Why you should take another look at WPS Office Free

From the Cheapskate: Are you willing to endure ads in exchange for a more robust free office suite? That's the new model, and it's actually not terrible. Plus: a free Jason Mraz album!

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Once upon a time, WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) was my favorite free office suite. It had the look of modern-day Microsoft Office and all the features most users needed -- myself included.

Then, bummer: the developers realized their product was actually too good, and decided to hobble a couple key features -- most notably printing and save-as-PDF. (You could still do both, but each page would have a WPS watermark.) Consequently, I named LibreOffice the best free Office alternative, despite its somewhat old-school interface trappings.

Need to unlock a particular feature in WPS Office 2016 Free? Take a quick gander at an ad.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Obviously stung by my withdrawal of support, the WPS folks made a change: WPS Office 2016 Free has restored those two features, but with a catch: "sponsored access," which is a fancy way of saying "ad-supported."

Now, if you want access to features like printing, save-to-PDF, track changes and mail merge, you'll have to look at an ad. Doing so unlocks those features for 30 minutes. Need more time? Another ad.

I'm happy to report that, at least for now, this is extremely tolerable. After installing WPS Office 2016, then advancing the system clock to force my 30-day Premium trial to expire, I created a document and clicked the Export to PDF option. A pop-up offered me two options: buy Premium or watch an ad.

I thought the latter option might produce some obnoxious 60-second video commercial or the like, but it was nothing more than a small ad for another software product -- and after waiting out a 10-second countdown timer, my desired feature was unlocked for 30 minutes. (This isn't a global unlock, though: when I went to print, I faced the same "watch advertisement" interlude.)

Truth be told, I have no problem with this model. In fact, I sort of admire it, because it puts me in control. If I want freedom from ads (courtesy of WPS Office Premium), I can pay for it. If I'm cheap, which, duh, I can tolerate a 10-second interruption to my workflow.

Because I haven't yet had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the new WPS Office Free, I'm not ready to give back the Best Free Office Alternative crown. But my initial reaction is very positive. I think the developers devised a clever solution to the problem of giving away the store. Your thoughts?

Oh, I should also mention: if you'd rather not deal with ads and want permanent access to all features, WPS Office Premium is currently on sale. A single-PC lifetime license will run you $39.99 instead of the usual $79.99. Not a bad deal at all.

Bonus deal: Music time! For a limited time, Google Play is offering the 2008 Jason Mraz album "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things." for free. To get it, you'll need a Google account, which in this case also means having a credit card (or, if you prefer, gift card) on file. The album includes such hits "Lucky" and "I'm Yours."

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