SoftMaker has a free lineup of office suite modules containing a word processor, slide presentation program and spreadsheet program that rival the Microsoft Office suite. Called FreeOffice 2016, this product line includes near identical performance for Windows and Linux operating systems as well as Android mobile devices.

SoftMaker is based in Germany and also offers a paid (as in commercial) office suite called SoftMaker Office 2016. The paid version is nearly identical to its open source (as in totally free) product line.

Both software editions are well engineered and are as close to 100% compatible with the Microsoft Office suite as any paid or free product available. That is not an idle comparison. As a long-time journalist and technology hound, I have used and reviewed all of them over the years.

I spend many hours each week researching technology topics and writing reviews and articles about corporate and educational use of technology. Much of my work is done on desktop computers and laptops in several work locations. I also rely on a varied collection of Android mobile devices.

Being able to use an office suite that works interchangeably with Microsoft Office on all of my gear is invaluable. Not having to buy multiple copies of a commercial software solution for each computer and mobile device is priceless. So is not having to worry about compatibility issues with documents I send and receive.

As a student, you might face the same compatibility and cost issues. FreeOffice 2016 can eliminate the hassles of starting an assignment on your laptop and then having to convert your document to work in an app on your tablet or cell phone while you are in between classes or shifting between work and study locations.

Buy or Use for Free

The free Windows (top) version looks identical to  the free Linux version of Textmaker.

The free Windows (top) version looks identical to
the free Linux version of Textmaker.

SoftMaker created an awkward marketing situation for itself. Commercial software makers, as well as mobile app makers, often develop a paid version and a free version. No matter how good the free version works, users need something more to attract them towards the paid version. Putting fewer features in the free version is how that is typically achieved.

I contacted SoftMaker initially about feature comparisons that separated its commercial Windows and Linux editions and its free office suites. The commercial versions cost $69.95 versus the free version.

SoftMaker distributes all of its products via download. If you select the paid version from the website, the company sends you a product key code in your email. You need the product code to activate SoftMaker Office 2016. If you download the free version, the company emails you a serial number to enter when you install FreeOffice 2016.

Performance Preferred

So is the paid version worth buying? SoftMaker let me answer that question by giving me both the product key and the serial number so I could do my own product comparison.

I initially worked with the Linux versions. Then I tried the Windows edition. The simple review project got more involved when I included the Android app versions.

My conclusion? Both the paid and the free computer versions performed well on the same sets of documents. Ditto for the free Android app versions.

SoftMaker’s entire competing product line is a high-end performer. I did not notice differences in how either product opened files, rendered formatting or converted various document types. They worked interchangeably without issues.

Slight Differences

You have to try both the paid and the free versions to accurately focus on what differentiates one from the other. For student use, I found almost no reason to justify buying the paid version. The slight differences fall into the category of specialty needs.

Graphics renditions in the Excel clone Planmaker looks indistinguishable in either Windows (top) or Linux versions. Both are free.

Graphics renditions in the Excel clone Planmaker looks indistinguishable in either Windows (top) or Linux versions. Both are free.

For example, both the paid and the free versions come with templates. Almost no differences exist in the Textmaker word processing module. The pro version provides numerous templates in the Presentation (PowerPoint) module that you do not get in the free version. However, you can access almost the same number of templates for the three modules from within the File/New menu of both the pro and the free versions.

Another difference is the pro version includes a thesaurus and the Berlitz Standard dictionaries. The four Berlitz translation dictionaries offer easy translation between English, Spanish, Italian, German and French.

The free version has no thesaurus and no Berlitz dictionaries. But it does include a German language spelling dictionary. The pro version has a long list of additional European languages to select.

Mobile Packed with features

SoftMaker Office Mobile has features not available in other mobile office suites. For example, it has on-the-fly spellchecking in 17 languages that underlines typing errors in red.

All applications in SoftMaker Office Mobile let you export documents directly to PDF. Plus, you can install TrueType fonts to ensure that your documents look the same as in Microsoft Windows.

TextMaker Mobile is a powerful and reliable word processor that reads and writes DOC and DOCX files. PlanMaker Mobile is a full-featured spreadsheet that reads and writes XLS and XLSX files.

Presentations Mobile is a fully Microsoft PowerPoint-compatible presentation program that reads and writes PPT and PPTX files.

SoftMaker Office Mobile for Android is available for free from Google Play.

FreeOffice Highlights

A new feature in TextMaker, the word processor, is EPUB export. It turns documents into E-books at the flick of a key.

Pivot tables and conditional formatting makes PlanMaker, the spreadsheet module, more compatible with Microsoft Excel. Pivot tables allow sophisticated data analysis. Conditional formatting includes color bars marking the highest and lowest values, and comes with new icons for value trends.

Another feature upgrade in PlanMaker is worksheets with up to one million rows. Also included are additional mathematical functions and new chart types.

Improved tables in Presentations, the PowerPoint clone, supports genuine tables, like those that can be found in TextMaker or modern versions of PowerPoint. Also, animations and slide transitions are based on DirectX. This makes possible a huge variety of spectacular effects that make slide shows stunning.