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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

By Mayank Sharma on November 20, 2008 (6:00:00 PM)

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The free and open source office suite OpenOffice.org might be a killer app for many, but its inability to properly display documents created in the proprietary Microsoft Office formats hinders its widespread acceptance in multi-OS business environments with many legacy .doc and .xls files. If changing over to an open document format is not an option, try SoftMaker Office. It's no OpenOffice.org-killer, but it's a full featured office suite that has great compatibility with Microsoft Office. Sure, it costs $80, but you can increase your karma by running it on Linux.

This isn't SoftMaker Office's first Linux release. We looked at a beta release of SoftMaker Office 2006, which lacked presentation software and bundled an incomplete spreadsheet program; in fact its only real usable component was the word processor. SoftMaker Office 2008 for Linux, announced last month, is the first non-beta release of the office suite for Linux, which also runs on Windows, Pocket PC, and Windows CE. It provides a word processor (TextMaker), a spreadsheet app (PlanMaker), and a presentation software (SoftMaker Presentations). You also have the ability to create databases and to draw some objects, as in OpenOffice.org, but from within the other apps rather than from standalone apps.

The first thing you notice about any SoftMaker app is its speedy launch. All SoftMaker apps launch almost instantaneously, even on relatively dated hardware. For instance, on a Celeron 1.3GHz laptop with 1GB RAM, TextMaker launches in less than a second, rather than the 8-10 seconds it takes to launch OpenOffice.org Writer.

Opening documents created with Microsoft Office is one of the greatest strengths of SoftMaker Office 2008. I tried lots of word processing documents, of various sizes and complexities, with images, tracking changes, and comments, and some based on templates. While OpenOffice.org drops in-document comments randomly, Softmaker has no difficulties reading documents, displaying them as is, and correctly attributing all changes and comments to whoever made them.

It's a different story when it comes to importing Excel sheets, however. One of my friends who works in a Microsoft Office-dominant workplace sent me a complex 370-page Excel spreadsheet with lots of formulas and charts. PlanMaker did open the file, but said "The file could not be loaded completely. Macros and other content were skipped." The "other content" in that file were some VBA scripts. As per PlanMaker's documentation, it cannot yet execute macros and VBA scripts from Excel documents, and instead simply ignores them -- but it doesn't remove them, so when you save the file, the macros and scripts remain functional. By comparison, after I tuned down its security settings, OOo Calc didn't complain about not running the macros, but even it cannot run the VBA scripts.

TextMaker can import and export documents created using OpenDocument text (.odt) format. But unlike OpenOffice.org, SoftMaker Office can neither open nor save OpenDocument spreadsheets (.ods), nor handle OpenDocument presentations (.odp). It can export documents as PDF files, and while SoftMaker's PDF export options are not as comprehensive as OpenOffice.org's, it has the most commonly used options, such as selecting an export range and encrypting the file.

SoftMaker Office doesn't do too well with embedding objects. Not only can it not embed objects created using other programs, it can't even embed files, spreadsheets, and presentations created using its own program. That means you can't embed or link to TextMaker documents in PlanMaker spreadsheets. By contrast, OpenOffice.org has full OLE support, so you can embed all types of files and objects.

Impressive and not so impressive features

As a writer, the first thing I look for in a word processor is its spelling and grammar-related tools. In addition to a spell checker, SoftMaker Office bundles a thesaurus that is much better than the one included in OpenOffice.org. Because it allows manual input of words, it's more usable, and it offers more appropriate meanings and synonyms.

If you work with multilingual content, SoftMaker has a feature that translates words from and to English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. It also includes the Duden German dictionary of foreign words, which helps explain the meaning and pronunciation of words.

In a multiuser environment, many word processors users add comments and track changes to documents, and TextMaker is no exception. In fact, its comments feature is extraordinary. SoftMaker allows you to add bullets in comments and format them to use things like paragraph styles and shading. All comments are listed in a separate pane on the right, with lines connecting them to the highlighted section of the text on the left.

PlanMaker has come a long way since our last review. It can now do all the common spreadsheet tasks you can do with OpenOffice.org Calc. Despite having a similar feature set, PlanMaker executes a few features more elegantly; for instance, it handles cell validation by presenting more elegant dialog boxes. PlanMaker's biggest shortcoming is a lack of a macro capability to automate tasks.

PlanMaker includes print settings that help you break down a long multi-sheet spreadsheet into manageable chunks by specifying print ranges, page breaks, selected cells, and worksheets, but it lacks OpenOffice.org's ability to scale the data to fit a page.

The PlanMaker documentation doesn't mention how many functions it supports, but it supports the most popular ones, and successfully loaded all 250 functions that were included in the Excel sheet I tested it with.

The biggest issue with the newly introduced SoftMaker Presentations component is that it can't add charts. I didn't notice any other commonly used features missing. In terms of compatibility with Microsoft Office, SoftMaker Presentations successfully imported a 54-slide presentation with lots of objects. It pointed out that it won't let me edit OLE objects in the presentation, and only shows them as a preview.

SoftMaker 2008 for Linux bundles comprehensive PDF manuals for all three components, which covers both the Windows and Linux versions. Some Windows-only features, such as scanning images directly onto a document and embedding OLE objects, are clearly highlighted as not working in the Linux version.

Final word

SoftMaker Office 2008 for Linux is a capable office suite that's pitched at Microsoft Office users. It's better and more feature-complete than its earlier version. While it now adds a presentation component to the existing bouquet of word processor, spreadsheet program, database manager, and drawing app, the word processor remains its strongest component.

Softmaker Office 2008 for Linux offers good compatibility with the proprietary Microsoft Office formats. However, unlike OpenOffice.org, SoftMaker lacks macros, doesn't do OLE, and only supports the Open Document Format in its word processor. Still, you may find it worth a 30-day free trial.

At $80 it's cheaper than Microsoft Office, which with a similar set of applications, discounting Outlook for email, would cost you between $149 and $399. Add to that the cost of a Windows OS license to run Office on and you are looking at a significant cost difference between an office equipped with SoftMaker for Linux and one with Microsoft Office.

All said and done, while SoftMaker has a better-looking GUI than OOo, and has improved considerably since its last Linux release, I'm not convinced the proprietary office suite has what it takes to steal users away from OpenOffice.org.

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on SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 07:20 PM
"SoftMaker Office and OpenOffice.org aren't the only office suites available for Linux users. However, KDE's KOffice and GNOME's Gnome Office either lack integration between components or have some components that are too basic in functionality."

This is totally not true. Kofffice is very integrated and has all the features many need; it is the stability that keep many from using it seriously. There is also Star Office and Lotus Symphony as well which I am sure have more users than Gnome Office of Koffice. Also, last time I checked there was no set Gnome Office applications - you could very well call OpenOffice.org Gnome Office.

"incomplete spreadsheet program; in fact its only real usable component was the word processor"

You make it sound like everyone needs the same features. The truth is, different people use software very differently.

"increase your karma by running it on Linux"

I thought you were talking about software, not philosophy or religion. Many people including myself do not believe in karma. The reason why I use Linux and Open Source software is because being open source and having open file formats are useful features for me. I and many other Linux users see nothing wrong with using proprietary software.
[Modified by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 07:22 PM]

[Modified by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 07:25 PM]

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Re: SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.172.251.147] on November 22, 2008 10:06 PM
You, sir, are an idiot.

No seriously, Mr. Huot, put the computer down and walk away. You've failed at the internet. I've seen your name before, on other forums, and you're always bitching about something.

Sure, it may not be PC but "increase your karma" is a common figure of speech. Get over it.

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Re(1): SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 23, 2008 12:37 AM
I think you have shown by your comment that you speak more about yourself than you do me. I write in a couple IT related forums but I support Open Source and Macs all the time - the only things I am critical of when I know someone doesn't know what they are talking about or I am dealing with Mac bashers or Windows zealots. If I resonded to you harshly, then you deserved it. You need to learn how to disagree with someone without calling them names. And for heaven's sake, have enough guts to post your real name.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on November 20, 2008 08:16 PM
Were you testing with Sun's OpenOffice.org builds or one packaged with a certain distro? Debian, Ubuntu, and Suse (and probably others) usually package the go-oo build, which supposedly has vba macro support. (Don't use vba in any of my spreadsheets, so I don't know if it works).

@Benjamin: have a sense of humour.

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Re: SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 08:44 PM
I don't know what you are referring too. I have a great sense of humor, but that wasn't indicated here nor was it what I was talking about. If I were to start talking about sin on a Linux site, many users would protest but since it is politically correct to talk about karma, that is supposed to be ok. I don't appreciate double standards and I don't take ethics lightly. As far as my other comments, the things I mentioned about the article were just factually wrong. It is not my fault the reviewer doesn't know what they are talking about.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 161.217.80.105] on November 20, 2008 08:26 PM
I haven't run into any interoperability problems between OpenOffice and Microsoft Office: 97, 2003 XP. I really don't see the need for an Office clone that costs $80.00. I could just as easily run Office XP under Wine.

As to Office 2007; I don't know anyone actually using it so I haven't been able to test with newer MS Office products.

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Re: SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 08:45 PM
It costs $35 for Star Office, not $80. Look at the website, or is that supposed to be a joke too?

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.220.107.100] on November 20, 2008 09:42 PM
I've been using OpenOffice 3 since it came out and I must say that MS Office integration has never been so easy and smooth.
I'm working in an office where people use MS Office, I'm using Openoffice and by now we had no compatibility issue at all.
This is the most useful openoffice release ever. Why is nobody mentioning it?
Cheers
e.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.157.215.243] on November 20, 2008 10:06 PM
"Sure, it costs $80, but you can increase your karma by running it on Linux."

I think you need some help mate! Linux ain't part of religion.

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Re: SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 20, 2008 10:11 PM
If you don't want to bring up religion, then don't use religious terms; it is insulting to people who care about religion. It sounds like you never heard anybody criticize you for using proprietary software. You must be new to Linux.

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Re(1): SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.152.27.154] on November 24, 2008 11:50 AM
"If you don't want to bring up religion, then don't use religious terms; it is insulting to people who care about religion. It sounds like you never heard anybody criticize you for using proprietary software. You must be new to Linux."

Yes I'm being childish, but couldn't resist pointing out your hypocrisy as you yourself wrote "And for heaven's sake, have enough guts to post your real name"

Sorry, just your snotty attitude piqued my humour :o) or is it okay if only you use religious terms? Or maybe you really do feel that Linux is important enough to worry the foundations of whatever better place your religion espouses?

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Re(2): SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on November 24, 2008 09:02 PM
I used it for you, to prove my point that it is a double standard and since you like it do much.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.209.19.140] on November 21, 2008 02:13 AM
"The free and open source office suite OpenOffice.org might be a killer app for many, but its inability to properly display documents created in the proprietary Microsoft Office formats hinders its widespread acceptance in multi-OS business environments with many legacy .doc and .xls files."

Since when? Have you tried it recently? It even reads (not writes) .docx and .xlsx! I do my homework in Calc all the time, and save it as .xls.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.175.108.98] on November 21, 2008 03:38 AM
"its inability to properly display documents created in the proprietary Microsoft Office formats"

This sentence is simply untrue. OpenOffice displays probably 99.9% of MS Office documents. It could have been written as "Its inability to perfectly display every single possible document...", but then even SoftMaker can't do that either.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.147.135.134] on November 21, 2008 09:17 AM
This review seemed a little pessimistic to me. I bought Textmaker back in the day when it was stand alone, and have bought two versions of Softmaker office since. It's not perfect, but I like it. It's fast - I can use it even on my PIII 555Mhz with 128Mb RAM! It's fast as a document viewer for people that send me Word docs. I hate using OO.o to view Word Doc attachments because I have to sit through the splash screen and load, and OO.o takes a long time.

It's also phenomenally stable - I have not been able to crash it, even with complex documents and docs with a lot of pictures and tables in them.

OO.o is certainly more feature complete. But Abiword is not stable for me - frequent crashes, so I don't trust it on long documents. And Kword has never printed a document cleanly for me. It has some sort of problem where the fonts wave up and down along a page (I'm told this was a QT problem but I don't know) so I can't use it to produce much of anything interesting.

Softmaker Office isn't perfect but I think it's a very useful piece of software and it's my first choice for writing.

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SoftMaker Office 2008 focuses on compatibility with Microsoft Office

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.205.142.82] on November 21, 2008 09:23 AM
"but its inability to properly display documents created in the proprietary Microsoft Office formats hinders its widespread acceptance in multi-OS business environments with many legacy .doc and .xls files"

That Statement removed any feeling you may actually have any idea what you're writing about

Have to agree with the other comments here, having used suse for the last 5-6 years, OpenOffice from version 2 has had no real problems opening .doc and .xls and for the last year no one in the Office even realised I wasn't running M$

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Editors, take down the crap article

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.251.129.228] on November 25, 2008 06:46 PM
This MS "talking point" is bullshit. Editors, please shape up and pull the advertisement.

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