Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Free and Cheap Software for the SOHO Office, Part 3

Part 3: Ability Office

In Act 3 of our extended international software drama we present London's Ability Office in a re-creation of the role of John Steed in The Avengers  TV series. In today's episode, Steed is posing as a British international businessman, appropriately dressed in derby hat and bespoke suite, accessorized with the Londoner's ever-present bumbershoot. Using amazing tools from his extended collection of software, including accounting, human resources, appointments and, of course, security, he smoothly discovers and captures the enemy (in an acerbically British version of Getting Things Done) with the able assistance of Mrs. Peel, all in time for cocktails and dinner, of course.

London-based Ability (www.ability.com/) has a very reasonably-priced alternative to Microsoft Office and WordPerfect Office called Ability Office for Windows. Version 5, released in 2008 offers a suite of  programs. The Home version Includes: Write, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Photopaint (a bit-map graphics editor), Draw (vector graphics) and Photoalbum. You can download the US versions from http://www.asiability.us/ and try free for 30 days. The Home Edition costs $34.99. The Business Edition adds an Access-compatible relational Database and costs $44.99. (That's not a typo – that's a relational database for just $10 extra!) Each purchase offers two licenses.

Ability Office can import and export Microsoft Office 2007/2010 XML files, but not OpenOffice files. It also opens Office 2003 and earlier files plus, curiously, AmiPro files. (Anybody remember AmiPro?)

Ability's Write module will save in every Microsoft Word format from Office 2010 on backwards to Word 3.0 (which even Microsoft no longer supports), Ami Pro, text, Windows Write, HTML, plus it's own formats, and creates PDFs. Ability's Write does have a grammar checker and a form editor (which Libre/OpenOffice's Writer lacks). Otherwise, during a very brief tryout, the feature set appeared to be quite similar to OpenOffice's. The graphics programs, however, are light alternatives to PhotoShop and Illustrator which you can buy in a Graphics Photos and Presentations suite (combined with Presentation and Photoalbum) for $24.99, a good frugal price.

Ability also offers other software for businesses, including packages for security, accounting, appointments, business planning, and HR/staff files. If you need any of those packages for your business, adding Ability Office might create a very nice and frugal unified interface. 

All in all, Ability Office is a nice commercial alternative to Microsoft Office and Open/LibreOffice for not a lot of money. It adds three graphics modules (to OpenOffice's 1 and Microsoft's 0). In a trial run of the software, my biggest issue was slightly straining my older eyes with the smaller menus and icons. Like all the alternatives to Microsoft, Ability uses the menu and toolbar interface, not the ribbon interface which is strictly protected by Microsoft.

By office software standards, 2008 is only beginning to get long in the tooth. It will be interesting to see when Ability projects their next version's availability.

Tags: Ability, software, SOHO, office, Avengers, Steed