Video: Corel's Wordperfect Lightning is a free, lightweight collaborative word processor

Based on what I saw in the beta version (released today) of Corel's new Wordperfect Lightning (I have a video as well as a screen...

Based on what I saw in the beta version (released today) of Corel's new Wordperfect Lightning (I have a video as well as a screen gallery), the freely downloadable lightweight collaborative word processor could be a harbinger of things to come as the productivity heavyweights look to find a sweetspot between full-blown, expensive, and locally run office suites like Microsoft Office and a new breed of browser-based competitors from outfits like Google, the chief disadvantage of which is that they're unusable wherever and whenever an Internet connection is unavailable. My colleague Larry Dignan has his own laundry list of potential downsides to the recently released Google Apps Premier....(continued below)


  See our video of Wordperfect Lightning in action: To get a better idea of how Corel's Worderfect Lightning works, David interviewed Corel general manager Richard Carriere who talked about Corel's philosophy behind the software and then gave a demo. To see the demo, just check out the video.  Image Gallery: Want images? Have we got images. In addition to the video, we've prepared a gallery of images that shows some of the various user interface elements of Corel's Wordperfect Lightning -- the Navigator, the Viewer, it's ability to synch with an online repository -- in action.  


If I had to describe Lightning's chief selling proposition (not that you would buy it, the less-than 20MB download is free), it's a note assembler that can take original content that you plug-in or content from Microsoft Word, Wordperfect Office, PDF-formatted documents, or the Web, and remix them together in a lightweight fashion that allows you to not only share the final document locally, but also to an Internet-based document sharing service where (a) you can get at it from another computer running Lightning or (b) someone else you are collaborating with can get at it as well. 

Lightning conforms to the 10/90 rule. It takes the 10 percent of the features found in heavyweight word processors that 90 percent of the people who have those heavyweight word processors actually use, and dispenses with the rest. What remains is a what can best be described as a version of Microsoft's Notepad (built-in to Windows) on some serious steroids. For example, I use Notepad to take notes all the time. But to be able to add a modicum of formatting to them, to be able to import images into them, and to easily go from viewing a Word or PDF document to having some or all of its content exported to a Lightning Note where I can continue to edit the remixed content without losing too much formatting is the sort of steroids that might easily distract me from using Notepad again. Going back to the images that Lightning can incorporate into its notes, Lightning also includes a screen capture utility. Indicative of Corel's emphasis on simplicity, Lightning strip out any thing that users typically wouldn't need. For example, a "save" button. All content is auto-saved.

Not only does Lightning's Navigator (shown in our screen gallery) use a folder-tree like metaphor to index any notes you've assembled with Lightning, it also indexes the original content that you might be incorporating into those notes (eg: MS-Office, Wordperfect Office, or PDF files). What's interesting about Lightning is how, with a push of a button, it can synchronize its entire tree of content to an online service that Wordperfect runs in partnership with Joyent. This way any or all of the content that you have stored in your online repository (you get 200MB for free) can be downloaded to another PC being used by you or by someone else (which means it's a bit Lotus Notes/Microsoft Sharepoint/Wiki-like in the way it works). Team spaces in this online environment are limited to two free users and after that, subscription rates start at $15 per month according to Carriere. 

So what's the catch? Why is Corel offering something with so much utility for free? According to Carriere, the company is hoping that usage of Lightning will stimulate upsells to the company's flagship productivity suite -- Wordperfect Office X3.  Included in Lightning's functionality is an ability to, with one click, "send" a Lightning Note over to Wordperfect Office (they must be running on the same PC) where the user can use the latter to engage in the sort of heavyweight editing and formatting that Lightning can't handle. Something else that Wordperfect Office (WPO) does (that might come in handy for Lightning users) is that it can save to Microsoft's Office formats as well as PDF (making WPO somewhat unique out there for an office heavy hitter).

The company is also looking to drive up subscription revenue to the online services. For example, beyond two users to a team space where Lightning documents can be stored, businesses would incur subscription fees (as discussed earlier). 

On the downside, Lightning is only for text and image-based documents. In other words, Lightning can't do spreadsheets or Powerpoint-like presentations. But when I aske Carriere about those applications, he said "not yet."  He didn't promise that functionality in the future but it seems like a natural direction for Corel to take things given the competitive nature of the office space (give what's happening with Microsoft, Google, etc.).

Lightning is definitely an innovative offering and I don't see how you can beat the price. It will satisfy most of what users generally do with word processing software today and it offers the best of both worlds when you look at typical Office 2.0 approach (like Google's) vs. the local bloated suite approach (like Microsoft). You create and save fairly rich documents locally (with the ability to draw upon the original content from multiple document types) while be able to keep your documents in the cloud as well (for either backup, anytime anywhere access, or collaboration). The beta program is going on right now and Corel is looking for your feedback. In the meantime, check out the video. 

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