WordPerfect Office Isn't Perfect

Overall, working with the new WordPerfect Office X5 suite has been a good experience, punctuated with periodic intense aggravation.

By: Larry Seltzer

Yes, there is still a WordPerfect, and yes, Corel is still developing and updating the product. And it might even be a good solution for many users, even if some of its selling points are oversold.

Corel says that WordPerfect dominates the non-Microsoft part of the desktop office suite market-an obvious swipe at OpenOffice.org and StarOffice. The company says it remains especially strong in particular vertical markets such as law and government.

I tested the new WordPerfect Office X5 suite on Windows (its only platform) and was more disappointed than pleased. The core word processing features are quite good and the user interface to all the main programs seems refreshingly straightforward compared to the newer Microsoft Office versions. I used the WordPerfect word processor for several stories before writing this review and overall it's been a good experience, punctuated with periodic intense aggravation.

For this version of WordPerfect Office, the company is stressing improved PDF tools: All programs in the suite can create PDFs, and WordPerfect can open and edit them. This includes integrated OCR for PDFs containing images of text. PDF publishing supports password protection but not digital signing.

The new suite also includes improved integration with document management systems, including Microsoft SharePoint. Web service interfaces let you populate documents with live data feeds from the Internet. A limited version of Nuance's PaperPort document and image manager is also included.

In recognition that it's a Microsoft Office world, all the main programs in the suite offer more than one user interface mode: a native mode, the Microsoft Office mode and perhaps more, like the Lotus 1-2-3 mode in Quattro Pro. I generally used the native modes, which all seemed intuitive-more so than the typical Microsoft Office program these days.

No problems with installation

My installation of a single copy went without a problem. The Windows version is built with MSI files, and Corel has a 100-page deployment guide that describes how to create customized server images, perform command line installs, pull or push the software, deploy patches and perform other maintenance.

The file open and save dialogs in WordPerfect Office are a trip down file-format memory lane: It supports any version of AmiPro, Volkswriter, XyWrite or Multimate you might want. What you really need, of course, are .DOC and .PDF. In my tests of these, simple documents imported well enough, but I had a lot of problems with complex ones.

I imported PDF files created from a variety of sources, from Acrobat to Microsoft Word and Nuance PDF Professional. The PDFs were usually close, but never exactly what they should have been, in WordPerfect. The software would often create text columns in the imported document, but they wouldn't line up properly. It also had trouble with some embedded graphics. I had much better luck with the same files in Nuance's PDF Converter.

And the WordPerfect's published PDF files are on the heavy side. A 51KB PDF document I created in Nuance PDF Converter-imported and edited in WordPerfect and then republished-came out at 135KB. I had made changes, but added no new significant content.

Some of the test documents, including an IRS W-9 form, are fairly complex. The W-9 includes sideways text, many boxes, shading and other distractions for OCR. But scanning and file import were problematic even with simpler documents.

My luck was better with DOC and DOCX documents, but there were some significant problems there, too. One Word document became completely unusable inside of WordPerfect, whether it had been saved as DOC or DOCX by Word 2007. Corel said that the document used an old template that had been tweaked (which is true). This gives them problems, but they say they are getting better at these things over time.

A lot to love

Once you get past all that, there is a lot to love about WordPerfect, including the famous reveal codes feature. These days, reveal codes looks like a precursor to markup languages such as HTML, and perhaps it was a predictor of why HTML became so popular: It makes format markup so much more obvious. This feature alone, all other reservations aside, makes me consider using WordPerfect regularly.

WordPerfect Office includes a copy of Mozilla's Thunderbird. It's a nice mail client, but it only supports POP3 and IMAP, making it inadequate for most enterprises. Corel says they are working on MAPI support, which they will contribute back to Mozilla.

Quattro Pro X5 is the spreadsheet program and now supports reading XLSX files and publishing PDFs. I tested some fairly complex Excel spreadsheets and, while I didn't delve into the reasons for it, it calculated different numbers than Excel did. And I know the Excel numbers are correct. Quattro Pro may be correct within limitations of conversion of which I'm unaware, but it's still disappointing.

Presentations X5 worked well for me, reading PPTX files reasonably well.

If the bottom line on WordPerfect Office were the price then, at $159.99 for the upgrade and $249.99 for the full version, it would be a winner compared to Microsoft Office. But there's more to these programs than price. The only really interesting part of the suite is the word processor. If you don't like Microsoft Word, you may really like WordPerfect, but cross your fingers.