New office suite bolsters features, but offers little incentive for users of competing suites to switch.
Squeezed by desktop competitors (Microsoft’s powerhouse Office suite and the free, open-source OpenOffice) and Web alternatives (apps from Google, Zoho, and others), can Corel WordPerfect Office X5 bring something to the productivity software table? The suite does deliver some unique features–most notably in PDF support and–with the addition of Nuance PaperPort to the suite–in document management. But WordPerfect Office X5 remains a tough sell for general business users who are reasonably satisfied with Microsoft’s core Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps, or their free Web counterparts.
I looked at WordPerfect Office X5 Standard Edition ($250, or $160 for an upgrade; price as of March 25, 2010), which consists of X5 editions of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro for spreadsheets, Presentations (Corel’s PowerPoint alternative), WordPerfect Lightning (a note-taking app), Paperport, and Mozilla Thunderbird for WordPerfect Office (which replaces the old WordPerfect Mail e-mail client and personal information manager).
Like previous versions, Office X5 offers strong compatibility with Microsoft Office, including the ability to create, open, and edit the XML-based formats introduced in Office 2007, along with support for dozens of other formats-including antiquated ones that Microsoft no longer supports. In fact, Corel even offers you the option, when launching WordPerfect, of working with a “classic” DOS-like interface (WordPerfect 5.1), featuring gray type on a blue screen. Other startup options are Microsoft Word mode (a throwback to the preribbon interface) and legal mode (which caters to Corel’s strong following in the legal community).
Nevertheless, the application reminds you that Microsoft’s formats are not its native formats: When you save a .docx file, you get a pop-up ‘Conversion in progress’ window that goes away quickly, but becomes a bit annoying after multiple viewings.
WordPerfect’s ability to edit PDF documents–a weakness in Microsoft’s suite–still falls short of perfection. In my tests with a group of PDFs, some remained fairly faithful to the original layouts; but in others, text and layout became scrambled. It beats having no support at all, but Office users will be at least as well off if they install a good PDF plug-in. PaperPort’s PDF Viewer Plus, the SE version, lets you complete forms that you could fill out with a free Reader plug-in, and annotate static PDFs, but nothing more. To scan and fill out a static PDF form, you must upgrade to Nuance’s PDF Converter.
WordPerfect retains its Reveal Codes feature, which makes fine-tuned format adjustments possible. A new feature that some business and government users may like is support for data import from Web services. Accompanying the suite are various utilities, including an XML project designer and a Pleading Expert.
The decision to go with Thunderbird–available as a free download to everyone–hints at WordPerfect Office’s weakness in handling e-mail and newsreading tasks; its Exchange support remains incomplete. Thunderbird is rather slow as a front end to Web-based e-mail; by default, it downloads only headers, and I experienced significant delays when I clicked on a header to download a Gmail message.
Quattro Pro is a respectable alternative to Excel, with reasonably good charting and formatting tools. Presentations is a serviceable PowerPoint alternative for slideshows, and its accompanying Presentation Graphics application offers bitmap image-editing tools for hands-on types; but the beta of PowerPoint 2010 is difficult to outshine in overall ease of use and integration of image-editing tools. Lightning, the note-taking app, doesn’t have the suite-wide integration that Microsoft is introducing for OneNote in Office 2010. Further, Corel has no equivalent to Microsoft’s upcoming Office Web apps (though so far, these don’t seem likely to pose a serious challenge to existing Web-based productivity tools).
One useful innovation in WP Office X5 is the Reference Center, a central repository for help and tutorials for the whole suite. Anyone who migrates to Office X5 from Microsoft Office should find it invaluable.
Microsoft has yet to announce pricing for upcoming editions of Office 2010, but they will undoubtedly be more expensive than corresponding versions of WordPerfect Office. On the other hand, budget-minded users have more free options than ever these days, so X5 is unlikely to draw legions of new customers on price alone. But it should keep traditional Corel fans in the fold.