Try a Microsoft alternative with Kingsoft Office Free

Get tools for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations in this useful suite.

Although Microsoft Office still dominates the marketplace, there are plenty of free alternatives that do a reasonably good job of duplicating many of its features. Kingsoft Office Free comes with three programs--Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentation--that seek to compete with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively. They're not perfect, but if you're checking out free alternatives to Office, Kingsoft products are definitely worth a look.

We started with Kingsoft Writer, throwing it a challenge by attempting to open a Word document full of tables. The result was a jumble of foreign characters--not an auspicious start, especially considering the fact that Kingsoft claims that Writer can open all Word documents. For reasons we can't explain, the program handled other Word documents containing tables with no problems. Writer itself contains all the typical word-processing features that we've come to expect, with plenty of tools for formatting, inserting, spell checking, and so on. If there are significant differences between Writer and Word's abilities, only very advanced users of Word are likely to notice. The same was true of Spreadsheets; the program had some trouble handling spreadsheets created in Excel when it came to summing data in predefined cells, but workbooks created from scratch in Spreadsheets worked just fine, and all the typical spreadsheet features were present. Presentation handled existing PowerPoint files just fine, and had plenty of design templates to choose from. All three programs come with comprehensive Help files that explain their features. If you're very concerned about the compatibility of Microsoft Office files, Kingsoft Office Free might not be your best choice. But if that's not a huge priority or you're willing to put up with a few annoyances, we think Kingsoft Office Free is a great choice. It has nearly all the features you'd expect from an office suite in a lightweight package, and it's free, too.

Kingsoft Office Free installs politely but leaves a folder behind upon removal.

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