TechRepublic Tutorial: Corel WordPerfect Suite 11 offers Microsoft Office alternative and improved compatibility

Learn about an alternative to Microsoft Office

WordPerfect: the number one, best selling word processing program. Perhaps I’m giving away my age here, but I remember when that was true. I have fond memories of running WordPerfect on MS-DOS on my IBM PC—with its white text on a blue background—and having to memorize dozens of command codes. Even after Windows hit the scene and the graphical interface became the rage, WordPerfect still stood head and shoulders above other programs for those of us who made our livings sitting at the computer. When I met my husband, I was using WordPerfect 6.0 and couldn’t believe that he—an otherwise intelligent man—used Microsoft Word. Nobody used Word.

But things changed. Microsoft kept adding features, Novell bought my favorite program and let it languish, editors started demanding files in Word format, and I—like most of the rest of the world—abandoned my old friend WordPerfect and adopted the same standard as everyone else. After Corel took WordPerfect under its wing, I heard some good things about it, and even gave it a brief try somewhere around version 9. But I was familiar with Word by that time; too busy to go against the grain.

Recently, I had an opportunity to test Corel’s current version, WordPerfect 11, which somewhere along the way morphed into a full office suite. In this article, I’ll describe the experience, compare it to Microsoft Office 2003 (focusing on the word processing applications), tell you what I liked (and didn’t like) about its applications, and give you my opinions about how well Corel provides a viable alternative for office productivity software, especially in the enterprise environment.

The out-of-the-box experience
Like Microsoft Office, WP Office comes in several editions:
  • Standard: includes the WordPerfect word processor, Quattro Pro spreadsheet application, and Presentations.
  • Professional: includes the above plus the Paradox relational database application.
  • Education: same applications as Professional; academic discount.

Also available is the Family Pack 5, which includes light versions of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, photo editing, Family Tree Maker, McAfee anti-virus, iClean, and Encyclopedia Britannica.

User-friendly pricing
WordPerfect Office 11 is attractively priced in comparison with Microsoft Office 2003. While Office 2003 Standard Edition costs $449 for the full version and $239 for the upgrade, WP Office 11 Standard costs $299/full and $149/upgrade. Owners of Office 2000 and above qualify for the WP upgrade price, along with owners of WP 8 and above, whereas you must own a previous version of Microsoft Office to qualify for its upgrade price.

My package was the standard edition. It included a 386-page user guide and two CDs, one containing the applications and another containing clipart, photos, fonts, and third party programs such as Acrobat Reader, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) 6.3.

You can install on Windows 98SE, Me, NT 4.0 (with SP6a), Windows 2000 Pro or Server (with SP3), or XP Home or Pro (with SP1). A minimum 166-MHz processor and 64 MB of RAM are required, 128 MB recommended. You’ll need at least 370 MB of free disk space. I installed on a P4 1.4-GHz with 1 GB RAM, running XP Pro.

New accessible installation
Corel’s installation program can be done with keyboard only (no mouse required) and will interoperate with screen readers so that visually impaired individuals can complete the installation.

Installation didn’t go completely smoothly. The install program seemed to hang a couple of times, with the dialog box going blank and the program showing in Task Manager as Not responding. However, patience paid off and the installation completed. The WordPerfect menu in the Start | Programs menu appears as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
After installation, the WordPerfect menu contains a number of selections.

When you open WordPerfect, the screen looks similar to Word, with many familiar icons—bold, italic, underline, drop-down font style and size boxes, open, save, and print icons—and a few new ones, such as the QuickFormat icon (similar to Word’s Format Painter), the Autoscroll icon, and the PerfectExpert icon that displays a taskpane on the left side of the document as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
The PerfectExpert icon, which looks like a large blue asterisk, displays a task pane to the left of the document.

This task pane provides for quick and easy creation of customized documents from templates

Overview of WP 11 features
WordPerfect 11 is feature-packed. Like Word, it has so much functionality that most users will never take full advantage of its capabilities. All the standard features are there: spell checker, Grammatik grammar checker, thesaurus and dictionary (in this case, it’s the Pocket Oxford Dictionary).

Enterprise users won’t be disappointed with the sophistication of its formatting capabilities and its ability to work with long, complex documents. You can create tables, generate indexes and tables of contents and use line numbers as cross reference markers.

WordPerfect has remained popular in law offices, and this version includes wizards and templates for creating pleadings and other legal documents (the Pleadings Wizard was previously included only in the special Legal edition of WordPerfect, but is now a standard feature). The Legal Toolbar gives you one-click icons for creating tables of authorities and creating line-numbered documents, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
The legal toolbar gives you an easy way to create line-numbered documents.

Text styles can be used to make sure formatting remains the same within and between documents. There is also a Real Time Preview that allows you to see some formatting changes without applying them. You simply hover the cursor over a menu item or icon, and you see the changes on your document. You can keep trying out various formatting changes until you see one you like. There’s no need to apply and then go back and undo if you don’t like the change. Although it’s a subtle difference, it really does save time. This also works with fonts; if you hover over a font in the font dialog box, your document changes to that font so you can see what it looks like on the page, not just in sample text in the drop down box.

File format compatibility
Out of the box, without installing extra conversion filters, WordPerfect will save documents in an amazing variety of formats (I counted 79 in the drop-down box, as opposed to the 23 choices given by Word in its default installation). These include, in addition to WordPerfect and Word formats: AmiPro, WordStar, Xywrite, Volkswriter 4, OfficeWriter, Professional Write, MultiMate, DisplayWrite, EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval, for electronic filing of legal documents), and even Navy DIF standard. Within an enterprise environment, where many different word processing programs might be implemented throughout the organization, this will be a big benefit.

You can also publish documents to HTML, XML, or PDF. The Publish to PDF dialog box is shown in Figure D.

Figure D
You can easily publish a WordPerfect document to a PDF file.

The built-in PDF publisher is especially nice. If you want to do the same thing with Word 2003, you have to pay big bucks for Acrobat or install another third party PDF creator.

Compatibility with Word’s .doc format has been improved in this version of WP, and Outlook’s address book can be used for document tracking and to create labels and envelopes.

Copy and paste (in)compatibility
I got some interesting results when copying and pasting from a Word document (using a template with styles) to WordPerfect. My bulleted list consistently ended up in the Cyrillic alphabet when pasted into WP.

One interesting note is that WordPerfect files seem to be significantly smaller than comparable documents in Word format. This can make a difference on a large network, where many users must share space on the file server.

Scripting support
You can use one of the three following scripting languages to develop macros and scripts to run in WP 11:
  • PerfectScript: WordPerfect’s native scripting language for building macro scripts
  • ObjectPAL: a visual programming language that is integrated with Paradox
  • Visual Basic for Applications (VBA): Microsoft’s scripting language based on the Visual Basic programming language

New features in this version
For those who have been using WP in its past incarnations, there are several useful new features in v11. You can publish a document to XML with only a few mouse clicks, and Outlook integration allows you to automatically route documents to other users via Microsoft’s email client. There is also a new conversion utility that makes it easy to convert multiple documents to WP format. You can print documents with the codes revealed, making troubleshooting documentation easier. Finally, there is now a document map feature (something Word already had, but WP’s is more flexible as you can browse in several different ways rather than just by table of contents).

Favorite features
One feature I like is the ability to click the View menu and easily see two pages side by side. To do this in Word, you have to go to Print Preview and then select multiple pages and then select 1x2. I also like the fact that WP for DOS aficionados can have their white-on-blue interface by simply choosing the Classic environment. This feature is new in WP 11 and was included due to user requests, and makes it easy to work without a pointing device, using WP 5.1 keyboard shortcuts. Here are some more of my favorite WP 11 features:
  • The Align And Distribute tool is a very useful feature that helps you to get objects, such as graphics and tables, exactly where you want them (Word already had this feature).
  • I like the Back button that lets you, with a click, move the insertion point to its previous position.
  • WP’s page setup lets you divide the page both vertically and horizontally into sections, so that you can split it into fourths or eighths for placement of text and graphics.
  • Another area in which WP 11 excels is its Undo/Redo feature. You can save the Undo/Redo history with the document, so that even after you close or save the document, you can still undo changes. WP 11 also supports more levels of undo than Word 2003.
  • You can right-click outside the margins in a document and the context menu gives you choices to select the sentence, paragraph or page, which is handy.
  • The property bar, which sits under the toolbar, changes depending on what task you’re performing. For example, if you’re working with a table, it contains the icons used for tables. This prevents having to turn lots of different toolbars on and off.
  • With the Format | Paragraph | Border/Fill feature, you can quickly and easily set off a paragraph with a border, specifying color and line style, fill it with a background color, and/or place a shadow behind it.
  • The Make It Fit option lets you shrink or expand a document of any size to a specific number of pages. You can select what elements should be reduced (margins, spacing, font size, or whatever) to achieve this. This is particularly useful when you must output a set number of pages.

Comparing WP 11 with Word 2003
Now comes the real test: How does WordPerfect 11 compare to Word 2003 in actual usage? As far as I can tell, it does just about everything Word does—and it does some things more easily, while other features are difficult to figure out if you’re coming from the Word environment (e.g., you have to view the document in Draft mode to see the comments that you’ve inserted).

The reliability factor
One of the most important factors to me is reliability, and that’s certainly a big concern in the enterprise where many documents are mission-critical. So I was interested in whether WP’s CARM (Corel Application Recovery Manager) works as well as Word’s document recovery feature. When the program crashed (more on that later), the recovery feature did indeed kick in and present me with my autosaved documents the next time I opened it.

Some features give you more granular control than you have with Word. For example, to create a dropped capital in WP 11, select the letter you want to make into a drop cap and click the Drop Caps icon. You can then select whether/how you want the rest of the text to wrap and a large number of other options, as shown in Figure E and Figure F).

Figure E
It’s easy to make perfect drop caps using the Drop Cap feature.

Figure F
WordPerfect gives you granular control over the position of the drop caps in the margin.

In contrast, Word 2003’s drop cap feature gives you only two wrapping choices: Dropped (with the cap completely surrounded by text) and In Margin, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G
Word 2003’s Drop Cap feature gives you far fewer choices than WordPerfect’s.

This type of granular control is especially important when you must create print-ready documents designed for distribution in an environment where presentation, as well as content, matters (e.g., board meetings, materials to be distributed to the public, and so forth).

Another feature that seems to work better in WP 11 is the footnote/endnote feature. You’re able to add separators and determine the formatting, length, and style, configure the numbering, specify that certain footnotes are to be kept together and whether or not you want the notes to be aligned with the text. For complex research documents, this ability can make your document much more readable and more professional in appearance.

Another “little thing” I like is that WP 11 will let you create bookmarks with multiple words! Sure, you can use underscores to work around this in Word, but I’ve never understood why bookmarks had to be entered as a single word. I also like WP’s Quickmark feature. This allows you to mark a place where the cursor will be when you reopen the document, which is nice.

Here’s another favorite: when you turn on WP 11’s format painter (called Quick Format), it stays on until you turn it off—without forcing you to double-click it.

Collaboration features
WP 11 has collaboration functionality similar to that of previous versions of Word, letting you send documents to reviewers as email attachments and make comments, insert tracked changes color-coded by reviewer, highlight words and phrases, and so forth, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H
WordPerfect includes collaboration features so you can work on documents with others.

Collaboration is particularly important in the enterprise, where many people must review and approve a document before it can be considered finished. WP’s Outlook integration lets you route the document in a specified order and have it returned to you after it’s made the rounds of all reviewers. However, WP 11 doesn’t have Word 2003’s integration with SharePoint services, which allows team members to work with documents saved in document workspaces on a SharePoint server.

What’s missing?
One Word feature that I miss is Smart Tags. I like having names and phone numbers recognized and I enjoy being able to quickly add the data to my Contacts list. Perhaps of more concern is the fact that you can’t protect your WP 11 documents with Information Rights Management, a new certificate-based security feature for Microsoft Office 2003 that works in conjunction with Windows Server 2003 (you can, however, password protect documents in WordPerfect, as you can in Word).

Here are a few more Word 2003 features that WP 11 is missing or doesn’t implement as well:
  • Word 2003 will let you paste text as a hyperlink in a document, something you can’t do with WP 11.
  • Word 2003’s thumbnail view lets you see thumbnails of all the pages in your document in the left pane, so that you can quickly click to go to any page.
  • Word’s Web page editing capabilities are much better than WP 11’s. For example, WP doesn’t have the ability to easily add backgrounds or use themes and frames.

Windows XP compatibility issues
How well do WordPerfect and Windows XP play together? That’s an important question if you’ve upgraded all the desktop machines on your network to XP to take advantage of improved security and new features. I experienced a couple of application crashes during the first hour I ran it—something that doesn’t happen with Word 2003 on the same machine. They occurred when I tried to insert a photo and when I tried to create a watermark. Other than that, WordPerfect ran fine on XP and I didn’t encounter any quirky behavior.

Advantages for some
WordPerfect 11 is full of many of the same features you get with Word, and some that you don’t. If you’re in the legal field, WP 11 offers some distinct advantages. For those who don’t need to worry about exchanging documents with others who use a different program, the WP 11 suite is a very viable alternative to Microsoft Office 2003 at about half the price. That price difference can add up fast in a large multicomputer environment. For those who share documents with Word users, interoperability and file format compatibility are much improved in this version, but not perfect.

If you need Microsoft-specific features such as Smart tags, if you use your word processor to create Web pages, or if you use advanced collaboration features such as SharePoint or want to use features such as Microsoft’s Information Rights Management, you’ll need to spend the extra money for Office. Otherwise, WordPerfect 11 just might be worth checking out, especially considering the competitive upgrade pricing. You don’t have to buy it to try it, either; you can download a 30-day fully functional trial version from Corel's Web site.

About Deb Shinder

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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