Ability Office 2002, a U.K. import, got our attention with its Microsoft Access-compatible database. But the rest of this suite disappoints. Its word processor is superslow, the spreadsheet won't properly open Excel worksheets, and the suite as a whole has almost no Web smarts. If you have the money for this $70 software, you can afford GobeProductive, a better-integrated and faster app. And if you can cough up another $30, we recommend Microsoft Works. Ability Office 2002, a U.K. import, got our attention with its Microsoft Access-compatible database. But the rest of this suite disappoints. Its word processor is superslow, the spreadsheet won't properly open Excel worksheets, and the suite as a whole has almost no Web smarts. If you have the money for this $70 software, you can afford GobeProductive, a better-integrated and faster app. And if you can cough up another $30, we recommend Microsoft Works.
Don't forget all the files
Ability Office, like 602Pro, doesn't let you choose which components you want to install. Instead, Ability dumps all of its bits and pieces on your PC--still, it consumes only a minuscule 20MB, just a fraction of what Works eats up. The app is easy to come by, though: just download the 13MB file from the Ability Plus Web site. And while you're there, grab the other necessary (and free) files, which let you install import/export filters for Word and WordPerfect files and the multilanguage spelling checker and thesaurus. Note: You can opt for a 30-day free trial, or if you need only one or two Ability apps, you can purchase each one separately for $30 each. No other low-end suite offers a free trial.
Perhaps because of all that downloading, Ability proves itself a substantial package. The suite contains a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a database--the big three of office productivity. It also has a Photoshop-style image editor, called PhotoPaint. But like 602Pro and Microsoft Works, this program lacks a presentation maker.
Ability Write, the suite's word processor, looks solid at first. It includes a host of features, including tables, in-document editing of spreadsheet worksheets like that of Microsoft Office, HTML export, graphical text effects similar to Word's WordArt, multicolumn documents, and more. Unfortunately, Write is miserably slow. In our simple scroll test, where we time how long it takes to scroll through a 200-page document, Write took seven times longer than either Word (in Works 2002) or 602Text. It took Ability Write 10 minutes, 25 seconds to complete the task, compared to Word's 1 minute, 26 seconds and 602Text's 1 minute, 27 seconds.
Ability Spreadsheet offers slick tools, such as AutoSum, which adds up numbers in a column, and embedded hyperlinks that let you open a Web page from within a worksheet. But the app's compatibility with Excel faltered. It produced blank worksheets when we attempted to open several Excel files. Ability reps say that they're working to fix this bug.
The Database app separates this suite from the competition, but only for those who need a Microsoft Access-compatible relational database. Database opens native Access files (those in MDB format), including those created by Access 2000 and Access 2002. On the whole, Ability handles Microsoft Office file formats better than 602Pro does. But if you're thinking of trading Office files, Works is your best bet.
Wonky Web integration
Ability Office integrates well with its own apps but not as well as Microsoft Works does. You can, for instance, embed a blank spreadsheet from Spreadsheet into an Ability Write document, then start sticking in numbers. And you can launch Database queries from a toolbar in Write or Spreadsheet, making it easy to pull data out of a database and into, say, a Write document.
On the Web, though, Ability stinks. You can save spreadsheets and word processing documents as HTML files, but the resulting formatting is awful. Our test document dropped both tables and charts when it went to the Web.
Ability offers no phone support, so you must rely on either the piddly, 50-item online FAQ file or e-mail support. Fortunately, Ability's support responds quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, e-mail support is free for only the first 60 days after purchase. After that, support and software updates cost $50 for a 12-month plan.
Database divas only
We're all for competition, but Ability Office 2002 can't cut it in the alternative suite battle, much less against the big boys such as Microsoft, Corel, and Lotus. If you need an Access-compatible database, Ability is a good deal. Everyone else should look elsewhere.