Over the years, I have written about several free alternatives to Microsoft Office. Many of my students cannot afford the roughly $100-plus that it costs for a student version of Microsoft Office, and a lot of senior citizens, small businesses and individuals that I work with cannot afford the $250-plus for a commercial version of Microsoft Office. All of the major free alternatives to Office can read and write Office files, have a menu and command structure similar to Office, which simply means that anyone who can use Office can use one of the free alternatives, with zero learning curve.
All of the free alternatives are feature rich, and generally offer a comprehensive spelling and grammar checker, the ability to write PDF files without the use of other third-party software, and can read and write multiple formats in addition to all of the various Microsoft Office formats. I am frequently asked about how to open .doc, .docx, .ppt, and .pptx files (Microsoft Office formatted word processor and PowerPoint files) that were either attached to an e-mail or downloaded from the Internet, and these free alternatives are ideal for that purpose. Just to be fair, Microsoft does offer free readers for its Office products, but as they are “readers,” that is all they do – open Office files. Many users would like to do more than simply open Office files; they would like to edit or create them as well, without spending a small fortune on Microsoft software. That is explicitly what these free office suite alternatives are excellent at.
One of the newer free Office alternatives, already joining an active and crowded field, is a well-reviewed Hong Kong product, Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012. Available as a free 82.5mb download (Windows 32 and 64 bit version) from www.kingsoftstore.com/kingsoft-office-freeware.html , this program included a fully functional version of a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation utility that, by default, looks a lot like Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. For those who may want a more comprehensive and powerful office suite, Kingsoft also offers a Standard version ($50) and a Professional version ($70), but for most individuals, the free version is totally adequate. For those with Android devices, there is also a free version of Kingston Office Suite Free available for download from www.kingsoftstore.com/kingsoft-office-android.html . The free Android version can read and write all Office versions of Word and Excel (as well as other formats), but can only open and view PowerPoint files.I downloaded and installed Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 version 184.108.40.20610. The 82.5 mb file downloaded and installed quickly. The only major choice during the installation process is to check the box to make Kingston Office the default program for opening Microsoft Office files. Since I already have Microsoft Office installed, I chose not to make Kingston my default program to open those files, but for anyone who does not have the Microsoft product installed, allowing Kingsoft to be the default office program is a reasonable choice. The total install time was only about a minute, and then it was ready to use.
The first Kingsoft program that I opened was Writer, the word processor, and it opened very quickly, much faster than my Microsoft Word opens. My first impression was that it looked just like my Microsoft Word, with the ribbon or menu bar mimicking the various Microsoft products. The paid Professional version, but not the free version, also allows the user to choose a ribbon (menu bar) that appears identical to the one used on the newest versions of Microsoft Office, but the classical menu is virtually identical to the one historically used by Microsoft. I opened several previously created Word documents in Writer, and they all opened quickly and looked exactly like they did in Word. I tried several of the Word keyboard shortcuts that I typically used, and all worked flawlessly in Writer. All of the pull-down and context sensitive menus in Writer appeared precisely as they do in Word, corroborating the fact that anyone who has used Word can also use Writer with no additional training or experience. One interesting feature in Writer (and the other Kingsoft Office components) is the ability to quickly and easily create PDF files directly from the document. Clicking on File and then Export to PDF will immediately create a PDF file from the existing document, maintaining all formatting, fonts, colors and other features of the original document, which can then be open and read by any PDF reader.
I then opened Presentation, which opened much faster than PowerPoint, and looked exactly like a PowerPoint window. I opened a PowerPoint file that I had been working on, and all of the features, animations, embedded audio and video files, and other items that were in my original Microsoft file were accessible in the Presentation window. The menu at the top of the window, and the right-click context sensitive menus were exactly as they were in PowerPoint. All of the slide transitions, backgrounds, and other features available in PowerPoint were available in Presentation. As an experiment, using Presentation, I opened a 68 slide PowerPoint file that I recently made (my latest Identity Theft presentation) that was in .pptx format, and it opened very quickly. I checked several of the animations and other effects in the slides, and all worked and could be created or modified in Presentation. I clicked on File and then Export to PDF, and created a PDF file of my presentation; Presentation created a 68-page PDF file in only three seconds. I opened the newly created PDF file in FoxIt (my default PDF viewer), and every slide looked perfect, with Presentation creating each page in the PDF in landscape format, with one very clear slide filling each page. The performance was impressive.
The third component of the Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 is the spreadsheet software, aptly called Spreadsheets. As with the other components, it opened faster than Excel, and looked just like my Excel desktop. I opened several of my spreadsheets in both .xls and .xlsx file extensions, and they all rapidly opened and appeared identical as they did in Excel. As with the other components, I tried using the graphics and database functions, and all worked just like they did in Excel. All of the menu items and context sensitive menus worked exactly like Excel. As with the other components, since I am already familiar with Excel, there was nothing new to learn to use Spreadsheets. The Export to PDF function also worked identically as it did in Writer and Presentation.
For anyone who might need a Microsoft Office compatible, fully featured office suite that includes the three most widely used components, a word processor, presentation program, and a spreadsheet, Kingston Office Suite 2012 may be a wise choice.
The Examiner has archived many of Ira Wilsker’s recent columns online. They are available on the Examiner Web site at www.theexaminer.com/feature/ira-wilsker Also, listen to his weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.