Ability Office 4 review
Review Date: 22 Sep 2004
Price when reviewed: Professional Edition £50 inc VAT (upgrade £25); Standard/Small Business Edition £40 inc VAT (upgrade £20)
Reviewed By: Kay Ewbank
Ability Office has carved a decent niche in the office suite market, offering a lot of functionality for a small price. Version 4 sees even more added, while the low price remains.
The most significant addition is Ability Presentation, a PowerPoint-like application. It uses the same .ppt file format as its Microsoft rival, so existing presentations can be edited and viewed. However, it doesn't support all the same features as PowerPoint, such as embedded video. This may mean that some presentations won't open properly and you may have to start from scratch. Ability offers 20 slide layouts for slideshows, but it doesn't have any pre-prepared backgrounds or presentations.
Also included is PhotoAlbum, an image organiser that displays thumbnails and slideshows. Ability Mail, an email client, is not on the CD but is available as a free download to registered users.
Ability Database, one of the suite's biggest strengths, has been updated to make form design and reporting much easier. Database will open the latest Access files, although existing query definitions can't be edited except as raw SQL. This could make migration tricky in some cases.
Ability Database also lacks Access's query-by-example facility. However, its approach of selecting a table you want to query and then choosing the query components by column, sort order and filter is easier to get to grips with.
The welcome additions of Autocorrect, Autotext and the Grammar Checker put Ability Write on a par with Word. Ability Spreadsheet is similar to Excel and opens its files along with those of Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro. However, it often converts formulae to values, so be careful when migrating between applications.
The other components of the Ability suite go beyond what is available in Microsoft Office. There are no specific improvements in Ability Draw, but the already capable photo editor, Photopaint Studio, has a number of enhancements. These include direct support for digital cameras and scanners and Desaturate and Saturate tools, which decrease or increase colour strength.
Compared with Microsoft Office, Ability Office is superb value. It offers functionality that, although not quite as sophisticated, more than meets the everyday needs of most people. It even compares well against the free OpenOffice, thanks to its fully featured database application.
However, those wishing to move to Ability Office are advised to download the trial version to ensure that existing files can migrate easily and that Ability Office supports the same features.
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