Ability Office Business is not so much an alternative to Microsoft Office as an homage. An inexpensive option which closely resembles the original. Ability Office has now matured to version 5.0, and the new editions are compatible with Vista, and at only 100MB leaves a relatively light footprint.

This is impressive, because Ability Office is stuffed full of features, comprising Word-clone Write, the self-explanatory Spreadsheet and Database apps, as well as the PowerPoint-like ‘Presentation’ and a media-management tool called Photoalbum.

Ability Office Business also bundles a vector-artwork program - Draw - and an image-editing app that enjoys layer support and more than 90 image-enhancing filters. Photopaint is no Photoshop, but it makes simple photo fixes such as eliminating red-eye a cinch and will suffice for all but the most demanding of users. And this you don’t get with other productivity suites.

Open Write and you enter a word-processing world that’s eerily familiar. Compatible with pre-2007 Word, Write looks similar to its Microsoft big brother. Frames and tables are handled with aplomb, and there’s all the functionality you would expect: auto correct, spelling and grammar checking, and so on. Crucially, you can export to PDF and even Microsoft’s XML paper specification (XPS).

Write saves documents in Ability’s native AWW format, as well as a plethora of options including Microsoft Word (97/2000/XP), text files, rich text format and HTML. It won't open or save to Microsoft's latest DOCX, nor the Open Document standard ODT.

The Ability Write interface presents formatting and output options in much the same, simple way as pre-ribbon MS Office, so experienced Microsoft users will have no problem finding their way about. This is a theme that’s repeated throughout Ability Office Business, which takes care of ease-of-use at a stroke.

Ability Spreadsheet, for example, will look familiar to Excel users. Integration with Microsoft’s program is seamless, and again you can output to PDF and XML. There are more than 250 functions, and 25 different built-in chart types. Indeed, you’d have to be a pretty hardcore spreadsheet junkie to miss MS Excel at all.

NEXT PAGE: a PowerPoint killer? And our expert verdict > >

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Ability Office Business is not so much an alternative to Microsoft Office as an homage. An inexpensive option which closely resembles the original.

If PowerPoint is your main work tool, you may wish to stick with MS Office, however. That’s not to say that Presentations is anything but an adequate presentation-creation tool, but Microsoft’s powerhouse PowerPoint offers the hardcore presenter more in the way of creativity options.

Ability Office Business comes with free, unlimited support, but via email only. And you don’t get a huge amount of documentation in the box. The licence allows for installation and commercial use on two PCs.

Ability Office

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Ability Office Business: Specs

  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 100MB hard disk space
  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 100MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

At £34, Ability Office Business version 5.0 falls between free gems such as OpenOffice and Google Docs, and the ultra-expensive, feature intensive £330 Microsoft Office 2007. But more so than free rivals, Ability is feature rich and will be particularly familiar to MS Office users. It will make a welcome, inexpensive and useful addition to almost every office workstation.

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