Ashampoo Office Makes Spreadsheets and Documents On the Cheap

Microsoft Office is the de facto standard for productivity tools, to the point at which word processors and spreadsheets are now called "office programs." But Office is costly, and it's bloated with features few users ever need or even know about. Budget-conscious users and system-resource skinflints can look to several alternatives: One such is Office 2010 by Ashampoo and/or SoftMaker. In this review, we examine Ashampoo Office 2010 ($60, 30-day free trial).

Tabs and MDI make working with many documents easy in the TextMaker component of Ashampoo Office 2010.

Both Ashampoo and SoftMaker offer an Office 2010 suite; the included TextMaker and PlanMaker programs are identical, and Ashampoo's Help file even refers to SoftMaker Office in several places. The sole difference is that Ashampoo's version is less expensive and does not include BasicMaker, the programming language add-on. This review focuses on TextMaker and PlanMaker.

TextMaker is the word processing component, the equivalent of Microsoft Word. Well, the relationship is more like store brand cola as compared to Coke. It's almost as good and a lot cheaper, but you can tell the difference right off. TextMaker will open, edit, and save Word 2007 files, but a side-by-side comparison shows discrepancies that could be important in a format-heavy environment--for example, the same file had different pagination when opened in both programs. For inter-office memos, this doesn't matter much, but if you're doing desktop publishing, it could be critical. TextMaker also lacks many of Office 2007's deeper features. While you can manually format tables well enough, you can't do things like setting odd-numbered rows automatically to one color and even-numbered rows to another, so the format remains consistent even if you add/delete rows. There are many such areas in which TextMaker offers a subset of Word's features, but the equivalent version of Microsoft Office lists for $400 versus Ashampoo Office 2010's $60, and that's a pretty impressive difference.

PlanMaker is the spreadsheet component, occupying Excel's place. Like TextMaker, it provides some, but not all, functionality found in Microsoft Office. One of the crucial changed made in Office 2007 was the removal of Windows-95 era limits on the size of spreadsheets in Excel; Ashampoo Office 2010 retains the 65536 row/256 column limit despite claiming full compatibility with Microsoft Office 2007. Furthermore, it does not warn you when a sheet you open exceeds those limits; it silently truncates it, despite the claim of "lossless" import of XSLX. In a mixed-program environment, this could lead to serious and costly errors, especially if truncated file is saved and then passed back to Excel--the data will be lost and the Excel user may not know it was ever there.

On the plus side, Ashampoo Office 2010 has some nice features which aren't found in Microsoft, the most visible of which is tabbed windows--a major boon for anyone who regularly works with multiple files.

As a standalone office suite for most users, Ashampoo Office 2010 has all the general functionality you'd expect for a very low price. If you regularly interchange files with users of Office 2007, though, the not-quite-perfect compatibility could cause problems of varying severity. The 30-day trial should be enough to determine how well Ashampoo Office 2010 fits your needs.

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