A Very Viable Alternative: WordPerfect Office 12

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted June 07, 2005

Long the underdog, bridesmaid and runner-up, WordPerfect Office has always provided scrappy competition for Microsoft Office. Corel's latest version, WordPerfect Office 12 - Small Business Edition (WPO), offers useful innovations that make it easier to use. It has new e-mail client software and excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office, and it's even undergone plastic surgery to mimic Office's interface. If you like a world of Coca-Cola and Pepsi that still offers Dr. Pepper, you'll find WordPerfect Office 12 to be a worthy alternative at a lower price.

Like Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003, WPO is actually a suite of applications that includes at its core a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program — in this case, respectively, WordPerfect 12, Quattro Pro 12 and Presentations 12.

Living in a Microsoft World
All of the suite's applications acknowledge that they reside in a Microsoft world and each carefully mimics the interface of the competing Microsoft program. When you first launch WordPerfect, Quattro Pro or Presentations, the programs will ask whether you want to work with their native Corel interfaces, or that of the corresponding Microsoft program.

Choose the Microsoft interface, and you'll be greeted with toolbars and menus that are virtually identical to those in the Microsoft applications. The programs even save your documents in the Microsoft format.

The disguise is convincing enough so that long-time Microsoft Office users can immediately find their way around WordPerfect without adjusting their long-time work habits. In particular, WordPerfect offers strong compatibility with Microsoft Word files. While you can find some inconsistencies when dealing with complex documents with custom margins and such, conversions are quite good.

Sweetening the Suite

The Task Manager is a welcome new feature that lets you pick from a wide range of templates to create various business documents. Templates are grouped by type: the "Business Plans" set includes marketing materials, brochures, newsletters and advertising; in "Sales Tools" you'll find reports, invoices and job estimation forms; the "Financial Tools" set provides budgeting, profit-and-loss statements and expense tracking; "Planning Resources" include forms for vacation requests, employee evaluations and organizational presentations; and "Stationery" provides designs for various letters, envelopes, calendars, business cards and more.

Select a document and the Task Manager opens the best application for the job. Choose "budgeting," for example, and the Task Manager starts Quattro Pro with a template that allows you simply to fill in budgetary data and view the calculated results. Choosing "Brochures" brings up WordPerfect; "organizational structure" brings up Presentations. The templates are attractive and professional looking. Corel also offers helpful online resources to dispense more templates, as well as business advice and tips.

WordPerfect further sweetens the deal by adding WordPerfect Mail, Corel's new e-mail client. When you invoke the program for the first time, it immediately offers options for importing data from Outlook Express, Outlook and other e-mail applications.

Like the other Corel applications, WordPerfect Mail acknowledges Microsoft's ubiquity. While its interface doesn't imitate that of Outlook, it closely resembles it in structure. The interface offers a main window that lists incoming e-mail, a preview window to view e-mail contents in the lower-right corner and a list of folders in a left-hand column. It also serves familiar naming conventions that include Inbox, Drafts, Outbox and Deleted Messages.

The program offers solid contact management, and its visual scheduling is easy to use. The thorough search capabilities let you look for keywords in the body and subject lines, and you can fine tune the search to look for "any of," "all of," and more. There are options for searching "to" and "from" fields, as well as specific folders and date ranges. Long-time Outlook customers should have little problem adapting to WordPerfect Mail.

Paint Shop Pro 9 brings image-editing capabilities to the suite, but an image-editor of this caliber is probably beyond the needs of most small business owners. Almost anyone with a digital camera already has access to a program to perform basic image editing. A competent, user-friendly desktop publishing program that's on par with Microsoft Publisher, which is included in Office Small Business Edition, would be far more useful for creating attractive business documents such as fliers and brochures. While you can create such documents using WordPerfect 12, the word processor is no replacement for Publisher's intuitive desktop publishing features.

The package also includes Norton Internet Security 2005, which at first sounds like icing on the suite cake. After all, anyone who uses a computer these days has to watch for out viruses, hackers, Trojans, worms and things that go bump in the night. And beyond protecting against viruses and hackers, Norton Internet Security effectively filters spam and helps protect a user's privacy.

On the downside, however, Norton Internet Security comes with only three months of updates to its signature files (the standard off-the-shelf program offers a year's updates). As a result, the addition of Norton Internet Security feels more like a benefit to Symantec, the program's developer, than to small businesses.

Some Things Old, Some Things New
The venerable WordPerfect remains much the same as ever. As in the past, the program offers precise, code-based formatting controls and, unlike MS Word, it supports specialty legal formats such as pleading. Something else that WordPerfect does and Word doesn't: publish PDF files without resorting to Adobe Acrobat. Of Corel's three main applications, WordPerfect offers the strongest competition to its Microsoft counterpart, providing a reasonable alternative.

Secondary to Microsoft Excel, Quattro Pro 12 remains mostly unchanged from the previous version. If you look hard enough, you can find specific functions that are available in Excel but not in Quattro Pro, formulas that include co-linearity detection and continuous probability distribution functions. As a result, die-hard accounting and scientific types may have good reason to stay with Excel. But for most spreadsheet users, Quattro Pro should be adequate.

Corel's Presentations 12, which builds business slide show presentations and graphics, doesn't even come close to PowerPoint's capability. While you can create presentations, it lacks thorough support for video. This multimedia gaff is a glaring omission in our book.

Availability and Pricing
A final consideration: WordPerfect Office 12 costs $100 less than the comparable Microsoft Office upgrade and full-version prices. When you multiply these costs over many licenses, the savings can be significant to small businesses. You can buy WordPerfect Office 12 — Small Business Edition online at www.wordperfect.com and via resellers such as Dell and Softchoice. The suggested retail price is $179 (upgrade version) and $349 (full version).

Bottom Line:
In this latest version, Corel has done an excellent job of making WPO easier to use and provides a less-expensive replacement for Microsoft Office. The illusion is good enough that rank-and-file users should be able to make the switch with little downtime and few problems. MS Office power users, on the other hand, will probably want to stay with Microsoft.

Over the last ten years, Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.

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