An office suite is a collection of programs, mainly consisting of a word processor, spreadsheet & presentation application bundled together.
With the pricey tag put onto the all popular Microsoft Office, it leaves no surprise that the average home user or small business would be looking for an alternative. Below we have reviewed and rated all the popular freeware office suites and split them into three sections making it easier to find the best solution:
- Proprietary, privately owned software being offered up for free.
- Open Office, an open source suite and various mods based on the same programming code making them similar to use.
- Cloud / Online, web based suites than can be used on the move, some even contain a smartphone app for easy updating.
WPS Office Free (formerly Kingsoft Office) is ideal for those familiar with Microsoft Office 2003 prior to the creation of the 'ribbon' feature in 2007. It will let you feel perfectly at home. To say that it is similar to Microsoft Office would be the understatement; they are practically identical. There are three main packages:
- WPS Writer, a word processor that can import from Microsoft Word (.doc & .docx) with the ability to have separate documents in a tabbed interface.
- WPS Spreadsheet, a spreadsheet application that can import from Microsoft Excel and having the same cells range (65,536 rows * 256 columns) as the Microsoft Office 2003 equivalent.
- WPS Presentation, a presentation suite that can import all Microsoft Powerpoint documents.
For a freeware equivalent to Microsoft Office and for those who liked the simpler old style 2003 interface then WPS Office Suite Free is the application. There isn't a single feature I found that isn't IDENTICAL to the Microsoft Office 2003 equivalent. The similarities even go far into the styles of WordArt.
WPS did offer a unique tabbed experience allowing multiple documents or spreadsheets within the same window making switching between them quick and simple. There are however two annoying selections upon installation: the startup of a browser linking to WPS's website, and the other is a popup asking to switch to another UI (basically the new ribbon effect which isn't free).
A quirky feature is the quick UI color feature allowing the UI to be alternated to an additional eight different skins helping color code your office suite with your OS skin.
SSuite Office - Excalibur Release is a huge collection of products designed to make any office task easier. Initially the selection of tools are overwhelming and include everything from word processors, spreadsheets, email clients, IM clients, even a CD ripper. The installer doesn't allow for installation choice and bundles everything in.
Each application can be a pick n' mix of different options and an attempt seems to be made to give the end user the ability to do everything within the suite itself. Anything not directly accessible within the application links to an alternative website (for example Google Translate). The GUI 's (graphical user interfaces) are really hard to follow and require quite a large learning curve to get used to.
There are too many different applications to list individually but the main ones are:
- WordGraph, a word processor which can import doc, rtf, htm, xml but no support for docx. With the exception of the GUI, WordGraph has a lot of nice features that could in certain circumstances become very handy.
- Accel, a spreadsheet application which can import xls, csv, txt but no support for xlsx. We had extreme difficulty importing even xls files from other programs but has no problem importing the xls files previously exported from Accel.
- General Utilities, a selection of helpful programs including an Address Book, Envelope Printer, Calendar, Notebook, System Overview with links integrated into other programs.
Overall, the selection is great. The tools are great but the interface has a really strong learning curve to get used to. This is a good selection for anyone looking for everything in one place. There has definitely been a lot of effort put into developing applications that are useful but has been tackled it an obscure way.
Due to the small file sizes, each application opens, runs and saves super fast even for older slow end systems.
Softmaker FreeOffice is a free version made available from June 2012. It is a lite version of the commercial application Softmaker Office 2012. Softmaker is a German software developer who also specializes in office suites for both Linux and Android OS. BasicMaker the macro language isn't included in the freeware version. Bundled within the free version is:
- TextMaker, a fully functional word processor compatible with MS Word & OO Writer.
- PlanMaker, a complete spreadsheet solution with MS Excel & OO Calc compatibility.
- Presentation, a software presentation program with MS Powerpoint & OO Impress compatibility.
The advantages of the small installation file size mean low memory consumption and faster loading times. It comes complete with all the usual formulas & formatting features and won’t win any awards for originality. PlanMaker lacks any scripting or macro support making it unsuitable for the more advanced user.
There are a couple of annoying features your hit upon opening an application. The first is the tips window which pops up automatically on the right but can be disabled by selecting View>Sidebar>Hide. Within PlanMaker, the spell checker (and background checking feature) isn’t activated by default and is buried deep in the options to get it started. When loaded into the system, the SMASH quick launch starts at start up and floods your taskbar with four shortcut buttons which could have been better as a stacking window rather than individuals.
For free, Softmaker FreeOffice offers a simple, easy to use, basic featured solution that will run comfortably on slower computers and won’t use a great deal of space and resources. It can import all the latest file formats and supports direct PDF exporting.
Apache Open Office is considered the father of open source freeware office products. Open Office has gone through a number of owners starting with StarDivision to Sun Microsystems, from Sun to Oracle, then finally from Oracle to Apache. Due to some elements of Open Office having Java dependency, a JRE (Java Runtime Environment) download is required directly from Oracle.
We found it difficult to get Base & Calc to fully work using the latest version (v7) of Java JRE and had to resort to a previous (v6 32bit only) in order to get it loaded without errors.
From all the office products available, Open Office (and it's variants) are the only ones offering a free database management application.
There are four main applications included with Open Office:
- Writer, a word processor that can import nearly all text file formats available, plus the ability for a direct PDF export. The interface is similar to Microsoft Office 2003 and with no 'ribbon' available.
- Impress, a presentation application that can import ppt, pps, pptm, pptx presentation files. The layout is simple and stable enough.
- Base, a database management application that can create tables, forms, queries, reports, etc. It comes complete with Wizards to help transfer tables for forms etc.
All in Open Office is well rounded with a great support group and lots of help files and documentation. There is so much add-ons and file import & export formats that Open Office would be useful for both the novice users looking for a quick Wordpad alternative to Advanced users who can customize the source code for their own requirements.
LibreOffice began life in January 2011. During the acquisition of OpenOffice by Oracle from Sun Microsystems, some members of the project were concerned that Oracle would cease or restrict development of OpenOffice.org and started 'The Document Foundation'. Oracle eventually ceased commercial development of OpenOffice.org paving the way for LibreOffice to gain a major fan base, the child of this collaboration based on the OpenOffice.org source code.
As with Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice still requires 32-bit Java (JRE) for full operation but is currently working out the Java dependency. Decisively heavier 205MB compared with 123MB from Apache, the GUI is fresher and modern and the support base is constantly growing. LibreOffice releases more updates and has better compatibility for importing from other office suites. Although we don't see where the additional 80MB's are used there must be some background stability issues addressed for that hefty increase.
The main differences from Apache OpenOffice include:
- Find / Find & Replace are separate options
- Clear direct formatting instead of default formatting
- No media player
- No record macro option
- Undo instead of Can't Undo
- Redo instead of Can't Restore
- Delete Page Break instead of Delete Manual Break
- Page Break instead of Manual Break
- Insert > Names has additional 'Manage'
- Additional 'Title Page' option
- No Wizard upon opening (by default)
- Snap Lines instead of Guides
Discontinued: IBM Lotus Symphony has a unique interface that runs all the applications within a master window. Each application has its own tab and the universal menu system updates according to which application you are working in. The layout is a little awkward with the old style (pre ribbon) menu bar at the top for the popularly used items (new, print, copy, paste, bold, justify etc) followed by a hidable side bar with a movable 'ribbon ' like interface which is where font, size, styles, clipart are located.
Unlike other suites based on OpenOffice, ILS only has three main applications included (with the exception of an integrated web browser based on Firefox):
- Lotus Symphony Document, a word processor which can open all Open Document Formats & Microsoft Office along with the variants and corresponding templates (odf, doc, docx, rtf, txt).
- Lotus Symphony Spreadsheet, a spreadsheet application which can import all the standard document formats (sxc, xls, xlsx) with a handy disclaimer that general compatible Microsoft Office documents main not display some formatting correctly (with an option to discard in future).
- Lotus Symphony Presentation, a presentation application which can import from MS Powerpoint (odp, ppt, pptx).
Generally speaking IBM Lotus Symphony is a nice clean office suite; the master window housing the individual applications does actually work well especially having a thumbnail (and search) facility for all open documents making it really easy to work with multiple files without taskbar clutter. The only issue is the annoying (portrait) side panel which is really cumbersome to use especially if working with smaller screen resolutions.
Effective from 2012, IBM have supplied the original source code to Apache for integration into the next OpenOffice 4 instalment which should be released as an IBM Edition.
With recent development of smart phones, tablets & netbooks the need for online file sharing has never been greater. The 'cloud' is an online storage and sharing medium designed to share out an array of files over multiple devices. The selection of freeware cloud applications reviewed below allow a web-based interface to create, upload, save & share all variants of word processors, spreadsheets & presentation documents. As the files are online, a document can be created at home on a pc, updated on the train on a smart phone and finished at work just in time for that all important presentation.
Google Drive was formed earlier in 2012, Google integrated their Docs suite into their online cloud storage called Google Drive. A generous 5GB of storage space is available (although shared throughout Google services - except Gmail) for saving the three main applications.
- Document, a straightforward word processor with all the most commonly used features crammed into one single menu-bar. The interface is similar to the older pre-ribbon style menu making it familiar for nearly everyone who uses it.
- Spreadsheets, a spreadsheet application that can import all major formats including xls, xlsx, ods, csv, txt, tsv & tab. It does an excellent job of maintaining the original file formatting & cell formulas.
- Presentation, a presentation creation application which allows uploading of popular file formats and allows importing of specific slides to help with organizing & creating.
The great feature with Google Drive is the ability to upload multiple files and multiple types quickly which automatically gets added it their native formats allowing sharing or importation to Google directly.
Additionally, Google Drive has the function to translate the whole document to over 50 other languages allowing a copy to be saving and maintaining the integrity of the original document.
ThinkFree Online is another cloud suite. The first thing I found when trying to register for ThinkFree was the difficulty of finding the login & registration screens. Upon registration, the initial interface is quite warm and inviting, creating a document was harmless but due to the interface being Java based, there are 8px;a few security prompts.
When getting into the nuts & bolts, the interface was fantastic, to the untrained eye could easily be mistaken for an actual desktop application than a cloud but unfortunately due to it's Java dependency seemed to run slow and continually load each .jar part when hovering over or clicking anything. This eventually sub-sites on previously accessed options but happens every login, it can sometimes take a few seconds from click to load.
The three main applications found are:
- Write, a word processing application similar to the MO 2003 interface. As with all the others, can natively import all the doc, docx, txt, dot, htm & xml formats expected with an online office application.
- Calc, a spreadsheet application again similar to the MO 2003 interface. Calc can import xls, xlsx, xlt, csv, xml, txt & htm. Import formatting and formulas are retained nicely upon import.
- Show, a presentation application with the ability to import ppt, pptx, pps & ppsx.
Everything considered, ThinkFree Online is an excellent representation of what is possible with a cloud suite. If it weren't for the constant loading and stability issues this would win the best award in it's class.
Zoho registration is simple and easy, all that's required is a username, email address and a password. After registration has been completed you have the option of choosing your custom portal name when has an associated URL which can be shared giving direct access to your files for the people who you want.
For free you have 1GB of storage available across 50 workspaces. Within this included space you can host files which are don't have native import from Zoho (example wps) for others to download in collaboration.
There are three main packages that Zoho offer for free include:
- Writer, a word processor that can import from doc, docx, odt, rtf, html, htm & txt. The interface is simple and follows a thinner 'ribbon' style interface traditionally found in later versions of MS. Quick loading times and a rich source of features make Zoho an excellent choice for online work sharing.
- Sheet, a spreadsheet application that can import from xls, xlsx, sxc, ods, csv & tsv. Following the same thin 'ribbon' bar you have access to lots of features including the macro recording ability and VBA editor.
- Show, a presentation application that can import ppt, pps, odp, sxi, pptx & ppsx. This application has lots of drawing tools included to make presentation creation easy to complete.
Some neat features included are the pop-up shortcut format bar which lets you do quick adjustments without fumbling through menu's. The PDF export function is excellent allowing for a direct PDF download and lastly within Sheet when an auto formula updates the cells effected highlight allowing the knock on effect to be seen.
You might want to check out these articles too:
- An Office Suite That's Especially Designed For Kids
- Best Free Software Suite
- Best Free Word Processor
- Best Free Text Editor
- Best Free Dictionary / Thesaurus Utility
WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office)
SSuite Office - Excalibur Release
IBM Lotus Symphony
Apache Open Office