A free Microsoft Office alternative that's actually good

Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 offers much of the power of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint--for none of the cost.

Kingsoft

About a week ago I featured Kingsoft Office Suite Professional 2012 in a bonus deal. Since then I've been test-driving the software on an old laptop. And you know what? I like it!

I mention this because although the Kingsoft Professional giveaway is over, you can still get Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 for, well, free. Update: This program is for Windows.

Until last week, I'd never heard of Kingsoft or this product. I had, however, tried all the usual freebie Microsoft Office alternatives: OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Lotus Symphony, Google Docs, and so on.

They're all OK--good enough, certainly, for most users--but I'll admit I've become spoiled by Microsoft's Ribbon interface, which made its debut in Office 2007 and carried over to Office 2010. The famed freebies mostly resemble Office 2003--if not an even earlier version.

Kingsoft Office looks a lot like Office 2010, and consequently I feel right at home in it. (Update: Only the Pro version gives you the option of an Office 2010-style interface. My apologies for the error.) A few commenters last week accused it of being a "Chinese rip-off," but last time I checked, software created in China wasn't inherently bad. (By the way, Kingsoft is actually based in Hong Kong.)

What's more, the developers may have borrowed heavily from Microsoft's user interface, but so did the developers of OpenOffice and similar suites; they just borrowed from an older Microsoft UI.

Maybe I'm over-rationalizing, but the fact is that I like the look of Kingsoft Office Suite 2012, and I like the price even more. The free version is extremely capable, offering robust counterparts to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint--and file compatibility with all three. It doesn't support Visual Basic or macros, however, so if you're a power user, you might want to consider the $69.95 Pro version, which adds those features (among others).

Also, you don't have to take my word for it; find out why CNET staffers rated Kingsoft Office 2012 4.5 stars out of 5.

Another reason I'm jazzed about this suite is that I'm increasingly dissatisfied with Microsoft Office--and not just the ridiculous price tag. On my Core i7 system, Office 2010 takes forever to load. And don't get me started on Outlook.

Thus, I'm shopping for replacements, and Kingsoft Office Suite 2012 has emerged as one of my top picks for taking over Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It's compact, fast, attractive, and, from what I've seen so far, totally file-compatible. Also, it's free. What have you got to lose by giving it a try?

After you do, leave a comment letting me know if you like the suite as much as I do.

Bonus deal: If you're a Kindle or Nook owner, check out eBookFling. It's a kind of matchmaking service that lets you borrow e-books for cheap/free. You get one "borrow" credit free for signing up; others are earned by lending your own e-books or just buying credits outright. It's not perfect (far too many books are lending-disabled by the publisher), but it's still a great way to score some mainstream books without having to buy them.

 

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