Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free and Cheap Software for the SOHO Office, Part 5

Part 5: Two Chinese options: Kingsoft and Yozo

We continue our musical presentations of Microsoft Office competitors with our two very distinct Chinese software companies. One can almost sympathize with these companies because they have internal and external pressure to quickly bring Western-style software and interfaces, in many languages, to both the children of the Cultural Revolution as well as children of the Social Media revolution. With the Chinese reputation for wide-scale, unabashed copyright infringement and interface robbery, it makes sense, then, that our subjects for the day are performing in the veddy, veddy British Gilbert and Sullivan comedy, Pirates of Penzance.

We cast Kingsoft Software (although we could probably go either way) as Frederic, the not-so-bright 21-year-old who has just finished his enforced apprenticeship to the pirates, only to discover he was born on February 29th and therefore has another 63 years until his 21st birthday and the end of his apprenticeship. We cast Yozo as Frederic's romantic interest, the not-so-pretty Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley.

We could have just as easily cast our friends into the roles of the Pirate King (which they might find insulting) and the General, except asking any native Chinese speaker to sing the rapid-paced, tongue-twisting patter song "I am the very model of a modern Major-General," would be just a little bit cruel. FWIW, by the end of Pirates of Penzance the pirates discover themselves to be loyal subjects of Queen Victoria and the girls (including our heroine, Mabel) all end up happily married. Ah, if only software company relationships were so easily resolved.

So, now that we are thoroughly entertained with Victorian comedy, we return to our software reviews, since these have as many twists and turns as a Gilbert & Sullivan plot.

Hong Kong-based Kingsoft Software now offers a free Kingsoft Office 2012 and Kingsoft Office Pro 2012, available on Both offer three modules: Writer, Spreadsheet and Presentation. Most of the interesting new features are in the Pro version:
  • Kingsoft appears to be the first company to successfully rip-off, er, emulate the new Microsoft ribbon interface. From the few small screen shots on their website (and a few reviews), you have to look hard to see a difference. However, they also added the ability to switch between their menu interface (similar to MS Office 2003) and their ribbon interface. This is something that many, if not most users wished had been included when Microsoft released Office 2007.
  • Kingsoft Office Pro also advertises “Section tabs,” which are what we would probably call “Document tabs,” another feature some people wish was in Microsoft's programs.
  • It has a Visual Basic Editor
  • A “Paragraph Adjustment Tool” which offers mouse-controlled paragraph formatting
  • Macro creation tools
  • File encryption tools
  • New table styles and table expansion tools
  • Cover page templates
  • The ability to save in PDF format and also open and edit PDF files
  • The suites continue to advertise the ability to open all Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (including 2007 and 2010) and save in Microsoft 2003 formats, so you can open Kingsoft files directly in Microsoft products without translation.
  • All this is in a small, downloadable file which, after installation, reportedly runs briskly
  • The Pro version costs $69.95
Neither the free nor the pro versions offer a grammar checker, which is a shame because one occasionally runs into language on the Kingsoft website that is incomprehensible in English.

Although Kingsoft seems to be aiming both barrels at Microsoft with their triple hitter (how's that for mixing metaphors?), they also seem to be aiming at both Microsoft and OpenOffice (and a lot of other folks, including South Korea's Thinkfree Office) with their free version. (All their feature comparison charts freely ignore the fact that both OpenOffice and Microsoft offer other programs in their suites.)

Kingsoft's free version is a more limited package, which is no surprise. What it does NOT include are the switchable interface, the ribbon interface, the paragraph adjustment tool, “section” tabs, Writer cover templates, or Presentation templates—in other words, most of the new stuff.

Some reviewers have noted that the free version is quite small, starts up very quickly, and has more versatility than most free software, offering WordPad speed with advanced functionality. Being a free version, it is available for download from a number of sources, including

The older Kingsoft Office 2010 advertised that it was usable in English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese. The website for the new version does not give any information about which languages are supported. (It seems unlikely that they would have removed any of the Asian languages.) However, the new website offers options to click on flags for the U.S., Germany, France, China and Japan. One might infer that French and German could now be supported, too, but je ne c'est pas.

It is not clear whether the Pro version allows a trial period before purchasing, although some web sites appear to offer one. All customer support is online or by email.

Kingsoft also offers a new, free Kingsoft Office Suite for Android, for use on Android phones and tablets. It allows you to open, edit and create Writer and Spreadsheets and open, edit, but not create presentations. Curiously, they just announced yesterday (on December 14, 2011) that the software is now free and people who purchased it earlier can apply for a refund. The Android software appears to be available in the Android marketplace in English, Japanese and Chinese.

In conclusion, Kingsoft is aggressively marketing its new software with a free version as well as reasonably low pricing in its Pro version. If they can survive the barrage of infringement lawsuits likely from Microsoft (and Chinese courts might make that possible), it sounds like an interesting product. There are surprisingly few reviews on the web from reputable journalists, so far, and no real in-depth reviews.

If you are not bothered by the Chinese propensity to steal intellectual property (and other geopolitical issues), you probably should take a look at the free version of the software. If you have an Android tablet, you'd be silly not to try their Android app. (I still wonder about the true functionality of office software on Android phones.) People using older computers or netbooks might be pleased with the small file sizes and requirements to run this suite.

Those who rarely use any software other than word processing, spreadsheets and presentations and, thus, don't need easy compatibility with other programs (say, database, page layout, or email hosting), could possibly find much of what they need in these tidy little packages.

Yozo Office 2010 (formerly EIOfiice 2009) is marketed by a Chinese software company named EIOffice (a.k.a. Evermore Integrated Office) that claims to be the largest seller of software to the Chinese government. The suite, available in Chinese, Japanese, French and English, was created as a Chinese competitor to Microsoft Office.

The 2009 version of the software was available for $14.95. The 2010 version, now available from, shoots the price up to $41.95 for a single license. Yozo Office is available for Windows, Linux, Meego and Android.

Yozo Office offers word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities in a unified program (not separate modules). A screenshot shows an impressive-looking "Integrated Science Editor" for biology, chemistry, physics, math, geography and flowcharts. It imports Office 2010 and earlier files and OpenOffice formats and appears to export to new Microsoft Office formats. It does offer PDF creation in addition to its proprietary formats, and includes a "binder" to bring documents, spreadsheets and presentations together in a single file. Befitting the pirate reputation of Chinese software companies, its features list includes "boarders" (although they probably mean "borders").

This is a Java-based program that runs on top of Windows (or Linux, Android or Symbian), so the big question is whether it runs visibly slower on Windows or not. (You should also check to see if it has the same font display problems of the Korean ThinkFree suite.) You can download a trial version for 15 days before paying for a license to continue using the program. A downloadable user manual, templates, tutorials and sample documents are available only with a paid license.

Yozo Office has expanded their Chinese-only cloud-computing platform to other languages (including, apparently, English). It would be interesting to compare their cloud application offerings with that of much larger Google and Check out for more information.

Probably the biggest negative to trusting your information to a Chinese online firm is the country's reputation for pirating software, technology and intellectual property. One wonders how safe sensitive information would be government or private hackers. (To be fair, if I was a Chinese businessman using Google, I might also wonder how safe my information was from intrusion from U.S. Homeland Security and the NSA, too.)

Tags: Yozo, Kingsoft, software, SOHO, office, webapps