A 'Perfect' Alternative to Microsoft Office?

By Patricia Fusco | Posted March 01, 2004

A funny thing happened while Corel's new chief executive stumped for institutional capital support for its flagship software products CorelDRAW and WordPerfect. Derek Burney hooked up with Amish Mehta, a principal at Vector Capital. As a happenstance would have it, Vector Capital completed its acquisition of Corel in August 2003, and Mehta was a key player in the deal.

While the once public company adjusted to its new private owners, Corel's programmers were diligently working on revising its business productivity suite, WordPerfect Office.

Greg Wood, Corel communications manager for WordPerfect Office, explained that the change in corporate governance resulted in a shift in the company's philosophies, which directly impacted Corel's goals for WordPerfect Office.

"We made a play for the enterprise market and failed. We took a long, hard look at our product and where it belonged. We sharpened our focus and got back to the basics," Wood said. "Corel is focused on the desktop. We have confidence that we're addressing what customers want."

Corel also did some legwork. An introspective analysis of the product and data from outside research firms agreed — WordPerfect Office is a productivity suite for the masses, specifically consumers and small businesses. Corel has not entirely abandoned the enterprise market, but its primary focus has shifted, which is good news for small businesses seeking an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Wood noted there is a growing backlash toward Microsoft Office. The Yankee Group recently reported that small businesses fear growing too reliant on the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. With this in mind, Corel is preparing for WordPerfect Office 12 to make its debut early in May, and the product will be priced and package to please small businesses.

"We expect to see some serious growth in the small business and consumer segments of the market," Wood said. "Enterprise sales are flat, but small business and consumer sales of business productivity software are expected to grow through 2007."

Office Opportunity
The fact remains — Microsoft Office dominates the desktop. IDC says Microsoft towers above other software makers with a 94 percent share of the market. But Microsoft's market leadership holds the trappings of an opportunity for WordPerfect Office, and Corel has leapt on it. WordPerfect Office 12 possesses a higher level of compatibility with Microsoft products, than Microsoft does with its own discontinued software.

"We're not trying to emulate Microsoft Word," Wood said. "We're just trying to make WordPerfect easier to use, and easier for Microsoft users to make the transition to WordPerfect."

As an alternative to Microsoft Office, WordPerfect Office 12 could translate into a great value for small businesses. The latest iteration of the office productivity suite provides compatible workspaces that position similar WordPerfect features in places where Microsoft Office users would expect to find them. Corel's ability to model Microsoft Office applications is designed to make switching to WordPerfect Office 12 easier — no product training required. Users simply select which mode they want to operate in — WordPerfect Mode, Microsoft Word Mode, WordPerfect Classic Mode (the eye-pleasing cerulean blue screen with white typeface) or WordPerfect Legal Mode.

In addition to offering Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint style workplaces in Corel WordPerfect, Quattro Pro and Presentations, respectively, WordPerfect Office 12 is capable of quickly publishing nearly any document to PDF, HTML, or XML files 7#151; all with the click of a mouse. Not even Microsoft allows for PowerPoint to PDF translations without the purchase of an add-on utility. The new compatibility toolbar built into WordPerfect Office 12 provides easy, one-click access to most popular document publishing formats.

Also new to WordPerfect Office 12 is its capability to support wireless office functions. Powered by ZIM Technologies, the new WordPerfect Wireless Office Suite allows users to get mobile with anytime, anywhere access to Microsoft Outlook e-mail, scheduling calendars, reminders, chat functions, and more. ZIM SMS Office enables WordPerfect users to stay on top of timely communications while working outside of the office.

Unveiling Code
While Corel is clearly embracing heightened levels of compatibility with Microsoft products, it's savvy enough to know when to hold onto a good thing. Experienced WordPerfect users will be happy to find that "Alt+F3" still activates reveal codes at the bottom of the screen. Reveal codes can suss out tricky line breaks by revealing where paragraph tags and specific text codes hide. If you've every had bold text, line items or bullets appear independently of your keystrokes while working in Microsoft Word, then you'll understand why WordPerfect users are passionately loyal to Corel's unique reveal code feature.

WordPerfect Office 12 will be available in standard, professional, education, and family-pack editions. The standard editions core programs include WordPerfect, Quattro Pro and Presentations. The professional and educational editions add Paradox, Corel's relational database program into the standard program mix. The WordPerfect Family Pack 5 consists of light version of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, along with an address book and drawing tools.

Pricing of WordPerfect Office 12 could be quite a bit cheaper than Microsoft Office 2003 — as much as 52 percent less in some cases. For example, if a 250-seat government office in Texas were to switch from Microsoft Office to WordPerfect Office 12, the office would save about $42,000 in licensing fees and upgrades.

It's important to note that Corel will allow customers who own previous versions of WordPerfect Office 8 or newer, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works, and even WordPerfect Family Packs to pickup WordPerfect Office 12 as an upgrade. To give you an idea on the savings, the full standard edition of WordPerfect Office 12 will probably come to market for $300. A standard edition upgrade costs half that — about $150 — and a standard education upgrade will be less than $100.

For small businesses, living without Microsoft Office is easier said than done. Whether you're a conscientious objector to using Microsoft's software or simply can't afford to shell out hundreds of dollars per workstation for an office suite, the trick is finding a viable alternative. WordPerfect Office 12 may be it.

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