Corel revitalizes WordPerfect Suite

by Alan Zisman (c) 1997. First published in Computer Player, Jule 1997

Corel Corp.; (800) 772-6735, (613) 728-3733; fax: (613) 728-9790;
Word Perfect Suite 8.0-- $545; upgrade-- $245; academic price-- $50 (no tech support)

Fall is the traditional season for the new TV shows and the new car models, but now, it seems, Office suite software gets updated throughout the year. Last summer, we got version 7 of the Word Perfect products, soon after being acquired by Ottawa's Corel Corporation. Winter brought Microsoft Office 97, while spring brought Lotus SmartSuite 97. Now, just in time for summer again, it's back to Corel for version 8 of their suite products.

Word Perfect pretty much owned the market for DOS word processors throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Perhaps because of that, they were slow to respond when users switched to the Windows environment, and their early Windows versions were slow to market and awkward to use. To counter Microsoft's early success with their Office Suite, Word Perfect combined forces with Borland, to include that company's Quattro Pro spreadsheet and Paradox database in a bundle marketed as Perfect Office.

But while Microsoft Office's components, all from a common source, shared a common feel, all too often, Perfect Office felt like the Brady Bunch-two sets of offspring sharing a single household. The result-Microsoft Office won 80% of the suite market, and Word Perfect and Borland bled money. Borland limps on, but Word Perfect was sold, first to networking giant Novell, and more recently, to Corel, which acquired all the components of the Perfect Office suite, bringing new energy and focus along with an infusion of cash.

The new version brings tighter integration between the various core products-they now look and feel like members of the same family... icons, menus, tool bars and more are shared across the suite. Menu items have been moved to reflect common Windows practices.

Along with the Word Perfect word processor, Quattro Pro spreadsheet, and Presentations slideshow program, a new component, Corel Central is promised... to integrate e-mail, Internet telephone, an address book and more, accessible from the other core modules. I couldn't, however, test Corel Central at this time... it wasn't ready, but Corel is shipping the suite with a coupon good to obtain the product when it ships... hopefully later this summer.

Like Microsoft's product line, this suite comes in two flavours-the basic, so-called Word Perfect Suite, and the more expensive Corel Office Professional, also due later this summer, which will add the database program, along with Corel Timeline, a project management program.
As well, as with other Corel products, there's a bunch more... tons of clipart and fonts, for example, and even drawing and image-editing modules, spun off from Corel's Corel Draw product line, and a copy of Netscape Navigator... set aside 110 megs of drive space for a typical installation.

Each product allows users to save as HTML, for posting as a Web or Intranet page, while Preview shows how it would look in a browser. Installing Corel's optional Barrista component makes it easy to save documents as part of Java applications, even for users who can't write Java programming code. This also makes it possible to create Web pages that bypass HTML limitations. The Corel products also support SGML, a standardized page layout language more powerful than HTML.

(For users who've heard rumours that Corel is developing a suite in Java that will run on any flavour of computer-this isn't it. While Corel has posted a very early version of such a product on the Net, this is a standard, Win 32-only product, for Windows 95 and NT users only. A new Mac version should be out later this summer, while Win 3.1 and DOS users are supported with older versions).

Like Microsoft, Corel has updated the help engine. While not as cute as Microsoft's animated paper clip, Corel's Perfect Expert does a reasonable job of explaining the suite's wealth of features. Unlike Microsoft, however, Corel has managed to keep file formats compatible with previous versions... a real advantage in any workplace where files are exchanged among users of different versions... users of this or the previous version can share files freely with co-workers running the older Windows 3.1 or even DOS versions.

Quattro Pro sports improved editing in preview mode, a collapsible outline, an auditing feature to trace errors, and the ability to import Intuit QuickBooks accounting files.

Presentations offers a new Show on the Go feature-allowing users to pack up a slideshow onto a floppy, for distribution even to users who lack the suite software... a nice way to distribute a product demonstration, perhaps.

The Word Processor continues to include 'classic' Word Perfect features like Reveal Codes, along with new flexibility. In some ways, feeling more like a page layout program, you can now add text or graphics anywhere on the page-no need to press Enter umpteen times to get down to the bottom of the page, for example.

In summary-a solid, clean product, with reasonable performance for its size. Packed with features and extras, Word Perfect Suite is a contender that deserves a look. Kudos to Corel for revitalizing this product.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan