Office competition report card: works well with others
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First
published in Business
13-19, 2004 Issue 755; High Tech Office column
column looked at Microsoft Office 2003; the latest revision of this
widely-used product. Many people have resisted calls to upgrade over
the years, however. Office 2000 is the most widely used version, while
the six-year old Office 97 remains in use in many offices.
While the many versions of Microsoft's suite continue to dominate,
they're not the only options for business users needing word
processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software, not even if the
ability to work with MS Office-style files is a requirement. A pair of
competitors were quietly upgraded recently, each combining more
features than most of us will ever use, the ability to read and write
to Microsoft file formats and lower prices than Microsoft's.
Word Perfect, now owned by Ottawa-based Corel, is descended from the
dominant word processor of the early 1990s. The Word Perfect Office
suite ($450) adds Quattro Pro spreadsheet and Corel Presentations
slideshow software. A professional version, adding Paradox database
software is also available. While MS's latest Office 2003 requires
Windows 2000 or XP systems, Corel's suite is less picky, running on
versions back to Windows 98SE or NT 4.0.
New versions of Word Perfect enhance the venerable Reveal Codes
feature, appreciated by long-time users for its power to fine-tune
document formatting. The suite supports a large number of file formats,
including Microsoft's, and makes it easy to convert large numbers of
files at once. Unlike, say, Word 2003, which cannot save in Word
Perfect format. The ability to save in Adobe Acrobat PDF format is also
a big plus.
The look and feel of the program is highly customizable; fans of the
classic DOS versions can even make it mimic the blue screen and
keyboard commands of that oldie. Since the latest version shares the
same file format with Word Perfect versions stretching back to version
6.1, it's easy to share files with users of older versions of Word
Word Perfect continues to have a strong user-base in the legal
profession and the government sector, and is pre-installed on new
computers from Dell and other major manufacturers.
Even more affordable is Sun Microsystem's Star Office, also with a new
version 7: retail pricing starts at CDN$120, with the price dropping
for volume licensing. Licensing allows installation on up to five
systems. And if that's too expensive, it shares code with the open
source Open Office 1.1, available as a free download (www.openoffice.org
but with no
These latest versions of Star Office and Open Office offer
better-than-ever compatibility with Microsoft Word, Excel and
PowerPoint file formats, though there is no support for macros built
using Microsoft's VBA language.
As with Corel's suite, Star Office/Open Office will run on older
Windows versions. In addition, Linux and Solaris operating systems are
supported, and a Mac OS X version of Open Office is in the works. Like
the newest version of Word Perfect - and unlike Microsoft's Office -
Star Office can export documents to Adobe PDF; as well, its Impress
module can export presentations in Flash format. Both features will be
handy for creating documents for use online.
Both Star Office and Open Office take a long time to start up; once up
and running, performance is adequate.
If your office relies on Microsoft's Outlook or the Access database, or
makes heavy use of VBA macros, you're forever tied to Microsoft Office.
But if that isn't the case, and you're looking for an alternative to
older MS Office versions, Word Perfect, Star Office and Open Office all
play nice with MS Office files and will run on a wider range of systems
than Microsoft's latest versions. Well worth considering.