like Kingsoft because it is sleek and fast. Writer, for example, takes little more time to load and start using than, say, the mini-word processor WordPad that comes with Windows. By comparison, Microsoft Office and even Open Office are bloatware.
And Kingsoft has two excellent features _ on-the-spot encryption of your files _ they call these blasted machines personal computers after all _ and instant conversion of files to PDF.
Kingsoft offers Free Office and a pro version, and is definitely worth a trial, from www.kingsoftstore.com.
- Softmaker of Germany used to give away the version of its office suite before the current one _ the 2008 version after the release of the 2011 upgrade, for example. It still does roughly the same thing, it still urges you to buy the latest version, except it now calls the project Free Office.
The Writer module of Kingsoft Office 2012 has a retro look of Microsoft Word, with a busy toolbar set that will be familiar to any word processor user of the past 10 years.
The free Softmaker suite comes with three deliciously Microsoft-compatible programs. TextMaker does most of what Microsoft Word does, PlanMaker works spreadsheets like Excel, and any PowerPoint can use the Presentation module without a shred of help or confusion.
Softmaker produces excellent programmes, and it has been my personal choice as an office suite for several years. I like the ability to save documents in pretty well any format _ Microsoft, Open Office and others, including direct saving to PDF, and instant conversion of word-processing files to HTML code for the website. Unless you do work of an extremely specialist nature that actually needs an obscure Microsoft Office feature, you'll find this suite is faster, usually smoother, always smaller and just as useful _ or more so _ than Microsoft Office.
The closest thing to a drawback is that you must register Free Office with a working email address.
After that, about once a week, that address will get a polite email suggesting you upgrade Free Office or buy other Softmaker products. Softmaker Free Office has a refreshingly simple and fast home page, including the direct download link of the installation package, at www.freeoffice.com/en/.
- SSuite Office is the work of a two-man team of Dutch brothers, who produced the lovely QT Writer Express reviewed in these pages very recently.
Like the other suites here, the basic SSuite collection features a Word-compatible word processor (WordGraph), and an Excel-compatible spreadsheet programme (Accel). There is no PowerPoint-type software in any of the SSuite collections.
Of which there are a confusing number. The extremely talented and generous van Loo brothers have basic, advanced, premium, professional and even Omega editions. There is also a BladeRunner edition, from whose name we are supposed to realise is the portable collection _ no actual installation required.
Word Graph is a terrific word processor, so long as you bring along the side programmes that make it more terrific than others listed here. The mailing list maker (email mailouts included) and envelope printer are add-ons to be proud of, and the separate PDF memo creator is worth far more than you pay for it.
Also, SSuite is a smooth, modest-sized, fast-running and independent programme suite. There is no need for Java, dot-Net or any of the other hidden extras that so many programs need these days.
The complete if sometimes confusing collections of SSuite are kept at www.ssuitesoft.com.