Header Ads

Breaking News

SoftMaker Office - Review 2021


You may have never heard of SoftMaker Office, but in many ways, it’s the best desktop-based alternative to Microsoft 365. It has more of a presence in Europe than in the US, but SoftMaker should be at the top of your list if you don’t want to use Microsoft’s Office apps. This office suite offers high compatibility with Office documents; fast performance; and a mostly clean and efficient interface. It also runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux systems with slightly different feature sets on each platform. Although it doesn’t offer online versions or collaboration capabilities, a full-featured Android version is in a public beta-test and an iOS version should be ready in the summer. For most ordinary office and personal work in a word-processor, spreadsheet, or presentations app, SoftMaker strikes a near-perfect balance.

How Much Does SoftMaker Office Cost?

You can buy the SoftMaker Office suite as a one-time purchase or opt for a subscription-based model. Either option costs less than Microsoft’s alternatives. If you don’t want to pay anything, SoftMaker offers a less-capable, no-cost version called FreeOffice.

I tested the standalone version called SoftMaker Office Professional 2021, which costs $99.95 (upgrades from older versions are $59.95). The slightly less powerful Standard version costs $79.95 (upgrades from older versions are $49.95). These prices are lower than Microsoft’s or Corel’s, but in the same ballpark.

The subscription counterpart to SoftMaker’s Professional version is SoftMaker Office NX Universal ($49.90 per year); the Standard version’s equivalent subscription tier is SoftMaker Office NX Home ($29.90 per year). Again, these rates are lower than what Microsoft charges for a 365 subscription. All these versions are licensed for five home computers or one corporate computer; like Microsoft 365, Softmaker’s apps phone home on launch to check whether your license is valid. Separate pricing for mobile versions hasn’t been announced.

Compared to other suites that ship with components and add-ons that you may not need or want (I’m looking at you, LibreOffice), Softmaker Office is refreshingly straightforward. It consists only of the TextMaker 2021 word-processor, the PlanMaker 2021 spreadsheet app, and—you guessed it—Presentations 2021. The Windows version of the suite also includes BasicMaker 2021, a separate app for creating scripts that can automate operations in TextMaker and PlanMaker. Notably, you can’t create automated macros by recording your actions, as you can in Microsoft 365, Corel WordPerfect Office, and with many limitations, in LibreOffice.

As mentioned, you can download apps on Windows, macOS, and Linux devices, while mobile apps are in testing or on the way. The open-source LibreOffice is the only other office suite we’ve reviewed that offers desktop apps for Linux systems. Microsoft 365, of course, currently offers mobile versions of its Office apps.  

SoftMaker Office’s Interface

SoftMaker’s interface is clean and elegant. An optional sidebar in its apps enables you to manage formatting features without opening a separate menu. You can also choose between a classic toolbar interface and a Microsoft-style ribbon interface. The classic interface may be frustrating because some features are only on the toolbar. If, for example, you can’t figure out which icon opens the Research menu, you may not even realize that this feature exists. I’m more convinced than ever that Microsoft got it right by using only a ribbon-style interface to reduce the confusion that results when you switch between and navigate various menus and toolbars.

SoftMaker FreeOffice ribbon customizations

SoftMaker Office lets you choose between its ribbon interface (shown here on a Mac) and a traditional toolbar interface

Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, and Corel WordPerfect Office include a search field that lets you type in a few letters of the feature you’re looking for, and then get taken instantly to the menu item you want. SoftMaker and LibreOffice lack this essential interface convenience.

After experimenting with its interface options, I chose to run SoftMaker Office with a traditional menu-and-toolbar interface, reminiscent of 1990s versions of Microsoft’s apps, but with a notably clean and restful look.

SoftMaker FreeOffice toolbar customizations

The alternate toolbar interface is shown here, with the Windows-only feature that displays Berlitz dictionaries in four languages.

An Overview of SoftMaker Office’s Apps

The TextMaker word processor supports text variables called fields, a feature pioneered by early versions of Microsoft Word that’s still available in recent versions, if you know where to look. TextMaker’s menus make this feature easy to find and use. Unfortunately, TextMaker doesn’t include a view option like Microsoft’s and Corel’s that lets you work in a realistic page view, but with the top and bottom margins not shown; for sentences that extend across a page break, this ensures that there are not two vertical inches of white space in the middle of it. Like all the other suites I’ve reviewed, TextMaker has a continuous view that formats the text to fit the window, not the printed page. 

TextMaker field

TextMaker supports variable “fields” with a more accessible interface than you can find in Microsoft Word, which pioneered the field feature but now keeps it well-hidden.

The PlanMaker app has all the features you’d expect from a spreadsheet editor, including convenient menu items for creating and managing pivot tables. Cells can include references to external PlanMaker or Excel worksheets, but, unlike Excel, can’t reference online data like stock prices. PlanMaker’s interface is mostly convenient, but its Function dialog displays existing functions in a confusing one-line style instead of the hierarchical outline display in LibreOffice and Corel WordPerfect. I also ran into performance issues when importing a huge spreadsheet for testing, which I discuss in a later section.

SoftMaker PlanMaker function

PlanMaker’s function menu uses the same hard-to-follow one-line display of existing functions found in most other spreadsheets, not the hierarchical display in LibreOffice.

There isn’t much to say about SoftMaker’s Presentations app. It offers dozens of templates in familiar, unexciting styles. Slide transitions range from the standard checkerboard-and-fade option to slightly weird transitions like one called, Ferris Wheel, in which the next slide appears like a Ferris wheel compartment rotating into view. The app gets the job done, but if you’re trying to dazzle an audience with a presentation, you’ll almost certainly prefer Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote.

SoftMaker FreeOffice Presentations

SoftMaker’s Presentations app has all the transitions you could want, but identifies them only by name, without visual clues to what they will look like.

Additional Tools and Features

SoftMaker offers most of the tools you would expect from a modern office suite, along with some unique capabilities. For example, it offers a version control feature that lets you preview or restore earlier versions of any document. Drawing functions throughout the suite can convert its built-in autoshape objects to curves that you can manipulate.

The Professional versions include Berlitz dictionaries for English, French, German, and Spanish, plus spell-checking in twenty languages. This doesn’t nearly match Microsoft’s online translation tool, but it’s a start. Academics and scientists who use the open-source Zotero reference management system can insert and edit references from a menu, too.

SoftMaker’s menus include links that enable you to create, access, or edit databases in either SQLite or dBase formats. A related menu item in TextMaker offers to convert a Thunderbird mail-client address book to SQLite, dBase, or text format, but TextMaker crashed when I tried to use it, so be cautious when working with SoftMaker’s database-management features.

TextMaker formatting tools

TextMaker’s formatting tools include the traditional dialog box and an optional multifunction sidebar.

All advanced office suites include templates that help you build documents with already-created graphics and text. TextMaker expands on this feature with an option that lets you edit the template content simply by switching from the normal page view to a Master Page view. Here, you can make edits that get applied immediately, in the same way that you can modify the master slide in any presentation app. In contrast, to change the underlying template in Microsoft Word, you need to find and edit the original template file, then navigate through the Options menu to find the command to attach an existing template to your document. If you often use templates for your documents, TextMaker’s capabilities are unmatched.

Some parts of SoftMaker Office seem stuck in the past, however. For example, the formula editor available in all the apps (though in Windows only) is a subset of a version of the Design Science MathType editor that dates back to 2000. It’s almost impossible to use unless you already know MathType well and I still haven’t figured out how to create a superscript number in the SoftMaker version. The track-changes feature offers only an option to show or hide your changes, unlike Microsoft’s option to use lines in the margin to show where changes were made, without cluttering the document.

Compatibility and Performance

SoftMaker’s apps use a unique native file format that no other application can open, but you can set the default file-saving format to Microsoft, OpenDoc, or RTF formats instead. It opens documents created by Microsoft and other applications, including Windows Write and Corel WordPerfect without issue.

The suite is powerful enough for almost any purpose. TextMaker breezed through thousand-page documents without a hiccup. PlanMaker can handle any ordinary business or personal worksheets, too. However, PlanMaker was slowed to a crawl by the monster Excel worksheet that I use for testing and didn’t get any faster when we saved the worksheet in SoftMaker’s native format. This won’t affect ordinary business and personal applications, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you have more ambitious spreadsheet work.

A Cost-Effective Office Suite

If you’re in the market for a desktop-based office suite that doesn’t cost as much as Microsoft 365, SoftMaker Office may be your best choice. It’s more reliable and easier to manage than LibreOffice, and closer to the Microsoft standard than Corel’s powerful, but quirky WordPerfect Office. It doesn’t have Microsoft’s high-tech features like online translation or worksheet links to online data, but offers almost everything else in an elegant, speedy, economical package that works on Windows, macOS, Linux, and now, Android. If you haven’t tried it, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Source Link

No comments