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Corel WordPerfect Office X5 Standard Edition Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Corel WordPerfect Office X5 is the only PC-based office application suite that doesn’t try to mimic Microsoft Office. It provides a true alternative to Office, not a watered-down imitation, and that’s exactly why it survives in a Microsoft-centric universe. Open-source, freeware application suites like OpenOffice.org (Free, ) try to act as much as possible like pre-Ribbon-Interface versions of Microsoft Office, but the main reasons for using such programs are that they cost nothing and don’t keep your data in proprietary formats. WordPerfect Office is a commercial application that’s still worth paying for because—despite its many limits and inconveniences—the WordPerfect word processor gives the kind of predictable, fine-tuned control over the format and appearance of documents that’s almost impossible to achieve in Microsoft Word.

Few individual users and fewer companies are ever going to switch away from a world-standard like Office—especially in its new and gleamingly usable Office 2010 release—and move instead to an outlier like WordPerfect. But thousand of government and legal offices have been using WordPerfect for decades, and they don’t see any reason to give up its very real benefits. The latest version of Corel’s WordPerfect suite offers the familiar interface that government and legal communities require, plus a few well-chosen new features that mostly match long-established features in Microsoft Office.

New Features In WordPerfect Office X5
For example, the suite now works smoothly with SharePoint servers, providing revision-tracking and version-comparison features, plus the ability to use a Web browser to view documents on the server (WordPerfect can now import data from Web services). The suite also finally gets a smooth-running, integrated “Reference Center” help system that provides clearer and better-organized help than Microsoft’s Web-based grab-bag.

The Standard version of the suite ($249.99; $159.99 upgrade), which I tested under Windows XP and Windows 7, contains the familiar three core applications: WordPerfect X5 as its word-processor, Quattro Pro X5 as its spreadsheet, Presentations X5 as a combined graphics editor and presentations creator. Also included are: WordPerfect Lightning, a minimal digital notebook that doesn’t try to match Microsoft’s sleek, high-tech OneNote; a licensed version of Nuance PaperPort SE 12, a highly capable application for scanning and managing documents; and a minimally-tweaked version of Mozilla’s Thunderbird (Free, ) e-mail client, with the Thunderbird Lightning calendar add-in pre-installed. Thunderbird replaces the proprietary e-mail clients in earlier versions, which won’t be missed. A Home/Student version (SRP $99.99, no upgrade price) omits PaperPort and SharePoint support. A Professional version (SRP $399.99, upgrade $259.99) adds the Paradox database and a software developer’s kit.

WordPerfect Office X5 vs. Microsoft Office
Quattro Pro and Presentations are both adequate and efficient apps, closely comparable to Excel and PowerPoint as they existed circa 2001. In contrast, the unique features and manageability of the WordPerfect word processor provide a compelling reason to choose WordPerfect Office over Microsoft Office. It may not be as powerful as Word, but it’s a lot more manageable and predictable. WordPerfect outclasses Word in its ability to manage and format long and multi-chapter documents. It also includes a few features that don’t have a comparable counterpart in Word. One that I find particularly useful is WordPerfect’s ability to store printer settings with a document, which means that I can set WordPerfect documents to automatically print on both sides of the page. Microsoft Office, in contrast, makes you select duplex printing from the options in the Print dialog every time you print a document on both sides.

Unlike Word, WordPerfect never leaves you in doubt about why a block of text is formatted the way it is, or leaves you baffled when you delete a word at the end of a paragraph, and the whole paragraph changes its format. In WordPerfect, you merely open the Reveal Codes window at the foot of the screen, and the formatting code is easily visible. Double-click on a code to modify formatting; drag a code out of the window to delete the code and remove the formatting that the code applies.

The latest WordPerfect version can both open and save in Microsoft Word 2007 format; the previous version could open but not save in Word 2007 format. (Quattro Pro and Presentations can also import and export in Office 2007 formats.) Also, unlike Office, WordPerfect can import PDF files and convert them into editable documents. This feature was powerful and effective when I used it with uncomplicated PDF files. However, it refused to open some PDF files I had tweaked in Adobe Acrobat by changing some text, and it ignored the images embedded in other PDF files. Still, it’s a lot more convenient than buying a converter program or add-in as you need to do with Office. Another feature that legal and government users will like is WordPerfect’s built-in redaction tool for permanently blanking-out sensitive text. Microsoft Word, by contrast, provides an optional (and not officially supported) downloadable add-in to supply the same feature.

WordPerfect’s new ability to download data from a Web server is a feature that Microsoft has had for years in Excel, but WordPerfect one-ups Microsoft by letting users import data directly into a WordPerfect table through a lucid wizard-style interface. WordPerfect’s tables have been more flexible and powerful than Word’s for decades, ever since WordPerfect folded its once-separate spreadsheet program directly into the word processor. Of course, Microsoft Word can embed Excel tables, but WordPerfect’s built-in tables are more powerful and more portable.

WordPerfect Office X5’s Shortcomings
Elsewhere in the suite, I found a well-designed template browser that provides training wheels for home and SOHO users who don’t want to build document layouts on their own. In place of WordPerfect Lightning (not to be confused with the Thunderbird Lightning calendar add-in for Thunderbird) is a minimal note-taking app with a mixture of features that may or not be what you need. You’ll probably use it most often for dragging text or links from a browser into notes that Lightning arranges in a tree-structured list.

One minor annoyance is that any link or Web address that you drag into Lightning isn’t automatically formatted as a “live” link that you can click on so that the link opens in the browser. Instead, you need to press the Enter key after dragging the link into a Lightning. Only then does Lightning figure out that the text string should be reformatted as a live, blue-underlined hyperlink. Lightning also works as a screen capture program, and as a file viewer that lets you read Microsoft Word and WordPerfect documents without opening them for editing (and select text from them to the Windows clipboard). Amazingly enough, a year after its first release, Lightning’s document viewer still harbors a bug that makes the program crash when you click on a footnote in the document.

Despite its many useful features, WordPerfect lags far behind Word in some crucial features. For example, Word 2007 and 2010 have a “live” word count that’s always up to date; WordPerfect has a word-count field on the status bar that you need to click to get an updated count. Word lets you split a document window and edit the first page of your document in the upper pane and the last page in the lower pane. WordPerfect’s architecture probably makes that feature impractical—though I would like to see Corel give it a try. I’ve been complaining for decades that WordPerfect didn’t have a built-in way to replace all underlines with italics, and it still doesn’t—you have to find an attribute-replacement macro on line and install it on the menu.

In addition, Corel only minimally integrates the Thunderbird mail client into the rest of the suite. You can use a Thunderbird address book in a WordPerfect mailmerge, but that’s about all the integration you get. One way Thunderbird falls short of Outlook is that it completely lacks Microsoft Exchange support. Still it took me only ten minutes to add Exchange support via the open-source DavMail project. Corel doesn’t mention this option, and you’ll need some technical skills to get it working, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

The Verdict
If you’re a Windows user who’s ready to start using an office application suite for the first time, or if you’re not satisfied with what you’ve got now, you’ve got four basic choices. One choice is to move away from the office-suite model entirely, and create your documents in the cloud with GoogleDocs or a similar service. Another is to stick with the office-app model and use the unchallenged world standard, Microsoft Office, which does more than anything else, and also costs a lot more than anything else. Another choice is OpenOffice.org, the Office alternative preferred by governments, institutions, and individual users who prefer free, open-source software. The fourth—and very much the minority–choice is WordPerfect, a suite that continues to go its own way, with a small but intense core of loyal users.

GoogleDocs is a terrific choice for netbook users with minimal needs for advanced formatting and long-document features, who’ll never need to use endnotes or cross-references (as in “see page 9,” where the correct page number is inserted by the word-processor), and who’ll never need to print an envelope or send out mass mailings. GoogleDocs also has far better revision-tracking than desktop-based word-processors. But GoogleDocs won’t satisfy anyone who wants tight control over formatting or who needs to write anything more complex than a term paper.

Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org are both juggernauts, with Microsoft far ahead in power, flexibility, and ease of use. Both create files that can easily be shared with everyone else; both can build complex documents; both include automation features that let you cut down the time you spend on mind-numbing repetitive tasks. But Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org’s word-processor share the same basic fault—if you build complex documents, or you want tight control over formatting, both will leave you banging your head on the desk as you try to figure out why you can’t make your document look the way you want it to look, or why a change you make in one paragraph causes changes elsewhere that you didn’t want to make.

That’s where WordPerfect comes in. No other software gives such tight control over formatting. When someone sends me a Word document for me to edit or revise, I find it’s far easier to clean up the document’s formatting by opening it in WordPerfect than by opening it in Word. Few long-term Office users will ever switch to WordPerfect, but everyone who does a lot of Word files ought to have a copy of WordPerfect as an emergency repair tool.

WordPerfect existing users will want to know whether the new version is worth the upgrade price. Home and small-business users can continue to use the previous WordPerfect version, WordPerfect Office X4, without missing out on anything essential, although Windows 7 users should get X5 for its improved integration with preview and touch features. Also, if you’re using any version older than X4 on a modern computer, you owe it to yourself to upgrade to a more reliable recent version. For organizations that need SharePoint and web compatibility, and for government and legal offices that rely on reliable and well-honed software, WordPerfect Office X5 is the best upgrade in years.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.