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Monday, May 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Small office / Home office
WordPerfect Office falls short on file compatibility

By Mike Langberg
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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If you're running a small business in competition with a giant, it's not enough to make your products a little bit better and a little bit less expensive. You have to be a lot better and a lot less expensive.

WordPerfect Office 12 (www.wordperfect.com), the new version of the only software suite that still retains a significant number of users since Microsoft Office took over the world, sadly isn't clearly better and is only somewhat less expensive than its behemoth rival.

Current users of WordPerfect will be happy with the added features. Everyone else will have to keep waiting for the long-sought giant killer who will scare Microsoft into lowering its sky-high prices for the combination of Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint.

Personal-computer pioneers will recall WordPerfect as the dominant word processor in the late 1980s and early 1990s before it was out-hustled by Microsoft. After many years of lackluster sales and failed turnaround plans, WordPerfect is now owned by Corel of Ottawa, Canada. Last year, Corel was acquired by Vector Capital of San Francisco, which has pumped in new funding and is emphasizing cooperation with Microsoft.

"The primary development focus of WordPerfect Office 12 was to improve file compatibility with Microsoft Office," says WordPerfect's Web site.

But because of technical issues and Microsoft's refusal to fully reveal the inner workings of its formats, there's no such thing as 100 percent compatibility — a lesson I quickly learned with just a few simple tests.

What's more, WordPerfect Office 12 is only a three-legged stool against Microsoft's sturdy four-legged chair.

WordPerfect Office 12 has three key programs: WordPerfect for word processing, Quattro Pro for spreadsheets and Presentations for slides. But there's no counterpart to Microsoft Outlook, an outstanding program for managing e-mail, calendar and contacts.

To me, this cancels out the relatively small savings. The standard version of Microsoft Office 2003 sells for $399, while the standard version of WordPerfect Office 12 is $299. An edition for students and teachers is $149 for Microsoft or $99 for WordPerfect.

WordPerfect Office 12 runs on Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, but, oddly, not on Windows Millennium Edition.

To WordPerfect's credit, the suite has a few features Microsoft doesn't match. There's an option to save files in Adobe Acrobat's PDF format; to do the same in Microsoft Office requires buying extra software for about $40. And WordPerfect has a "reveal codes" feature that makes it much easier to view and modify the format of complex documents.
 
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But the compatibility headaches I found were severe.

I started by importing an eight-page Microsoft Word document into WordPerfect. The font and type size were altered, and the line breaks were mangled.

Quattro Pro did somewhat better in opening an Excel spreadsheet.

For my final test, I opened in Presentations a PowerPoint slide showing a monthly calendar page. Graphics came through unaltered, but daily entries on the calendar were wildly out of alignment.

I'd much rather spend an extra $50 or $100 to spare myself such hassles when sharing files with Microsoft Office users.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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