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Although WordPerfect can't match Microsoft Office's 96 percent market saturation, this alternative office suite maintains a loyal, unwavering audience -- largely among legal, government, and OEM clients. True, this three-application collection -- containing a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation maker -- doesn't include an email client. But WordPerfect's enhanced XML support will appeal to businesses with heavy data-gathering requirements. So if you swear by WordPerfect or if your company needs XML integration and would rather not pay for Microsoft's Office 2003 Professional Edition, this suite is an attractive alternative to Microsoft's standard edition. Also, if your PC comes preloaded with Corel Office, give that suite a try before paying extra for Microsoft Office -- you may like what you find. On the downside, Corel offers only mediocre technical support, making the suite an acceptable but not inspiring choice for consumers and very small businesses.
Setup & interface
WordPerfect Office 11 comes in two versions: Standard and Professional. To real bargain hunters, the Standard version's price may seem high for three basic applications: a word processor (WordPerfect 11), a spreadsheet (Quattro Pro 11), and a presentation maker (Presentations 11). WordPerfect Office has no email client of its own. If you purchase WordPerfect Office 11.0, you must bring your own email client. If you need a database program, you'll have to purchase WordPerfect Office 11 Professional, which is available only through business licensing agreements (you can purchase a single licence). Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition contains the Microsoft Access 2003 database, plus Microsoft Publisher 2003 and Microsoft Office Business Contact Manager 2003. If you need a desktop publishing program and a contact manager, Microsoft Office 2003 is the clear choice. This suite's look and feel hasn’t changed dramatically from those of previous versions. WordPerfect 11, Quattro Pro 11, and Presentations 11 all sport similar, Windows-like toolbar and menu structures, as they have in the past. We had a similar reaction to the Microsoft Office 2003 beta we recently reviewed. Both of these products are capable office suites at the core. Most of the interface enhancements that we did find reside within the WordPerfect word processor. Its new document-mapping tool (accessible via toolbar or the View/Document Map menu) shows a hyperlink-style tree structure of long documents -- those divided into chapters or sections by the writer -- in a separate pane on the left. So if you click a link to Chapter 5, for instance, the selected portion of the document appears in the main part of the window. The map simplifies the process of navigating through long documents and is long overdue: Microsoft Word has had this same feature since Word 97. Even cooler: the WordPerfect Office 11 thesaurus comes from none other than the Oxford English Dictionary, giving Corel customers access to 40,000 words and definitions from one of the world's most venerated English reference books. The neatest interface trick in WordPerfect Office 11, however, is one that rolls back the clock to the days of DOS. Responding to feedback from its core user base, which includes the legal and government markets, Corel now lets you set WordPerfect (the word processor, not the entire suite) into Classic Mode (via the Tools/Settings menu). In Classic Mode, WordPerfect looks and acts like the venerable DOS-based WordPerfect 5.1 program of more than a decade ago. The screen has that ancient white-text-on-blue-background look of 5.1, and the keystroke commands match, too (such as F6 to boldface selected text). Apparently, this feature appeals to many long-time government and legal employees, who find the 5.1 interface and keyboard shortcuts are conducive to faster typing and more customisable than the newer interface. WordPerfect Office 11 has one advantage over Microsoft Office 2003: it runs on more than just Windows 2000 and XP. Corel’s suite can handle a PC equipped with any version of Windows as far back as 98 Second Edition. There's no Linux version yet, but according to Corel representatives, that may not be too far away.
Like the last edition of WordPerfect Office, version 11 is more a refresh than an overhaul, and the majority of customers probably won't notice the most significant changes. To be fair, Microsoft Office 2003 also still looks the same as ever, but it has a longer list of enhancements than WordPerfect Office 11 does. WordPerfect Office 11 retains the best, most important features of earlier editions of the suite. Quattro Pro's charting skills remain as solid as ever, and the real-time preview means that you can select data and see how it will look in any number of charts. WordPerfect also retains its Reveal Codes option, which displays all formatting codes in a document so that experienced users can modify the codes for better customisability. Now, however, you can even print Reveal Codes to paper. Since WordPerfect has long been a favourite of academics and lawyers, version 11 incorporates all of the tools from its previous Legal edition -- for example, the Pleading Wizard that walks lawyers and clerks through the chore of creating a pleading document. The one significant addition to WordPerfect Office 11's list of new features won't appeal much to most consumers and to very small businesses, but it will come in handy for gathering and organising large amounts of data. Every application in the new suite can now publish documents in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) format. XML is the data standard that enterprise-sized businesses use to pull information from Web services or networked PCs into databases. In addition, IT specialists can build forms with which to gather data and bring it directly to the back end -- handy for, say, collecting and tabulating expense reports. Other devices, such as mobile units and applications on different XML-enabled operating systems, such as Linux and Mac, can read XML files and forms. WordPerfect Office 11's XML integration is also supposed to open XML-formatted files. In our informal tests, however, we found that WordPerfect couldn't open a Microsoft-made XML document. As we said before, since the XML format is now used almost exclusively by large corporations, most home and small-business users -- markets in which Corel hopes to gain a foothold -- won't have the development resources to make the most of Corel's XML integration. However, considering that, after all Microsoft's XML hype, Microsoft Office 2003 Standard won't provide the data-gathering XML support, WordPerfect looks more like the better bargain for those larger companies. To be fair, each of the Microsoft applications allows you to save to XML and read XML documents, and since Microsoft Office Standard isn't intended for large corporations, heavy-duty XML support isn't really necessary. More universally useful new tools include a file converter that can transform batches of documents into other file formats -- a big plus if you're switching to this suite from, say, Microsoft's. Also, Corel has enhanced WordPerfect Office's excellent PDF publishing abilities (available within WordPerfect and Presentations but, unfortunately, still not from Quattro Pro) to support Adobe Acrobat 5.0 (the second-most-recent version of the standard PDF viewer). Also, the publish-to-PDF feature can now display symbols (such as mathematical formulas), resulting in smaller files for some graphics-heavy documents. If you want to turn your work into PDF for publishing on a Web site, WordPerfect Office 11 is the way to go. Microsoft Word has no such capability. We also appreciate WordPerfect Office 11's new routing feature that lets you email documents to contacts in your WordPerfect address book. You can even decide in which order multiple reviewers receive the document, and then remind each reviewer to pass it along. Since WordPerfect Office 11 lacks an email client (it no longer includes the lame Corel Central), which would be the natural path to such routing, you must have Outlook 2000 (or later) to use this feature. Outlook Express won't do. Corel's decision to eliminate its email client has benefits and drawbacks. For a start, Microsoft Outlook's near-complete integration with many of the other Office applications has set the bar high for office suites. However, WordPerfect Office 11's lack of an email client isn't as big a drawback as it seems at first glance. For example, large businesses generally have email setups already. A company running Outlook can deploy WordPerfect Office's document-routing feature; without Outlook, companies can take advantage of the routing feature via Novell’s GroupWise. But many business servers have document-sharing features of their own, so they won't need WordPerfect Office's routing feature anyway. Very small businesses and consumers may worry that getting WordPerfect Office 11.0 Standard, perhaps bundled with a PC, without an email client could end up costing them money in the long run. However, these customers won't suffer for WordPerfect's lack of an e-mail client unless they need WordPerfect Office's document collaboration feature. If not, customers can use whatever e-mail client they already have. If you do need to run WordPerfect with Outlook, the email client's standalone price means that you still end up paying less for WordPerfect Office 11 Standard plus Outlook than for Microsoft Office XP Standard.
Service & support
WordPerfect Office 11's technical support is a lot thinner than what Microsoft offers for Office. Although you can search a comprehensive knowledge database on Corel’s Web site for information, there's no way to email the help desk. Instead, you have to put in a (paid-for) phone call. WordPerfect's in-program help, however, is comprehensive and excellent overall. We especially like PerfectExpert, which opens a pane at the far left of the active application, then walks you through a specific task, such as setting up a document in WordPerfect. Also, version 11 includes a WordPerfect Office update tool (WordPerfect folder under the Start menu) that automatically checks for fixes or updates at Corel’s Web site either each time an application in the suite launches or on a schedule you set. Slick.