It’s about time someone made an Office suite that can actually claim to be better than Microsoft Office. With WPS Office for Linux, Kingsoft has a winner.
We have shown you how to get Microsoft Office running in Linux through Wine, but if the one thing keeping you back from using Linux is a native Microsoft Office alternative you’re in luck. WPS Office is essentially a Linux port of the Kingsoft Office suite available for Windows, and is a darn impressive clone of MS Office.
The current package, Alpha 11, includes three apps: Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheet — alternatives for the famous trinity of Word, Powerpoint and Excel. Sure: it falls short for some features, but it also includes many that Microsoft would do well to emulate.
With A Ribbon On Top
When I say Kingsoft has made a clone, I mean it. It’s missing Microsoft’s blue colour scheme, but you can even change that by switching themes if you really want.
The Ribbon UI, which Microsoft introduced with Office 2007 and continued with Office 2010 and 2013, is something most workers now swear by. It makes almost every task infinitely easier with its easy interface. And WPS Office has cloned that pretty well.
And hey, if you don’t like the Ribbon, you can switch to the ‘Classic’ view, which is akin to Office XP or Office 2003. Perfect for traditionalists.
Just like with MS Office, the default ‘Home’ tab of the Ribbon gives you some basic options to format a document, presentation or spreadsheet. Other tabs include Page Layout, Insert, Formulas, Table Style, Animation, Slideshow, Review, View and more, depending on the app you are using.
There are some tabs that aren’t in the MS Office Ribbon, such as ‘Reference’ in Writer, with shortcuts to insert a table of contents and footnotes — two tools I use very often when editing a book.
What I really liked was the inclusion of a second toolbar of shortcuts on the right, which changes based on the app. So for example, in Presentation, you get shortcuts for colour schemes, effects, autoshapes and materials, etc. There’s also a Backup button here, which we will come to soon.
I didn’t really find any feature from MS Office that was missing in WPS Office. Let me know your findings below, though.
Overall, it really looks, feels and behaves like Microsoft’s popular software. And while that might not be a good thing for some, I’m all for it. Having used MS Office for so many years now, I find comfort in a similar environment rather than having to learn my way around a whole new software.
As I said earlier, WPS Office has a few features that Microsoft could learn from.
Paragraph Formatting: There’s a persistent floating button called ‘Paragraph Format’ next to each paragraph in your Writer document. Hit it and it auto-selects the whole paragraph and lets you format its layout, much like you would stretch or compress an image. Just hold one of the sides and move it to set how you want the paragraph to appear. In Paragraph Format mode, you can also select multiple paragraphs (Ctrl+Left Mouse Button) or the whole document (Ctrl+A). It’s just so easy.
Tabs: I really have no idea why Microsoft still doesn’t have this feature, but I’m glad WPS comes with it out of the box. Your documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be opened in tabs, which nest in a little bar right under the Ribbon. If you haven’t used tabs before in an office suite, they will change your work life — just like they did in browsers.
Backup Management: Sure, Microsoft has AutoSave, but this is something more. WPS Office creates periodic backups of your documents, whether you’ve saved them or not. The best part is that it actually saves them in a folder t you can go back to at any time in the future. It doesn’t matter whether your PC or the software crashed unexpectedly, that earlier version of your document is forever stored safely.
Text To Columns: Another neat option was ‘Text to Columns’ in Spreadsheet, which actually was the original reason I found WPS office. I was looking for a way to quickly sort my contact list, which had a single cell for all contact names. I wanted to split them into First Name and Last Name. Text To Columns let me choose ‘space’ as a separator and sorted my list into two columns — as simple as that. You can choose characters other than a space, or even draw a line straight through the column to split it into two.
The biggest problem with WPS Office at the moment is that the file formats it supports are too limited. Regular DOC, XLS and PPT files are fine, as are simple common ones like CSV, TXT and HTML. But when it comes to Office 2007 files, like DOCX and PPTX, you can only read them — you can’t edit or save them. Which is a problem, because a lot of professionals today use those by default. Surprisingly, it also doesn’t support OpenOffice or LibreOffice formats like ODT.
Instead, WPS has its own file formats (WPS, DPS, ET). The only third-party format that works without a glitch right now is XLSX in Spreadsheets, which you can read, edit and save.
The inability to edit DOCX, PPTX, ODT and other file formats can be a deal-breaker for many people. The developers have recently said that they will be supporting DOCX editing in WPS Office Alpha 12, the first version of which is slated to release on September 10 2013.
WPS vs The Rest
Linux has plenty of alternative office suites. Compared to some of those, WPS Office is quite limited in what it offers. After all, it has only the big three — word processor, presentation and spreadsheets — whereas other suites like OpenOffice, Calligra and LibreOffice come with other work-related applications such as database management (Base, Kexi) and vector graphics tools (Draw, Karbon). And if your needs are restricted to just word processing or only spreadsheets, then AbiWord (which we have reviewed) and Gnumeric are much lighter, standalone programs than WPS Office.
WPS Office still has plenty going for it. It looks polished, feels like a professional software to use, and has loads of cool features that will make you never want to go back to Office 2007 or any of the other software. Really, once you get used to that Paragraph Formatting, you wonder how you ever lived with MS Office for all these years. And all for the wonderful price of free!
Plus, although the file format support is limited, I have to mention that the common file formats it does support now — DOC, XLS, XLSX and PPT — look almost exactly like what they do originally in MS Office, which is something that can’t be said about competitors like LibreOffice or IBM Lotus Symphony, all of which often distort the formatting of files created in MS Office.
Unless you specifically need more or less than the aforementioned three basics of an office suite, WPS Office is the best you can get right now.
WPS Office Alpha 11 for Linux is available as downloadable RPM (best for Fedora, CentOS, OpenSUSE), Debian (best for Ubuntu, Mint, Knoppix) and Tarball packages. Grab the package that’s right for your operating system, double-click it and just follow the step-by-step installation process. It couldn’t be simpler.
What do you think about WPS Office? Has it replaced your default office suite or are you sticking with your current options? We’d love to know which one you choose and why in the comments section below.