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2008-12-29Are 3 and KingSoft Office competition for MS Office?


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There are a couple of free office suites now around for Windows users, besides the myriad clones and offshoots of OpenOffice. I'm still pretty happy with MS Office 2000 for the most part, especially with the 2007 compatibility pack Microsoft were pressured into releasing for their older in-use suites by the ISO XML certification debacle and demands of governments and companies.

However, the question of what free and legal alternatives to MS Office can be recommended still comes up occasionally. With the milestone release of OOo 3, I figured it was time to take a look around again. KingSoft Office was something I hadn't heard about before... it's quite popular in China, where it originates, and with the release of its new 2009 edition the makers intend to make a fully free version available minus one or two of its high-end features, though this release is proving slow to materialise... if indeed it's coming. KS Office is very obviously a clone of older MS Office versions, but adds a tabbed MDI and is a much smaller download.

Unfortunately, neither package opened the last document I'd been working on formatted correctly... and it was nothing more complicated than an RTF document containing a friend's CV. The bulleted lists lost some of their spacing and indentation, causing text to spill over onto further pages.

This is extremely likely to be Word's fault, as working on documents for any length of time often builds up redundant formatting codes that aren't visible on a page. However, it makes both packages poorly suited to dealing with incoming Microsoft document formats. A more meaningful test is how documents pass the other way – because it often isn't too much of a problem if received documents have a little formatting go awry, but files sent out need to display consistently. Both suites seem to provide for this well enough, though you'd want to test complicated examples pertinent to your work environment before assuming it to be the case.

Sticking with the Microsoft strand, people with an email address can get Office 2007 for under £40 online here if they don't mind putting up with its resolutely non-standard interface, and NHS employees for £18 shipping and handling from here. Charities, meanwhile, can buy licenses for 2007 (or previous versions) for £12 plus VAT from


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