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FREE ALTERNATIVES TO MICROSOFT OFFICE
by Ray Carlson


Q. I saw an article that mentioned Kingsoft Office as an alternative to Microsoft Office. Is that program worthwhile and what does it cost?

A. It is worthwhile, and some say it is better than LibreOffice, the primary free competition to Microsoft Office we discussed a month ago. This is a timely question with Microsoft stating it will discontinue support for Office 2003 in early April. One of the advantages of the Kingsoft Office Suite is that its classic interface is very similar to the one used in Microsoft Office 2003 making it an easy transition for someone accustomed to the 2003 program. Kingsoft is a Chinese software company that offers a free and a professional version of its Office Suite with the professional version currently costing about $70. The free version is relatively complete and is particularly good at transferring files to and from Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013. In fact, it is better than LibreOffice in handling certain Microsoft formatting features like columns.

The Kingsoft suite includes the most commonly used office programs - a writing program, a spreadsheet program and one to create presentations, and each of these works well with files created by their Microsoft counterpart. Kingsoft cannot open files created by LibreOffice unless those files were saved in the RTF or Microsoft formats. It can create files in all the Microsoft formats except 2013 as well as TXT, RTF, and HTML formats.

LibreOffice was created and is maintained by a large number of volunteer software developers. That amount of support leads to more frequent updates and added features than Microsoft or Kingsoft. Kingsoft is increasingly recognized as the less technical free choice that allows easy sharing of files with others using Microsoft Office. Many reviewers have started recommending downloading each free alternative and testing which seems most useful and/or comfortable for each user. For more information and to see the specific differences between the free and professional versions, check the Kingsoft website.

Published: Courier 3/16/14 - Page 3C