Corel Office suite offers the most features for

the least money in the current software wars- Feb 11 1997

Last week, we saw that the battle to get you to upgrade your business's software had begun again, with new versions of office suites appearing, almost simultaneously, from Corel, Lotus, and Microsoft. This week, we're going to take a look at the first of the three challengers, Corel Office Professional. Next, we'll check out Lotus Smart Suite. Finally, we'll look at the new version of Microsoft Office, and see if we can reach any conclusions.

Ottawa's Corel surprised the software industry by purchasing WordPerfect from Novell. WordPerfect, the industry-standard word processor for the late 1980s and early 1990s, had lost market and mind share to Microsoft, and had been perceived as floundering as it went from the original WordPerfect Corporation to Novell. Corel was either going to revitalize the product, or get creamed competing with the industry's giants--Microsoft and IBM/

Equally surprising was the speed with which Corel got the new version of its office suite out to market. It comes in two flavours--WordPerfect 7 Suite, and the higher-priced Corel Office Professional 7. Both are designed for Windows 95 users and both include new versions of WordPerfect 7, Quattro Pro 7 (which Corel acquired from Borland), Corel Presentations 7 and a large collection of utilities, fonts, clip art, and more. The upscale Office Professional version also bundles Borland's Paradox database program.

These bundles provide more stuff than the competition: Netscape Navigator Web browser, Starfish Sidekick personal information manager, Envoy for electronic publishing, and Starfish Dashboard program launcher. The Pro version adds even more: the Draw module from Corel Draw 6 graphics suite, a second PIM, WordPerfect's Info Select, IBM Voice Control to order your computer around, and the Corel A to Z collection of reference works.

Of course, all of this eats up hard-drive space. You can install everything at the loss of a full 562 megs of your drive. Or you can be more selective, and cut that to a more modest 160 - 350 megs or so.

Despite the box claiming (as do all these products) to run on an eight-meg system, you'll want 16 megs of RAM: all of this bulk makes it the slowest of the suite competitors.

The core products have been improved and, with the exception of the Paradox database, are better integrated with one another. WordPerfect 7 adds a real-time spell-checker, like its competitors (a wonderful feature, by the way). Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations all share common interfaces, menus, and a PerfectScript macro language. Paradox, however, does things its own way, betraying its outsider status. Similarly, the various third-party add-ons provide lots of features, but don't fit with the suite's look and feel.

New in this version is Internet support. Both WordPerfect and Presentations allow you to save as HTML documents, hyperlinks and all, ready for posting on the Internet or a corporate intranet. But you can go further with Corel Barista, a technology allowing you to use the suite to create Java documents without needing to actually know how to program. Java is being widely touted as the key to the next generation of platform-independent software that will run identically on any Java-aware computer: Windows, Macs, OS/2, Unix, and the not-quite-here-yet Network Computer.

Corel isn't stopping here; it has just announced version eight of its suites, promising to bundle the soon-to-be-released Netscape Communicator package. Corel is hoping for an April release. Further down the road, it has announced plans to rewrite the entire package as a series of Java applications. This promises that a single version, housed on a network server, could run identically on any client computer, including the promised low-cost, minimalist Network Computers.

Also promised for the next few months are versions aimed at the construction, medical, and legal industries, including dictionaries, templates, and add-on applications customized for those markets. Finally, they've cut prices. As a result, sales were up by 102 per cent last fall, with the result that Corel had problems meeting demand, and was able to claim that it was outselling market leader Microsoft Office in retail sales.

Buyer beware, however: Windows 3.1 users will see a product aimed directly at them, but the fresh, new packaging holds the same WordPerfect 6.1 that's been on the market for over a year.

If you're a Windows 95 user who's already using WordPerfect, if you're attracted by the sheer quantity of software for a bargain price, and if you want to take advantage of the Internet publishing features, the purchase of this suite makes sense. If, however, you are currently using one of its competitors, you may find little to attract you away from your current software. And if you move up to one of the Corel suites, make sure you've got a lot of free space on your hard drive.*

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