SoftMaker Office Professional 2021: out of Office, literally

There are only so many times users are going to pay for Microsoft Office 365 and shell out the annual subscription for a product that there are now alternatives for.  

If we take e-mail clients out of the way for a moment (Thunderbird is excellent, by the way), the purpose of this analysis is a focus on word processing (with Microsoft Word in mind, obviously) as the most called-for application.

So where else can users turn?

The elves at Inspect-a-Gadget found that their annual subscription was expiring this month and were mildly disturbed by the increasingly threatening messaging alerts that Microsoft builds into the page every time a user fires up Word.

Determined to get some kind of release, we have (in recent times) predominantly used Google Docs and of course LibreOffice instead. But could it be worth looking for an alternative and paying a one-off fee for a professional Office suite?

With a view ahead outside of 2020, SoftMaker Office 2021 is already available for Windows, macOS and Linux.

SoftMaker offers its product licenses across free (SoftMaker FreeOffice is comprised of slightly scaled-down versions) and also as one-off purchase, or by annual subscription. It’s important to point out that LibreOffice in comparison is just free – and Microsoft Office does offer a one-off payment option too.

Apps inside the box

In terms of what you get with SoftMaker Office 2021, here’s what’s inside the (virtual) box:

TextMaker, a word processor.

PlanMaker, a spreadsheet application.

SoftMaker Presentations, a presentation graphics application.

BasicMaker, a VBA-like programming tool (Windows only).

The SoftMaker Office 2021 Professional edition (and Universal edition of Office NX) also include a spellchecker and support for Windows Group Policy.

Key distinguishing factors

Arguably the number one feature that most people will be looking for in a word processor (other than the basic functionalities) is compatibility. When saving a document in TextMaker, the user has two options:

SAVE option #1: ⊚ click this for Microsoft Office file formats docx, xlsx and pptx

SAVE option #2: ⦿ click this SoftMaker Office file formats tmdx, pmdx and prdx 

SoftMaker isn’t stupid and obviously offers its own proprietary file format options as the default choice.

What else is great is the page layout in TextMaker. There’s a paragraph style tool on the right of your document and a ‘document map’ on the left. Word has options for showing a document map, but we couldn’t find it under any of the drop-down (or ribbon) menu options showing with View. With TextMaker, it’s right there on the page and it’s easy to simply click it on and off as well.

The two sidebars are actually fully customisable, so the user can locate most common functions in those spaces if desired.

In terms of what’s really appealing about SoftMaker Office 2021, the licensing deal is good because a one-off purchase allows the user to install the suite across five machines spanning Windows, Mac OS X and Linux (which we do actually need these days as cross-platform people) and this is of course something that Microsoft or Apple would never conceivably be able to do.

All the things the user would ‘expect’ to find are there i.e. CTRL-F is of course the find function, the bottom of the page displays the word count, the PDF export button is right there on the File ribbon tab, the ‘format painter’ icon is where you’d expect it to be and it’s the shape of a paintbrush… so, again, all the stuff you expect is there and there are plenty of extended functions too.

Running on Windows 10 and saving a TextMaker document to your desktop and right-clicking on it for ‘Open With’ now includes TextMaker automatically, so the full integration with Windows is seamless at that level and elsewhere.

Extended information

SoftMaker Office can run from USB flash drives and supports integrated reference works. Multi-language spell-checking, hyphenation and use of a thesaurus is supported. It has an integrated five-language translation dictionary (English, German, French, Italian and Spanish).

Support for the OpenDocument spreadsheet (ODS) format was added in the Anniversary update released for SoftMaker Office 2018.

The new research function allows users to select any term in a document and look it up in a variety of online dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Also new in the 2021 edition of this software is enhanced version control to allow users to ‘travel back in time’ and go back to manually saved states of a document — and it also allows users to revisit an arbitrary number of automatic backups.

It can export to PDF and EPUB.

Overall, SoftMaker Office and TextMaker in particular feels functionally rich, less likely to ‘break’ documents than LibreOffice (which does happen) and visually closer to Microsoft Word than LibreOffice with its slightly ‘fuzzy rounded thicker drawn’ icons.

Possibly most impressive of all, we submitted a press inquiry to SoftMaker over a weekend and got an immediate personal reply from the man who developed this software Martin Kotulla, who offered us help to look at the suite to examine its functions… this guy (and his team) are serious about taking this product forward.

“This is what Office Professional offers beyond Office Standard: An integrated research tool that lets you consult a multitude of online dictionaries, EPUB export, integration with the Zotero bibliography tool, it can be managed using GPO (group policy objects) inside organisations… and also for organisations, we offer multiple-seats configurations where one product key can be deployed to any number of workstations. That makes for simplified administration in businesses,” said Kotulla, in an email exchange during this review.

SoftMaker Office NX Home is £24.90 (per year), SoftMaker Office NX Universal is £44.90 (per year) SoftMaker Office Professional 2021 is £90.99 (one time purchase).

As a final bit of flourish, the default ribbon interface is a much more bold red colour and TextMaker document icons show in red on your desktop or in a folder. We assume PlanMaker and SoftMaker Presentations have all the same kinds of performance and look and feel, but this review has focused on TextMaker to illustrate one key application as the illustrative example.

This story was written using SoftMaker TextMaker.

SoftMaker Office NX Home is £24.90 (per year), SoftMaker Office NX Universal is £44.90 (per year) SoftMaker Office Professional 2021 is £90.99 (one time purchase).

Image source: SoftMaker





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