Low-cost Softmaker Office Suite Includes The Usual, Plus BASIC Scripting

SoftMaker Office 2010 ($80, 30-day free trial) for Windows comes with the same versions of TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations which come with the $60 Ashampoo Office 2010; these are covered in our review of the Ashampoo product. What SoftMaker Office 2010 has which Ashampoo does not is BasicMaker, a scripting language which can add functionality to your applications. This review focuses on that module.

Softmaker Office
This simple BASIC program, made with the BasicMaker component of SoftMaker Office 2010, inserts some text.

The core language in BasicMaker is based on Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications, or VBA. It's a fairly straightforward variant on BASIC, a language which has been around for decades and which is known for a simple, if sometimes verbose, syntax, at least as compared to C++ or PERL. Hardcore programmers tend to be disdainful of it, but for simple tasks or for use by part-time or casual programmers, it does the job. The lack of "advanced" features such as pointer manipulation reduces the chances of crippling and hard to replicate bugs.

BasicMaker cannot produce stand-alone applications, but it can produce fairly complex scripts which operate on the applications included in the Office suite. Typical tasks you might want to script could include inserting generated text, a "smart" search and replace which could perform complex checks based on surrounding text, generating data for a spreadsheet, and a lot more. You can create custom dialog boxes as well, allowing a script to query the user for fairly complex data, which it can then use to direct itself -- this can be helpful for generating complex, structured, documents automatically.

BasicMaker's documentation assumes a pretty high level of familiarity with general programming concepts and application coding in particular. There is really no true tutorial or hand-holding, just some basic guidelines on how to reference objects and on the structure of the language. For example, the section on Flow Control discusses the syntax of While, For, and Do loops, but assumes you understand what a loop is, why you need one, when a For loop should be used and when a While loop should be used, and so on. Likewise, while object properties are documented, there is no high level "How to" guide; I had to drill down through several object hierarchies before I found out how to insert text at the current cursor position. (You use the Selection object.)

The editor is very basic--no pun intended. Features such as pop-up completion (where all the fields or methods of an object are presented once you type its name) are absent, as is syntax highlighting, automatic indenting, and other niceties which are standard in many editors (such as the freeware Eclipse). The debugger is, likewise, functional but nothing special.

Is SoftMaker Office 2010 worth the price difference as compared to Ashampoo Office 2010? If you need programming/scripting capacity--and if you don't know if you do, the odds are, you don't--then, yes, it is worth the extra $20.

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