Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0

Summary: WordPerfect 12.0 features a core stable of productivity apps but suffers from its poor handling of Microsoft files.

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WordPerfect 12.0 features a core stable of productivity apps but suffers from its poor handling of Microsoft files.

Microsoft Office dominates the productivity-suite market and has become the de facto standard in the corporate realm. Yet it has been unable to wipe out Corel's WordPerfect Office suite, a powerful, less-expensive alternative that has managed to prosper -- albeit with a tiny fraction of Microsoft's market share. WordPerfect Office 12.0 retains the package's core strengths -- the venerable WordPerfect word processor, the Quattro Pro spreadsheet app, and the Presentations app -- while adding several interface enhancements, including the ability to mimic the interface and keyboard shortcuts of Microsoft Office's main apps, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

All isn't perfect, however. WordPerfect Office 12.0 is still dreadful at importing Microsoft Office documents, particularly Excel and PowerPoint files. In our tests, Excel charts were dramatically altered, and PowerPoint presentations' text and graphics were routinely scrambled during the import process. We're not saying that WordPerfect Office 12.0 is a poor product -- far from it. In many ways, it's easier to use than Microsoft Office, particularly for users who frequently upload PDF, HTML, and XML documents to the Web. But we strongly advise corporations and educators debating a cost-saving switch to WordPerfect Office 12.0 to test the program's importing skills before making the leap.

Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0 comes on two CDs and is simple to install. The first CD includes the core apps: WordPerfect 12.0, Quattro Pro 12.0, Presentations 12.0, and Zim's SMS.com, a utility for transmitting e-mail and instant messages to and from mobile devices. You'll quickly notice the absence of a standard e-mail application. The Professional and Education editions also include Corel's Paradox database app, which installs separately. The second CD includes a variety of third-party utilities, including Acrobat Reader and Internet Explorer, and Corel's OfficeReady Browser, a handy template viewer.

In our tests, setup was fast and painless, taking about 10 minutes. A full install of the three core programs -- WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations -- required just 373MB of disk space. More good news: users upgrading from WordPerfect Office 11.0 and earlier editions can install version 12.0 without first uninstalling their old copies, which wasn't the case with previous upgrades.

Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0's best enhancements are interface related. Topping the list is the clever Workspace Manager, a pick-your-interface menu that pops up when you open WordPerfect, Quattro, or Presentations. Designed to ease the transition from Microsoft Office, Workspace Manager mimics the keystrokes, menus, and toolbars of Microsoft's suite. Microsoft Word users, for instance, can work in Word Mode without struggling with WordPerfect's different look and feel. Upgraders benefit as well. Workspace Manager also allows you to work in WordPerfect Legal Mode -- a boon for the legal profession, where WordPerfect remains popular -- or Classic Mode, a DOS-era throwback to the blue-screen, version 5.1 interface that's sure to please Neanderthals and fans of keystroke commands.

Word Mode doesn't exactly replicate Microsoft Word's interface, however, and new users may find themselves stumbling a bit at first. For instance, the Word toolbar lacks a Print Preview icon, although you'll find one (with a slightly different look) on the WordPerfect toolbar directly above it.

Another handy new tool is the Compatibility Toolbar, which allows one-click conversion to HTML, PDF, XML, Excel, PowerPoint, or Word. To convert a Presentation 12.0 slide to Adobe Acrobat's ubiquitous PDF, for instance, simply click the Publish to PDF icon on the Compatibility Toolbar. It's that simple. Microsoft Office, by comparison, doesn't offer any PDF-conversion tools.

Just be aware that while WordPerfect 12.0 and Presentations 12.0 support PDF publishing, Quattro Pro 12.0 doesn't, and the suite supports Adobe's Acrobat 5.0 format rather than the newer 6.0 version, which creates smaller PDF files in less time.

The individual apps in Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0 are pretty much unchanged from those of version 11.0, but that doesn't mean version 12.0 is a tired retread. In addition to the Workspace Manager's interface enhancements, including the ability to mimic Microsoft Office toolbars and icons, the new OfficeReady Browser makes it a breeze to view and select a WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, or Presentations template. OfficeReady, a standalone application, features an Explorer-like tree that organises template folders by task: Academic, Company Finance, Family & Home, and so on. Click a template, and it appears in thumbnail form in a viewer window

We particularly liked the OfficeReady Browser, which vastly simplifies the task of tracking down templates -- a sometimes challenging task in other suites. One gripe: The preview pane could use a magnification feature to view template details. Currently, you need to launch the template in its host program (for example, Quattro Pro) to view it in its full glory.

Alas, not all is perfect with WordPerfect Office 12.0. Our biggest complaint is the suite's inability to accurately import Microsoft Office documents, particularly Excel and PowerPoint files. In our tests, version 12.0's import filters routinely made a mess of PowerPoint presentations, stripping text from slides, eliminating transitions, altering formatting, and distorting images. They scrambled Excel charts, lost formulas, and in one instance, converted the symbol for the British pound to the American dollar sign -- talk about a sudden drop in the exchange rate! Another problem: Excel macros wouldn't work in Quattro Pro.

Granted, home users and small businesses converting maybe a dozen or so Microsoft Office files probably won't mind the inconvenience of redoing a few presentations and spreadsheets, but it's still a time-consuming process. For medium- to large-scale educational institutions and corporations considering a cost-saving switch to WordPerfect Office, the inconvenience might be too expensive, and they should thoroughly test version 12.0's importing tools before making the change. Fortunately, Corel offers a free 30-day trial download of the suite.

Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0 comes in a variety of bundles. Academia gets the best bargain with the AU$189 Education Edition, which includes WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Presentations, and Paradox -- the same core apps found in the Professional edition but for AU$403 less. The Pro version also includes Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications 6.3 (a programming app that lets you customise software to your business needs) and a 398-page printed manual. Standard Edition, which includes Visual Basic 6.3 but lacks Paradox, is rather pricey at AU$499.

How does WordPerfect Office 12.0 stack up against Microsoft Office 2003? At the low end, Corel has the edge; its Education Edition costs about AU$110 less than Microsoft Office's Student and Teacher Edition. Then again, the Microsoft bundle includes the Outlook e-mail program, while Corel's suite doesn't have an equivalent app. But since many educators and students already have an e-mail system, Outlook may be redundant.

The Corel-vs.-Microsoft comparison is somewhat murky at the high end. The AU$592 WordPerfect Office Professional costs AU$307 less than the high-end Microsoft Office System. However, WordPerfect Office 12.0 lacks the sophistication of Microsoft Office System, which includes Information Rights Management technology for determining which users get permission to edit files or forward e-mail and attachments. Both suites support XML (Extensible Markup Language), which large-scale enterprises use to transfer information from networks and Web sites into massive databases. XML support is probably less important to Corel's core audience of small businesses, students, teachers, and home users, however.

Corel has free unlimited e-mail support, meaning you can fire off tech queries via Corel's support site for as long as you own WordPerfect Office. Response times could be better. In our tests, Corel took longer than the industry-standard 24 hours to respond to our e-mail questions. Do-it-yourselfers will like the online knowledge base, a content-rich repository of troubleshooting advice.

Topics: Government, Apps, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

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