SoftMaker Office features the classic trio of products: Word processor (TextMaker), spreadsheet (PlanMaker), and presentation graphics (Presentations). Softmaker is a company based in Germany.
SoftMaker Office 2021 is a Multi-Platform Office suite application created to be the perfect alternative to Microsoft Office Suite. It is designed to enable you to create impressive documents, calculations, and presentations with ease, coupled with seamless compatibility with Microsoft Office – no conversion needed.
SoftMaker 2021 is the latest version of this office suite and it was recently released with a ton of changes that make it more similar to Microsoft’s alternative than it has ever been before. It features a ton of options and delivers outstanding performance for creating and managing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations respective of whether it is running on Linux, macOS, or Windows.
SoftMaker Office was available in only 2 versions, Standard and Professional, but the company has now ‘split’ Standard into NX Home and NX Universal, with the more expensive version adding features to the former.
SoftMaker makes much ado about its compatibility with Microsoft’s XML-based document formats, whereas alternatives to Microsoft Office like LibreOffice and OpenOffice use OpenDocument XML. It is a surrender to Microsoft in the document format wars, but pragmatic since the business world still tends to use the Microsoft formats by default.
That said, when you start up SoftMaker Office it asks you to choose between Microsoft XML and its own formats TMDX, PMDX, and PRDX, which are not generally supported by other applications for import or export. Users find these choices confusing since the native formats “support all the features” but it is unclear what you will miss by using the Microsoft formats, other than recipients of your documents complaining that they cannot open them.
OpenDocument XML is also in TextMaker but buried in preferences after installation. Adding to the confusion, the press release we were sent states: “The applications included in the Office suite natively use the Microsoft file formats DOCX, XLSX and PPTX,” disagreeing with the dialogue in the product itself.
SoftMaker told us that “TMDX” is a slightly enhanced version of the “DOCX” format. It can store “some additional features that TextMaker has over Microsoft Word”. The company added that it has “plans to add ODS and ODP sometime in the future”, these being the OpenDocument formats for spreadsheets and presentations.
Another area of historic contention in office suites is whether to use dropdown menus or a Microsoft-style ribbon UI. The ribbon arrived in Office 2007, partly intended to make the numerous features more discoverable, and partly to make Microsoft Office more distinctive. It was contentious at the time, and SoftMaker maintains neutrality by giving users a choice at first startup, or later in preferences. Options include light and dark, ribbon or dropdown menus, and a “Touch mode” for easier tablet use.
Microsoft Office compatibility: Is SoftMaker better?
Is SoftMaker Office really better than LibreOffice for Microsoft Office formats? Your correspondent is a bridge player and there is Word document in circulation (with a million variations) that describes the intricacies of the game’s conventions. The formatting is tight as it must fit on two sides of A4. It has card symbols, multiple tables, two columns, and if anything goes slightly wrong with the precise space occupied by the content in each cell, the document soon gets mangled. In other words, it is a challenging compatibility test. It is worth noting too that there is an interaction with the printer driver in word processor documents, so you will not necessarily get exactly the same appearance on different computers even with Word.
We copied the torture-test document to an Ubuntu system and tried opening it in both LibreOffice and TextMaker. We also took a look at Word Online on Ubuntu, using Firefox. Word Online in Reading mode was pretty much perfect. In Edit mode, however, the font used for card symbols did not display correctly. In LibreOffice, the page break went awry with the heading for one column appearing at the bottom of the previous page. In addition, some text was chopped off in one of the table cells. TextMaker got the page break right and the card symbols displayed OK, but the character spacing went wrong next to some card symbols so that punctuation appeared on top of the symbol instead of after it. You can see these issues if you squint carefully at our illustration. In the TextMaker version, there is a slash character overlaying one of the club symbols.
Next, I tried an Excel spreadsheet. The default Excel font is Calibri, a Microsoft font. LibreOffice showed this as a missing font and substituted a sans-serif font that was quite ugly and oversized, and the Sparklines in the Excel spreadsheet (which show trends in a small in-cell graphic) did not display. Sparklines were missing in PlanMaker too, but the Calibri font displayed OK. PlanMaker was the winner on this one.
These experiments show that getting perfect reproduction of Office document formats on Linux is still not easy, though considering the challenges both LibreOffice and SoftMaker do a decent job. It is not really a level playing field; there are eccentricities in the details of how Microsoft Office documents render. The good news is that most everyday documents import and export pretty well; the bad news is that if you want every little detail right, there is no substitute for using Microsoft’s suite, preferably on Windows.
What about SoftMaker, though? If you need something as close as possible to Microsoft Office on Linux, it is worth a look, though we suggest checking with some typical documents that you work with before drawing firm conclusions on whether it really beats the competition for compatibility.
The latest SoftMaker Office Linux release, like that available for Windows, also has native support for Microsoft document formats. You can open, edit and save DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX files without first having to convert files, nor deal with formatting issues and so on. You can even open password-protected word documents too (just like LibreOffice).
You can also work with multiple documents in the same window, as this update introduces support for tabs. You can even tear a tab out to morph a document into its own window.
SoftMaker Office 2018 also offers convenience for file operations on Linux desktops, making use of GNOME’s standard file dialogs (rather than its own hokey-coky versions).
There’s also an optional Touch Mode tailored to touchscreen use.
To install SoftMaker on Ubuntu please head to our Install Guide for instructions on how to install SoftMaker on your system.