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    Corel’s WordPerfect gaining ground on Microsoft in office suite sweepstakes

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver 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. 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.

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

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