Ability Office (last reviewed here) has, for many years now, been pitched as the low-cost alternative to Microsoft Office. With a sub-£50 retail price, its suite of programs has always matched Microsoft’s market leader in terms of basic functionality, and slowly but surely Ability Plus Software has made inroads into the market.
Ability Office 4, though, is proof that the company is trying harder than ever to appeal to Microsoft Office users. And it’s succeeding. For your £50, you get a word processor (Write), a speadsheet program (called, er, Spreadsheet), a database application called Database and a presentation package called Presentation (which is a new addition for Ability). There’s a theme there if you look closely.
These applications mirror the basic programs you get with Microsoft Office, and you also get Photo Album, Draw, Photo Paint and an optional Launcher menu to tie them all together. That’s a comprehensive selection in anyone’s book, and an e-mail application will follow later as a free download to all who fork out for this Professional edition.
The software finds Ability in a more determined mood than ever to woo users across from Microsoft’s product. The individual components look and feel very similar, with options in familiar places and certain shortcuts happily working. In general, the whole ‘unlearning’ process you often get when switching from one package to another is pretty much non-existent.
It also helps that all components support Microsoft’s dominant file formats natively, so you can save your word processing as a DOC file, your spreadsheet as an XLS file and so in. In fact, in some areas Ability has made its software a little more intuitive to us – for instance, click on ‘Save as’ and a drop down menu instantly appears with the seven most popular options. A nice touch.
The strengths of the package are in the core components, which are genuinely strong pieces of software in their own right. Spreadsheet, Presentation and Write are all effective, easy-to-use applications, and while their feature lists falls a little short of the market leader, there’s unlikely to be anything missing that many people will actually need on a regular basis. Then there’s the Photo Paint package, which is excellent. Not only does it support PhotoShop file formats, it also successfully emulates many of its features, and comes with a generous selection of filters.
Weak links? There are few. While most of the packages are at least of a very good standard, we weren’t quite so overwhelmed with the Photo Album or Database applications. And despite the best efforts of Ability, there is still a little familiarising required in some quarters.
Strong links? There are many. On top of what we’ve discussed already, there’s PDF support, modest installation space, user-friendliness in spades, decent help files and quality performance. And then there’s the daddy of them all – absolutely outstanding value.
For £49.99, you get an office suite that might fall a little short of being the absolute best, but is pretty much untouchable when it comes to performance per pound (true, OpenOffice.org is free, but it’s still some way behind Ability). In short, this is quite possibly the bargain of the year.
Company: Ability Plus Software
Contact: 020 7231 1004