The release of WordPerfect Office 12—a tremendously capable package—is a healthy reminder that Microsoft Office, although currently thundering over the land, has competitors that not only equal but surpass it in many ways. Consumers and IT purchasers in businesses large and small have real choices and need to seriously investigate them. Toward that end, we have reviews of three strong contenders: Microsoft Office 2003, Suns Star Office 7, and WordPerfect Office 12.
Cost is not the least of the reasons to consider a Microsoft rival: On the street, Bill Gates will take $270, thank you very much, for Office 2003, Standard Edition. The latest WordPerfect Office Standard Edition is only about $10 less, but StarOffice 7, the "new" kid on the block, will forward just $80 to Suns coffers. Numerous challengers cost little, or like the open-source OpenOffice.org (built from the code base of StarOffice 5.2), are free. And eWEEK Labs has its own in-depth head-to-head comparison of Microsoft Office 2003 and OpenOffice.org 1.1.1.
To say the least, Microsoft has no lock on capabilities or usability. In fact, we found StarOffice more intuitive than Redmonds product, and the competitors from Sun and Corel have excellent features not found in Microsoft Office, such as the capability to directly export to PDF and SWF (Flash) formats. The WordPerfect word processor also retains its superior Reveal Codes mode that gives tight control over formatting—a popular feature yet to be matched by Microsoft and for which its product suffers.
Microsoft Office is still firmly in the drivers seat and well ahead of all others in market share (over 90 percent), but maybe that warning just outside the passenger-side window has some relevance: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.