OnlyOffice treated to an update – and fresh plugins
If the Ribbon is your sort of thing, penguin-flavored options include this and WPS Office
There are new versions of both OnlyOffice and the Chinese WPS Office. If LibreOffice looks and feels clunky and old-fashioned to you, there are other options.
Contrary to what some Microsoft-botherers might claim, there are actually quite a few office suites for Linux. Some are all-open-source, but there are also some commercial offerings that have a freeware version for those who can't or won't pay – for instance the venerable SoftMaker Office, which has been around since the late 1980s.
OnlyOffice is one of the more complete, modern pure-FOSS office suites. This release, version 7.3, appeared at the end of January. As the version number suggests, it's an incremental improvement on January 2022's OnlyOffice 7 and last September's OnlyOffice 7.2.
In this version, forms handling has been improved – for instance, nominated recipients can be assigned roles, such as completing specific parts of large documents, which can be colour-coded for clarity. Correspondingly, regions can be protected and even password-protected, not just entire documents. There are more formula types, support for Unicode and LaTeX equations, and live links between separate spreadsheets.
OnlyOffice 7.3 is the first new version of the year, and has shiny new plugins to add Zoom and ChatGPT integration
A notable aspect of OnlyOffice is that it can be extended with additional modules, and a couple of weeks after Ascensio released this new version, two new extensions followed. The first is a plugin for the Zoom video-conferencing app. The plugin allows users to start, schedule and join Zoom meetings from within the OnlyOffice app.
The second add-on is perhaps marginally more contentious, but someone somewhere will use it anyway. It's a plugin to integrate the ChatGPT machine-learning bot into OnlyOffice. You've doubtless already encountered OpenAI's bot: it's the fastest-growing web app in history. In OnlyOffice, the plugin opens in a pane on the left, and the output it generates is inserted into your document on the right.
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WPS Office is a freeware version of a proprietary Chinese office suite. For a while, it was also known as Kingsoft Office, after the English name of its creator's parent company, Jīnshān Ruǎnjiàn, as well as KSOffice. It's the bundled office suite with the Chinese "Pro" edition of Ubuntu Kylin, amongst others. The United States government treats the suite with some suspicion, and has faced accusations of deleting documents of which the government of the People's Republic disapproves, which it denies.
The last flagship new version was WPS Office 2019, but despite the name, updates arrive regularly, and last week saw the first new release of 2023, version 188.8.131.5286.
Sadly, Linux releases lag behind the Windows ones – currently, this is version 11.1. Even so, WPS offers both .RPM and .DEB downloads, and the current Linux version can also be found on Flathub. Snapcraft has a few older versions, but not the current one, so we'd advise against using Snap to install WPS Office.
WPS Office 11 is actively being developed and is available as DEB, RPM and Flatpak versions.
Although WPS Office used to have a traditional menu-and-toolbar UI, it replaced this with a ribbon over a decade ago, and there's no longer any option to switch back. It also defaults to saving in Microsoft's Office Open XM format – not to be confused with Open Document XML format, sometimes still called OpenOffice XML. Version 11 also adds PDF as a native format, and not only can the suite save as PDF, it can also load PDFs, and allow completing forms. It also has PDF editing support, but this depends very much on how the files were created – this was not designed to be an editable format.
We tried version 11.1 and it works well. It loads and saves documents much faster than OnlyOffice, but when typing or editing it actually feels a little less responsive, and on-screen kerning was less than perfect.
While the Reg FOSS desk has a well-documented dislike of ribbon-based apps, we are well aware that some people strongly prefer them. LibreOffice's integration and themes can be a little hit-and-miss, and we saw some issues with themes in the latest version 7.5. Judging from comments to previous stories about LibreOffice, for some MS Office aficionados, LibreOffice's ribbon isn't a great implementation and the program looks old-fashioned to some. If that's the case for you, we'd suggest trying both OnlyOffice and WPS Office: all it will cost you is time it takes to download and experiment a little. For those who are slightly more rigorous about requiring all-FOSS software, OnlyOffice is the only open source one. Its extensibility with add-in plugins is also impressive.
Those with less puritan views may find that WPS Office is more to their taste and more compatible… so long as you're not worried that the Chinese government might be spying on you. ®