Ashampoo – Office 2010 review

another viable alternative to Microsoft Office
Photo of Ashampoo – Office 2010
£39.99

We recently had a look at Ashampoo’s Snap 3 screen capture program, but the Germany-based company has shifted focus onto words rather than pictures here, with an alternative office suite. Although the suite isn’t just a word processor, naturally. Numbers and slides also figure, as the obligatory spreadsheet and presentation program is included in the package.

First off, let’s get the main bugbear of Microsoft Office alternatives out of the way: compatibility. If it doesn’t perform well when it comes to loading that Excel file from work, or the document of astrology readings your friend just sent you (which might go straight in the recycle bin, but that’s another argument), then it’s going to get your back up at some point. So we threw a variety of documents, Excel and Powerpoint files at the suite, some with simple formatting, some more complex, and recorded the results.

Which were pretty good, on the whole. The word processor coped with almost everything in its stride, although there were some minor errors in some of the more complex docs. A book title page, for example, got messed up slightly, being split over two pages. When it came to spreadsheets, the suite dealt with everything perfectly including a couple of very large XLS files we keep on hand for such tests, because they’ve tripped up other packages in the past. And we encountered no hitches when importing Powerpoint files into the presentation arm of Ashampoo Office. Overall, an impressive level of compatibility has been achieved here.

Moving on to specifics, the hub of the suite, for most people anyway, is the word processor. It’s rather unimaginatively named TextMaker, and it sports a neat, generic looking interface which makes use of tabs for multiple documents (as do the other applications in the suite). File support is solid, with all the expected Microsoft formats including Docx catered for, and OpenOffice documents, plus it’s possible to export to PDF.

TextMaker doesn’t do much in the automation department, however. It doesn’t have any auto-correct features, and it doesn’t underline unrecognised words in red, for example. It does have a spell-checker and thesaurus, of course, and interestingly one unusual automatic feature; auto-hyphenation. When turned on, this will hyphenate and split long words over two lines, when normally the word would be shifted wholesale onto the next line, leaving a gap at the end of the previous line. Although we’re not hugely keen on such hyphenation, it does make for a neater right-hand side alignment.

In fact, TextMaker has something of a desktop publishing theme all round. It’s possible to tweak the spacing between characters, for example, add drop caps, or set up a master page (which lets you create a template containing tables or pictures that you want to appear on every page of your document by default). The program’s object mode allows for insertion of not just text and picture frames, but freehand drawing, custom shapes, or text graphics with shading and so forth. It’s hardly a DTP suite, mind you, but these are some useful extras.

PlanMaker, the spreadsheet program, again puts an emphasis on graphics features alongside its core functionality. The object mode we’ve just mentioned is also available here, meaning you can insert a variety of custom artwork. Charts are easily added too, with many templates on offer, from basic bar charts to scatter or bubble graphs. PlanMaker can also import XLSX files.

Presentations is the final module of Ashampoo Office, and it offers a smart range of templates, along with some fancy animations and slide transition effects. It’s noticeably zippy at loading even large Powerpoint files, which is true for the other applications here as well. All three are light on system usage and load up bulky files swiftly. Overall, there’s a lot to like on the performance front.

Users will probably notice this suite’s constant references to SoftMaker in the help file, and in sample graphics. Even the program’s default installation folder is labelled SoftMaker. This is because Ashampoo Office is actually a rebranded version of SoftMaker Office.

The only difference between them, as far as we’re aware, is that the SoftMaker suite comes with a fourth module, BasicMaker (a scripting language). If you’re not interested in that, odds are you won’t want to pay 50 percent more for SoftMaker, as Ashampoo definitely has the advantage on the pricing front. SoftMaker does come with three licences, however, which may be a further consideration for some.

Company: Ashampoo

Contact: +49 441 933790


Verdict
This is a slim and efficient package which does a great job of capturing the basics, even if every Microsoft Office feature isn't included. It also makes an effort on the graphics and presentation front, with desktop publishing elements incorporated into the program. Perhaps most importantly, however, the suite's compatibility with MS Office is impressive. A worthy budget alternative to Microsoft.