What is it: an integrated suite of office applications.
Applications: word processing, databases, spreadsheets, presentations, messaging and graphics.
Corel unexpectedly moved into the office suite market last year when it acquired Quattro Pro and the Perfect Office Suite. The main part of the suite ? and the most popular ? is Wordperfect, which was acquired from Novell. In May 1996, Corel reintroduced Wordperfect as the anchor title of the suite, hoping to capitalise on the application?s popularity. The idea paid off, with soaring sales and Corel grabbing a sizeable chunk of the market from Microsoft.
But Corel?s office suite sales were hit dramatically by the launch of Microsoft Office 97. Now the battle is on again with the launch of Wordperfect Office version 8. Corel has capitalised on the large legacy base of Wordperfect users, but to get a firm hold of the suite market, the company needs to start converting Microsoft Office users to the cause. The big question is whether the product is a serious alternative to Microsoft Office 97. In this review we examine the suite?s major new features and assess the value of these in the business world.
There is a Standard and a Professional version of the suite; both include an impressive and versatile group of applications, including Wordperfect 8, Quattro Pro 8, Presentations 8, Corel Central 8, Envoy 7 viewer, Corel?s software developer kit (SDK), plus a selection of fonts, clip-art and photos. Netscape Communicator and Corel Central 8, neither of which were ready at the time of writing, will also be included in the Standard package. The Professional version will contain the Paradox database package, WEB Sitebuilder and Timeline.
The previous version of the Wordperfect Suite contained several newly-acquired components, and integration between them was poor. In fact, version 7 was in many ways more like a software bundle than a suite of integrated applications. However, this version, after more than a year of development, has significant improvements.
There are many common features across applications which provide consistent methods of achieving similar tasks across the board. Like Microsoft?s Intellisense features, Corel provides context-sensitive toolbars which are activated and deactivated in response to the type of data you?re typing. Buttons appear and disappear intelligently to accommodate the task at hand.
Another notable feature of Wordperfect Suite 8 is that it offers support for Intel?s MMX technology, which is not yet offered by any other suite. For those with MMX processors, this means that the software is optimised for multimedia operations, like moving images, graphics and sound. This boosts performance significantly in the new version of Presentations and the drawing module in Wordperfect.
One of the most important features ? and a big selling point ? is the extensive Internet support incorporated into each application. Like Microsoft?s Office 97, it is possible to create hyperlinks in any of the applications in the suite, and Web pages can be opened directly from the File ? Open dialog box. But, better than Office 97, both the Standard and the Professional editions of Wordperfect Office have SGML capabilities, with the Professional version supporting more complex functions.
SGML is a forerunner of HTML and allows documents to be coded in a device-independent way, relating the output to the original rather than the device used to display it. There?s no need to play around with add-in programs as you do with Microsoft Word, because it?s possible to view the graphical result of an SGML document as well as viewing logical structures between documents. Java support is also incorporated in the major applications. Java elements can be included in slide shows created in Corel Presentations and documents created in Wordperfect.
Also included is Corel Barista, a tool for generating Java-based Web pages from any document created in the Wordperfect suite. This is as simple to use as the File ? Print dialog box because it operates in exactly the same way as a printer driver, constructing HTML pages containing different types and sizes of fonts and embedded graphics.
Quattro Pro has been radically revamped and some great new functions have been added, including a partially editable print preview and a cell reference checker which keeps track of your formulas and corrects cell references when figures have been moved. There are also new layout capabilities like multiple fonts, attributes and sizes in a cell, allowing you to improve the design of your documents. Another impressive new facility is the group of auditing tools which keeps track of dependant cells, precedents and even trace errors in large and complex spreadsheets ? a reaction, perhaps, to Excel?s Intellisense features.
One of Microsoft Office 97?s most gimmicky features is its help facility. This takes the form of the Office Assistant, a nauseating cartoon character with a smiley face which explains how to accomplish certain tasks. It was intended to provide an approachable help facility for novice users, but has inst- ead provoked widespread criticism.
Wordperfect Office has a far less intrusive and patronising help facility, called the Perfect Expert. It is more results-oriented than its Microsoft counterpart and is driven by straightforward ?how-to? queries. It responds not only by matching up the cue words with its own indexes, but also by providing related and follow-on topics. But the best thing about Wordperfect?s help system ? especially if you?re a Microsoft Office user ? is that it does not automatically pop up as a resource-hungry animated cartoon, but instead sits in the menu where it belongs.
The loyalty of Wordperfect users has done wonders for Corel?s sales in the past year, and it?s interesting that Lotus has failed to promote Smartsuite in the same way using Lotus 1-2-3 as the hook. But Corel?s Wordperfect Suite has far more to offer than a popular word processor from yesteryear. It has some genuinely valuable features which surpass the capabilities of Microsoft?s Office 97 and give businesses a reason to reassess their software needs.
There are savings to be made too. We compared the cost for a group of 20 users and found that Microsoft Office sells for about #325, with each extra licence costing a further #275. Corel Wordperfect Office, on the other hand, costs #299 for the full Standard version, with a further #175 for each extra licence ? a considerable saving even for small-to-medium-sized firms.
Contact: Corel on 0800 973 189
Price: Standard version: #299; each extra licence: #175;
Professional version: to be announced.
Verdict: Corel has done an excellent job with Wordperfect Office 8. considerable resources have been invested in redesigning the interface and the guts of the product. It is also more stable and faster than the previous version. Running on a Pentium 90 with 16Mb of RAM, all applications fared well compared with their Microsoft counterparts. With Corel Central Information Manager and Netscape Communicator coming soon, the Wordperfect suite will be a strong contender in the office market.
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