It’s easy to settle with what we know. Once we familiarize ourselves with something, it can be hard to wean ourselves away and onto something new. It’s what keeps the 'Boomer' generation tuned in to radio stations and Millennials in their parents’ basements. And I’m sure it’s the reason Zoomers relentlessly humble-brag about their taste in music in the YouTube comment sections of Pink Floyd videos.
When it comes to word processors, many of us have settled nicely into familiar brands and recognizable software like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. However, there are many promising alternatives available, and searching online for word processing or office suite software will have results springing up faster than Hulk Hogan from a two-count. Whether you’re looking for something lightweight, modern, or free - there are plenty of choices. What I'm getting at is that you no longer have to tie yourself to a Microsoft subscription or hand Google your data to enjoy top-quality document writing tools. And one of the best alternative options is WPS Writer.
Spanning across desktop, online (via WPS Cloud) and mobile, WPS Writer is one of three applications that make up Chinese software developer Kingsoft’s WPS Office suite. Writer (the “W” of WPS) is joined by PowerPoint alternative Presentation and the Excel-like Spreadsheet. This places WPS Office on the smaller end of office suites, with many others choosing to expand their toolset to become all-encompassing.
It is a strong core lineup though, one that has been in development since 1988. Newer entrants into the word processing market may look at the most prominent features available and seek to replicate them, but more seasoned offerings, like WPS Writer or Microsoft Word, have had the time to slowly observe, adopt and integrate a vast number of smaller, but important features or improvements in addition to those.
I took some time to get to grips with WPS Writer and see just how viable Kingsoft’s offering is as an alternative to the usual word processing go-to’s.
WPS Writer pricing and packages
WPS Office is freely available as a desktop or mobile app, and as a cloud-based option to anybody creating a WPS account or signing in with a supported external account (such as Google or Facebook). This free account entitles you to 1GB of cloud storage for sharing your files with others or between devices, along with access to the basic suite of office tools: Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheet. Ads are shown within the free package. However, in my time of using the software, I barely noticed them. If you’re looking to work with PDFs, a lot of that functionality can’t be found within a basic account. Instead, you’ll need to upgrade to one of two paid tiers of access.
The additional tiers are better suited for you should you require more storage, want more advanced spreadsheet functions or need access to more document templates. The latter of which is found within the Template Premium package which, as the name suggests, gives you access to a library of premium templates for up to $5.99 per month. WPS Premium is the second of the packages and includes 50GB of cloud storage, full PDF support, a wider array of built-in tools for Spreadsheet, and a larger library of animations for Presentation. The WPS Premium package costs $18.99 for a 6-month subscription or $29.99 for the year. Both tiers include the removal of ads and access to a backup center.
Unless you’re reliant upon using PDFs or need a much larger storage solution, you’re likely to get on with the free account just fine. The ads that support the basic package are unobtrusive and generally go unnoticed, and there are still many templates available to use for free across a range of categories.
WPS Writer design and interface
Users of Microsoft Word will be immediately familiar with the design of Writer on desktop. The interface emulates Microsoft’s word processor almost entirely, with just a few layout tweaks and positional changes. While this design isn’t the fanciest looking, it does attempt to stay relatively distraction-free.
All of the most common tools and inserts can be found within the Word-like ribbon, a great design choice to keep your workspace clutter to a minimum without burying advanced formatting tools within overly packed drop-down menus. For even faster editing, you can also highlight any section of text to summon a floating contextual toolbar.
There is a standard word processing footer at the bottom of the window. Here, you can track your current page and word count at a glance, and also perform spell checks or alter the workspace layout and zoom. This is also where you can enable one of the worst dark modes I’ve ever seen.
Enabling dark mode simply dims the page you’re writing on, leaving the relatively bright GUI completely unchanged. If you’re looking to save your eyes while working past daylight hours, your best bet is to also change WPS Office’s skin to something a little darker. Thankfully, WPS Office comes with several dark and light-themed skins to allow some level of customization.
Interestingly, when using Writer through WPS Cloud, the Word-inspired design is dropped altogether. Instead, the software resembles something more comparable to Zoho Writer. The somewhat bulky ribbon is now gone, and in its place is a very sleek, modern and lightweight tabbed toolbar.
Options are much more spartan, and accessing more advanced formatting will leave you scratching your head. Templates you create within the desktop version won’t translate fully to WPS Cloud, with images and elements often going missing. There’s also a very hit-or-miss signature tool within WPS Cloud that is absent from the desktop version; it took me numerous attempts to get it to work.
However, it is a much more distraction-free experience that maximizes your vertical screen space. It’s just a shame that with such a long history of development, Kingsoft decided to base the look and feel of its software on Microsoft Word instead of carving out an identity of its own.
WPS Writer performance and compatibility
WPS Office is compatible across all major platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. During my time with WPS Writer, the desktop application ran without any issues. Loading files of various sizes was quick and without error. I had similar results when testing WPS Cloud on Chrome, Edge and Opera, but would routinely encounter upload errors when using certain tools.
While this level of compatibility is great, WPS Writer is stifled by a relatively small number of supported document types. Common formats like raw text, rich text and HTML are readily supported. However, a notable absence is support for XML-based OpenDocument (.ODF), the format of choice for software such as OpenOffice and its derivatives. It’s estimated that approximately 200 million people worldwide are users of the OpenDocument format through LibreOffice alone. These sort of numbers make its exclusion puzzling and it could be a needless headache if you routinely encounter ODF files.
As mentioned, if you’re looking to use WPS Writer with PDFs, you may eventually be faced with upgrading to a premium membership, as most advanced PDF functions are held behind a paywall. Writer’s innate compatibility with Word documents, however, is highly-rated, with many Linux users choosing the software for its ability to load and save Word documents without the formatting issues other suites are known to encounter.
WPS Writer features
When it comes to word processors, at the very least you need a rich set of formatting tools to help you achieve the desired look and feel of any document you wish to create. Writer has your bases covered with all of the traditional formatting options available. You’ll have full control over font styles, sizes, headings, scaling, line spacing and justifications. A limited collection of text effects and WordArt styles add extra flair to your documents as needed.
You can include common elements such as tables, images, text boxes, symbols, shapes and charts. You are also able to protect attached images with watermarks, quickly insert screengrabs, or create tables of contents and cover pages with just a few clicks. More advanced elements are also available; you can create forms, set up auto-text fields and craft equations with ease through the ribbon. Additional advanced formatting includes XML mapping and custom XML structuring with schemas. There’s also a good selection of page formatting options available, allowing you to fine-tune the margins and layout of your page. Writer also has a built-in function to translate your document into simplified or traditional Chinese, should you need that option.
Thanks to the ribbon, these features are easily accessible and are quick to implement. In next to no time, you can put together a well-designed, easy to navigate, and element-rich document with minimal effort. Only a minor percentage of users will need anything beyond Writer’s offered toolset, with options available to users from a beginner to advanced level.
Built-in collaborative tools allow you to share documents through your included cloud storage. Collaborators can then view, edit or comment on your document to highlight issues or make writing suggestions. WPS Writer’s co-editing is very similar to that of Microsoft Word and Google Docs, though presented in a less polished manner. It also lacks the real-time capabilities of its contemporaries, with edits or comments only appearing once you have reloaded your work. This can lead to muddled documents with co-editors commenting on an older version of a document where issues may no longer apply. That aside, co-editing is functional and pretty simple to use.
Any comments or proposed edits by co-editors will be shown in popups to the right of your document, awaiting your decision on whether to accept or deny these suggestions. Writer’s co-editing is a rougher user experience than the ones offered by Microsoft Word or Google Docs, and the lack of real-time tracking hampers an otherwise useful addition to the software.
With 33 years of development under its belt, WPS Writer is a robust and competent alternative to Microsoft Word, especially if you’re a Linux user who works with DOCX. Writer still finds itself living in the shadows of Microsoft’s offering, but almost all word processors do.
A Word-inspired design will give Microsoft 365 users an instant familiarity with the product, which is one less hurdle in luring people away from the office suite subscription service. It would be nice to see WPS Office try to balance this familiarity with an identity of its own, much like its efforts with WPS Cloud. But all of this is mostly surface level, with WPS Writer’s real draw being its rich no-cost toolset.
Writer’s smaller number of compatible file formats and its curtailed PDF functionality for free users is anything from a minor gripe to a deal-breaker, depending on your own personal activities. But for Windows, macOS and Linux users who want a DOCX-friendly, feature-rich, lightweight word processor that you can access on-the-go for free, WPS Writer should at the very least be included in any shortlist.