Long-standing WordPerfect users will be relieved: There's something to be said for WordPerfect's clean, no-nonsense blank page. While the suite keeps its traditional looks in the new X4 version, it does beef up support for both PDFs and Office file formats.
Existing WordPerfect users will find the new version worth the upgrade, but Microsoft Office users will find few compelling reasons to switch suites. WordPerfect Office is cheaper than Microsoft Office, but not by much. While WordPerfect's comfortable interface hasn't changed much in nearly a decade, the office software market has. WordPerfect is now a very distant second to Microsoft Office.
In this position, WordPerfect's most important feature is offering compatibility for file formats from other programs. So how well does it play the compatibility game? In fact, WordPerfect seems to have an easier time dealing with the new Microsoft Office file formats than with the traditional ones, and often imports them with fewer glitches. WordPerfect's compatibility is extremely good--but not perfect.
Overall, WordPerfect's support for Office file formats is good enough that most workers won't face a headache when exchanging documents with their colleagues. But in some cases, this process fails ending with hopelessly scrambled text , and in other cases it works but still leaves you with an altered layout. Once again, it's not perfect, but no other office suite offers anything close. Most of WordPerfect's best features have been in place for years--for example, legal professionals, government workers, and technical writers love features like Master Documents, which let you build long documents out of separate files.
WordPerfect is also legendary for its Reveal Codes feature, which lets you edit and rearrange your document's low-level formatting instructions, giving you fine-grained control over what's taking place. For example, WordPerfect still forces users to click the status menu to get an updated word count.
Word keeps the word count perpetually updated. And who can explain why WordPerfect still limits users to nine open files at a time, and why the status bar shows the number of the page you're working on but not the total number of pages in the document? Hard-core Excel and PowerPoint users are also likely to be a bit disappointed. WordPerfect Office makes a half-hearted attempt to compete in this area with its new Visual Intelligence program, which helps create chart data in complex spreadsheets and databases.
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Best available control over formatting and large-document features. Cons Lags behind Microsoft Office in graphics, graphing, and automation features. Some problems opening Office files. New Lightning note-taker application still buggy. Bottom Line The only application suite that's an alternative to, not a clone of, Microsoft Office—and the best suite for working with legacy files. After a few days of working with the just-released WordPerfect Office X4, I've decided I like the latest WordPerfect largely for the same reasons I liked most of the older versions, and I get annoyed with the new version largely for the same reasons the older ones annoyed me.
WordPerfect still manages large documents and fine-tuned typographic formatting better than Word does; Quattro Pro and Presentations remain adequate though less-powerful substitutes for Excel and PowerPoint; and WordPerfect Mail is a well-designed e-mail program with powerful searching ability.
WordPerfect won't dethrone Office , but there's a lot to like in this latest version of the venerable suite. As in previous versions, the suite lets you choose between a menu and toolbar structure that matches older versions of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations, or a menu structure and toolbar that matches the layout of the familiar, pre versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
The latter "workspace" selection feature works well for users familiar with Microsoft's interface, but chances are most users of the new suite will be long-term WordPerfect users who feel comfortable with the WordPerfect interface and care more about continuity with the old version than with new features.
The continuity is certainly there: I opened files created over a dozen years ago in earlier versions of the suite without the slightest hiccup or formatting surprise.
That's impressive. As for the new features in WordPerfect X4, some are more worthwhile than others. Other new features, especially the new and buggy note-taking utility WordPerfect Lightning, won't last long on my hard drive after I finish this review. But the traditional parts of the suite remain solid and reliable. If you're merely looking for a lower-priced office suite that works more or less the way Microsoft Office does, you might as well go for the open-source OpenOffice.
The Word Processor WordPerfect: The WordPerfect word processor has an interface that takes you back to the 20th century, with overstuffed menus and slightly funky toolbar icons.
But the basic design of the program still makes more sense than the mad-scientist-style underpinnings of Microsoft Word. WordPerfect makes it easy to see exactly why a paragraph or word or page is formatted as it is—with none of the unexpected effects that I sometimes get from Word when I delete a few words and the whole formatting of a paragraph suddenly changes. In WordPerfect, if I want to see the formatting of my document, I press Alt-F3 to open the Reveal Codes pane, and I can instantly see the points where any font or formatting change switches on and off.
If I don't like the effect of a formatting code, I can simply click on it to change it, or simply delete it. When I want to create a complex page layout, WordPerfect lets me do it in a clear and logical way. If I want some layout features to appear only on the third and later pages of a document, I can insert a Delay code that does exactly what I want, even if I haven't created those pages yet.
Even thinking about trying to do the same thing in Word makes me slightly dizzy. When I put together a multichapter document, WordPerfect's subdocument feature gives me far more flexibility in formatting and layout than Word's outlining feature does.
Still, Word outclasses WordPerfect in many other ways. Word, not WordPerfect, lets me divide the editing window so that I can edit two widely separate parts of a document at the same time. WordPerfect still doesn't have Word's built-in font-attribute change feature that would let me change all the underlining to italics in a file with a single command; I have to track down and install one of many user-written macros that can perform that trick. WordPerfect still doesn't display an automatically updated word count, as Word does.
WordPerfect smoothly displays characters in all Western European languages, but, unlike Word, it doesn't support the full range of characters in the Unicode character set, which is essential for working with any language that doesn't use the Roman alphabet.
I like the way WordPerfect can take a PDF file and open it as an editable document in WordPerfect, with much of the basic formatting preserved. Headers and footers in the PDF file, for example, don't get dropped into the main text, but remain headers and footers in the WordPerfect document. This feature either worked extremely well with some scanned forms, or extremely badly—sometimes producing pages of nonsense characters, or reporting that the PDF file was encrypted or corrupted it wasn't , or telling me that the graphics format in the PDF wasn't supported by WordPerfect, even though it's the standard format used by Adobe Acrobat 8.
WordPerfect has no trouble opening documents created by Word or earlier. Still, one of WordPerfect's greatest strengths is its ability to open more kinds of word-processing documents than any other software in the world. If your files go back more than a few years, you'll probably discover that WordPerfect is worth having simply to open ancient files and save them in modern formats.
Quattro Pro WordPerfect: Quattro Pro The Quattro Pro spreadsheet doesn't match Excel in its depth of math and charting functions, or in its handling of useful visual features like conditional formatting. But I liked the way it opened all my real-world Excel spreadsheets with the same formatting and functions that I had devised in Excel.
The major disappointment in Quattro Pro is its charting. In Excel, I can select some data, choose a chart type, and Excel is smart enough to create almost exactly the chart I want. It takes a lot more fiddling with Quattro Pro before I can get results that look functional, if a bit clunky. These features, however, should be in Quattro Pro rather than in a separate product. As for Excel compatibility, I wasn't surprised to find that Quattro Pro couldn't handle the functions in the current version of my ultimate test Excel worksheet, a monstrously complex sheet devised by former PC Magazine technical editor Ben Gottesman.
But at least Quattro Pro could open the Excel version of the sheet, and it displayed red numbers as a warning wherever it had converted formulas to data. Unfortunately, Quattro Pro simply locked up when trying to open the Excel version of this ultimate test worksheet—although the app managed perfectly well with less-ambitious, real-world Excel files.
Presentations and MAIL The Presentations graphics program reminds me of PowerPoint from around ten years ago, and if you don't want to create fancy animations of the kind that PowerPoint creates now, Presentations can get the job done.
One bonus of Presentations is that it doubles as a graphics editor, and I like the way it lets me open most standard graphics formats for quick editing jobs. It's got a superbly quick search feature available in a toolbar just above the message-reading window. If you use WordPerfect MAIL as a PIM, be prepared to keep your contact and calendar information only on your own computer, because there seems to be no way to synchronize its calendar and contacts with any external software, as there is with Outlook and open-source programs like Thunderbird.
I like MAIL's elegance, efficiency, and speed, but I probably won't use it simply because the rest of the software world doesn't know how to connect to it. Lightning WordPerfect: Lightning The newest member of the suite is WordPerfect Lightning, a miniature note-taking, file-viewing, and data-storage utility. Otherwise, Lightning is more of a good idea than a good app. If you want to save some text from your browser, just drag it into Lightning's notebook and it becomes a new note.
If you want to remember a URL, just drag it into the notebook and it, too, gets stored as a note, but, irritatingly, you can't click on the stored URL in Lightning and open the page in your browser.
Instead, you have to copy the URL from Lightning into your browser's address bar, a clunky design flaw that has me rubbing my eyes in amazement that Corel let it go through. The program comes with MB of free storage space on the Joyent. But there's no direct integration between any other part of the suite and your online storage. Lightning can open and view WordPerfect and Word files—but, unlike the rest of the suite, not Word DOCX files—so you can use it as a quick file viewer when you don't want to wait for WordPerfect or Word to open.
I like the idea of a file viewer that lets me select and copy text from a document to the clipboard without actually opening the document for editing—but I don't like the way Lightning crashes whenever I try to select footnote or endnote text, either in Word files or WordPerfect files—terribly annoying for academics.
This is doubly frustrating for me, as I complained about this program-crashing bug when Lightning was in beta testing six months ago, and Corel didn't fix it. Lightning is an interesting idea, but it needs some work before it can add much to the suite.
I'm glad to have WordPerfect X4, and I've already begun using it for the same large-document, precise-formatting, and mail-merge functions that I've always used in earlier versions. I would recommend the update to loyal WordPerfect users, because each new version of WordPerfect is more solid and more reliable than earlier ones, and X4 seems to me the most solid version of WordPerfect since the long-ago Version 8.
If you're annoyed by the obscure operations that Word performs on your documents, WordPerfect is definitely worth a look—a trial version can be downloaded from Corel's site—and I think it's worth having even if you're a Microsoft Office loyalist, for its convenience in working with legacy files.
Quattro Pro and Presentations are adequate apps, but not selling points for the suite. Word processing is the main attraction in this suite, and if, like me, you find WordPerfect indispensable, you'll want to upgrade to X4 for its compatibility with the latest document formats and its modest, but real, improvements everywhere else. I don't see this app suite stealing droves of users from Office , which retains our Editors' Choice, but those who do try it will find a lot to like.
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