Canada's Corel continues to improve Word Perfect

Issue #605: May 29, 2001

The high-tech office


Ready or not, it's office suite upgrade season again. May 1 brought us the new version of Corel's Word Perfect Office, while the end of the month promises the latest Microsoft Office.

This week we're looking at Word Perfect; after all, it got to the store shelves first. Next week, it's Microsoft's turn and the week following we'll look at some alternatives.

For most of the decade starting in 1985, Word Perfect was the word processor to beat. But as the business community moved from DOS to Windows, the company was slow to switch. Its first Windows versions were awkward as well. As Microsoft built up market share for its own Word word processor and Office suite, Word Perfect (the company) lost focus, resulting in the product moving first to Novell and then to Corel.

Canadian-based Corel has worked hard to build up the product as a worthy alternative to Microsoft's Office, offering regular upgrades while (unlike Microsoft) maintaining file format compatibility with older versions.

Word Perfect Office 2002 is no exception. Upgraders ($249) or new adopters ($599) get spiffier graphics in the Quattro Pro spreadsheet, and new Macromedia Flash animation capabilities in Corel Presentations. For users tired of viruses infecting their Microsoft Outlook e-mail, there's a new (and secure) mail program.

As in previous editions, a higher-priced Professional version adds the Paradox database and Dragon Natural Speaking for voice dictation ($369 upgrade, $769 otherwise; owners of Corel Draw 3, Microsoft Office 95, or Lotus Smartsuite 97 or later versions all qualify for upgrade pricing).

Compatibility remains a major consideration of this suite. Users should have no trouble opening older files and, perhaps more important, users of older versions will be able to open files created by new users. Word Perfect causes none of the chaos that Microsoft created when Word 97 files were unreadable in earlier versions. Partly because of this stability, Word Perfect remains a favourite in many law and government offices.

Word Perfect also beats Word in dealing with long, multichapter documents, maintaining page numbering across multiple files. Long-time users still get to revel in the power of the Reveal Codes mode for precise formatting control. (The newest version of Word finally attempts something similar.) At the same time, Word Perfect trumps Word with powerful graphic features, allowing precise alignment features and the ability to rotate images. When converting a document to HTML for Web publishing, a "cascading style sheet" is automatically created.

A nice feature, the Oxford Pocket Dictionary is included and provides definitions throughout the suite.

While the Quattro Pro spreadsheet retains its ability to open Excel and Lotus spreadsheets, it builds on the power of Corel Draw graphics program, offering more artistic charting than its competitors. And while Microsoft's Powerpoint has become almost a generic name for computer-based presentations, Corel's Presentations does an equally fine job and goes a step further exporting to Macromedia Flash format for easy posting to the Web.

The brand-new Corelcentral Mail packs a lot of security and power behind a bare-bones interface. Its calendar and address book are easy to use, but lack the integration of Microsoft's Outlook. Then again, they also lack Outlooks' vulnerability to hacker attack.

Microsoft's suite uses Visual Basic as its macro language. It's a powerful, real programming language that is too complex for most everyday users but powerful enough for hackers to take advantage of. Corel, instead, offers Perfectscript macro language: easy enough for the rest of us to write or record macros.

Word Perfect's 2002 incarnation won't break Microsoft's stranglehold on the office suite market. But it's reliable, compatible (both with Microsoft and older Corel versions) and, by offering a good collection of new and improved features, keeps this venerable product a viable competitor.


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