Corel woos office suite market with new version of WordPerfect July 15 1997

There was some amount of amazement a year or so ago when Ottawa software firm Corel dived right into the deep end of the competitive pool, by purchasing semi-dormant WordPerfect, and challenging Microsoft's 85-per-cent stranglehold on the lucrative office suite market.

While Microsoft remains number one in market share, Corel has brought new life to that particular competition with price cuts and frequent updates.

Having released its first new office suite version, WordPerfect Office Version 7, less than a year ago, Corel has already got Version 8/The Next Generation out on store shelves.

With WordPerfect Suite 8, Corel runs counter to the usual industry trends. Typically, as software adds features, it gets bigger and runs slower: software bloat. This time around, however, Corel has better integrated the suite's components to create a product that does more, but actually takes less drive space and runs faster than its predecessor. The better integration also makes it easier for users to work with the range of applications.

WordPerfect has always offered more features than Microsoft's equivalent program, Word. And now, thanks to the company's extensive graphics background, the Corel connection makes it possible to add even more. For example, whereas Microsoft gives you a dozen or so fonts, Corel bundles hundreds.

WordPerfect has also gained a drawing layer from Corel Draw, which lets you place graphic object behind text. Table creation has been improved, and there's a nice 'shadow cursor' which lets you work anywhere on a page.

The other suite components have also been improved. Quattro Pro spreadsheet gains a QuickCell feature, making it easy to track cell changes as a spreadsheet evolves. Presentations are now as powerful as Microsoft PowerPoint, and can be used to create stand-alone slide shows that can be distributed on floppy disk or even as an e-mail attachment to users who don't have the Corel suite.

As in the previous version, all the core programs can be used to save in Web HTML format, and the optional Barista add-on can be used to generate Java output from your suite documents.

The Help system has also been beefed up; it's become another suite-wide system, featuring wizards and plain-language questions. And while there's no animated paper clip as in Microsoft's suite, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Corel has also ensured that the programs' file formats remained the same -- WordPerfect files from the new version can be opened by users of older versions, including Windows 3.1 and DOS versions. (Microsoft's Office 97 release, by contrast, creates files that can't be read by Office customers who haven't yet upgraded.)

However, in the rush to get the product shipped, the folks at Corel left a few things unfinished. In particular, while Corel promised Corel Central (a personal information manager to compete with Microsoft Office 97's Outlook), it simply wasn't ready. Rather than hold up the rest of the suite, Corel has released Version 8 without it. (The 'complete' Version 8 is promised for August -- current buyers get a coupon good for a free copy when it becomes available. Also due in August: the higher-priced Corel Office Professional version which promises to add a new version of the Paradox database, along with Corel Time Line, and Web Site Builder.)

With an upgrade list price of $245, the suite is listed at $545 for new users. Either way, it's a solid competitor to Microsoft Office.

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If you're using Microsoft Office 97, you may find yourself needing to share files with users of Word 6.0 for Windows 3.1 or Word 95 for Windows 95. If you use Word 97's 'Save As' feature, it offers Word 6.0/95 as a possible choice.

Unfortunately, Microsoft pulled a bit of a fast one here: If you choose that option, you don't really get a true Word 6.0/95 file. Yes, you get a file with a DOC extension, and these earlier versions of Word can open it; but in reality, you created a Rich Text Format file which takes up more room on your drive and, in many cases, results in a file that looks different from the original. As well, these files can cause problems when imported into other programs such as PageMaker or even Microsoft's own FrontPage.

In response to user complaints, Microsoft has now released a patch for Word 97 which creates 'real' Word 6.0/95 files. If you use Office 97 and have to share files with users who haven't upgraded to that version, go to and download the 600-kb file. (It'll take about three minutes with a 28.8 modem.)*

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