WordPerfect gaining ground on Microsoft in office suite sweepstakes
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
May 18-24, 2010; issue 1073
High Tech Office column
As I write this column, Microsoft is readying the next generation of
its Office 2010 suite for general release in June. Despite its seeming
universality, Microsoft Office isn’t the only option for word
processing, spreadsheets or presentations.
Google Docs, for example, is a set of free online hosted programs.
While lightweight compared with Microsoft’s suite, its saved files are
accessible anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection and strong
collaboration features are built in.
OpenOffice.org is also free and generally comparable to, say, Microsoft
Office’s 2003 version. For those needing formal support, there are
versions from the likes of IBM and Oracle.
And for readers with long memories, there continues to be WordPerfect,
with strongholds of users in the legal and government sectors. A new
version, WordPerfect Office X5, was recently released by Ottawa’s Corel.
Perhaps its biggest advantage over Microsoft’s suite is built-in PDF
support. While Microsoft offers a downloadable add-on to allow MS
Office users to export to PDF format, this is built into all of the
WordPerfect Office (and OpenOffice) components. Uniquely, WordPerfect
can also import PDFs into its word processor, which makes it possible
to edit them. Built-in optical character recognition (OCR) converts
images of text into editing of text.
Not surprisingly, importing heavily formatted PDFs isn’t perfect (no
pun intended), but it’s a potentially useful feature that’s not offered
by WordPerfect’s competitors.
To ease the transition for Microsoft Office users, WordPerfect users
can set the various suite components to mimic the look and feel – and
even default file-saving – of Microsoft Office 2003 instead of choosing
the native WordPerfect interface. (For real nostalgia, the word
processor can even mimic the look and feel of the 1980s-era DOS
WordPerfect 5.1 version.)
The suite components support a wide range of file formats ranging from
old, nearly forgotten word processors to Microsoft’s Office 2007 DOCX
formats. Business-network users will find support for Microsoft
Sharepoint servers along with other document management systems.
Longtime WordPerfect users – especially those who reluctantly switched
to Microsoft Word in the past – will be pleased that the new version
continues to offer the “reveal codes” feature. This gives users control
over document formatting, unlike Microsoft Word, which too often makes
mysterious and unpredictable layout changes. A big plus.
While WordPerfect’s word processor is its biggest strength, the suite
also includes the Quattro Pro spreadsheet and presentations. Both
Quattro Pro and presentations support the new file formats introduced
with the 2007 versions of Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, though each
lacks the sheer depth of features included (through probably rarely
used) in Microsoft’s programs. Also included: the open-source Mozilla
Thunderbird mail program along with a limited edition of Nuance
PaperPort document manager. Users reliant on Microsoft Outlook will
find Thunderbird an inadequate replacement.
Pricing is more attractive than Microsoft Office: Corel WordPerfect
Office Standard Edition X5 costs $260 or $170 for the upgrade version.
Owners of Microsoft Office (XP or later) or even Microsoft’s low-end
Works Suite (version 7 or later) qualify for upgrade pricing. The
professional edition ($420/$270 upgrade) adds the Paradox database
program, while the home and student version ($110) drops the PDF-import
features of the higher-priced versions. WordPerfect Office is available
only for Windows – XP or later.
The availability of free office suite software squeezes WordPerfect
from the bottom – the Vancouver Board of Education, for instance, has
been replacing Microsoft Office and WordPerfect with OpenOffice. But
for a relatively reasonable price, the WordPerfect suite’s file format
flexibility and PDF import and export capabilities are unmatched by
either Microsoft Office (including the upcoming Office 2010) or the
free alternatives. And with its reveal-codes mode, the WordPerfect word
processor remains best of breed for fine-tuning document formatting.