Back in the day, there wasn't a single thing wrong with the tools we used. Yes, in comparison to how we work today, they were a bit limited, ugly, and single-minded. But they got the job done and did it well. So, when I installed the beta version of SoftMaker Office HD tools, I immediately tossed back to those "good ol' days." That's right, SoftMaker has brought their tools, in full force, to the Android platform — and the second you open them, you'll be right at home.
Why? Because they, my friend, are old school. That doesn't mean these tools are bad. In fact, they aren't. They're actually quite good. They are, however, a bit of a design throwback. So, if the idea of installing something that could easily have been time-travelled from the late 90s turns you off, turn away now. But if the idea of getting your mobile work done with an efficiency and familiarity you haven't seen in a while, keep reading.
Here are the SoftMaker Office HD tools that we're talking:
- TextMaker HD — word processor
- PlanMaker HD — spreadsheets
- Presentations HD — presentations
With each tool, you can create and save in popular formats (mostly Microsoft Office and PDF formats), and you do so using interfaces and features that have been familiar for years. There's nothing new here, just tools that work.
I'll confess that I've been familiar with the SoftMaker tools for some time. Years ago, TextMaker was my go-to word processor on the Linux platform. It was easy to use, reliable, and lightweight (back when OpenOffice was a bloated hog). So, installing and using these tools was like visiting an old friend that really hadn't changed much over the years.
Understand this — these tools are currently in beta. You can try them for 30 days, and the beta expires. Once they go out of beta and are ready for prime time, there'll be a price for admission. That price will probably be in line with the smartphone version ($22.99 for all three tools). Is it worth the price? Let's install it and see.
You won't find these apps in the Google Play Store. Instead, what you must do is side-load them. To do this, you must first enable Unknown Sources within Settings. This is found within the Security section. So, open Settings, tap Security, and then tap the check box for Unknown Sources (Figure A).
Enabling Unknown Sources on a Verizon-branded Sony Xperia tablet.
Once you have Unknown Sources enabled, download the three apk files from the SoftMaker site. You'll first have to register for the beta program. After you register, you'll be sent an email with the trial registration key and the link for the downloads. You can't use the software without the registration key. When you tap on one of the download links, you'll receive a warning that downloading apk files can harm your device. Okay the download.
How do you actually install the applications? After the downloads complete, you can drag down your notification bar and see the downloads listed. Tap on one of the downloads (Figure B) to begin the process.
The TextMaker apk listed and ready to install.
When prompted, tap the Install button, and the installation will proceed. Once it's installed, you should find a launcher for the application in your app drawer. Launch the app and, when prompted, enter your registration key.
At this point, what you'll see is a very familiar tool (Figure C). Start working, and you'll get the sense of being transported back in time. I used my Xperia in conjunction with the Logitech k480 bluetooth keyboard and felt like I was working on a standard desktop word processor.
TextMaker HD in action.
Once it's up and running, you'll be hard-pressed to find any difference in working on SoftMaker on your tablet vs. working on your desktop. It's a seamless experience for anyone who prefers to focus on the actual work over a plethora of distracting features. No, there isn't cloud integration or a mobile-inspired, flat interface. Instead, you'll find all the features you need to get your actual work done. And that, my friends, is what it's all about. If you prefer how things were done before the days of the cloud and flat interfaces, you'll breathe a sigh of relief the second you open SoftMaker's tools. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more modern and mobile-friendly feature set and UI, you might want to keep on looking for that mobile office suite nirvana.
What do you think? Is the old-school UI and feature set worth the price of admission? Are you willing to take a chance on a lesser-known suite of tools in order to do get your work done? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.