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WordPerfect 3.1

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[I asked Dave to write this review as a follow-up to the review of WordPerfect 3.0 that he wrote earlier this year. Dave would like us all to note that his opinions do not necessarily represent those of his employer. Assuming my neck continues to heal nicely, I'll follow up in a few weeks with some thoughts about how WordPerfect 3.1 compares to Word 6. -Tonya]

I recently dug up my review of WordPerfect 3.0 (from TidBITS-205) and read through it, wondering what they've done for me lately. In WordPerfect 3.1, Novell has done quite a bit. In addition to enhancing the program, Novell sped up several features, did not slow down any part of the program that I've noticed, and did not create a disk storage monster.

New Features -- The most visible changes to 3.1 are QuickCorrect (an automatic typing corrector) and the new features for System 7.5, which include support for the Drag Manager (exchanging information between files and applications without having to copy and paste), Apple Guide (interactive help), and QuickDraw GX printing (see TidBITS-243 for more about QuickDraw GX) .

I haven't used Drag Manager much, but it seems to work as the manual says: drag a selection out to the desktop and the Mac puts a copy there, available to be dragged into another document (the document could be from WordPerfect of from or any other compliant application).

I have seen the future of computer "How To" writing, and that future is Apple Guide or its successor. People seem to be of two minds about Apple Guide: some are indifferent; others are drooling at the thought of seeing a really good help system. Being in the latter category, I'll offer the defense that anyone who has done much computer support has run across features they have had to demo time and again. A help system that can walk the user through a process, using a real example of the user's choosing, and explaining the operation while it happens, is truly music to my soul. WordPerfect Guide (the WordPerfect specific files that run under Apple Guide) includes only a subset of topics in the regular help file, but it's a good start. If I could only get Novell to throw out that lousy clone of Microsoft Help they use for the regular help files, I'd be happier. I find Apple Guide a bit too slow on a IIci, but for a beginner it probably isn't too bad.

QuickDraw GX printing makes it much easier to create a program that can handle landscape and portrait pages in the same document. I've been waiting for the ability to include a few landscape pages in a standard portrait document since Apple promised it two years before the original System 7.0 shipped. It finally works, and it's almost enough to justify the extra memory GX takes. People with lots of printer choices on a network will probably appreciate GX printing support. I also think that Hoefler Text (one of the GX fonts Apple includes with System 7.5) represents a definite improvement over the PostScript fonts most of us are used to working with. If Apple can get enough companies to create and support GX fonts, computer typography will take another leap forward. On the other hand, Hoefler Text is kind of tiring to look at on the screen.

QuickCorrect is WordPerfect's name for what I call a typo catcher. It fixes simple things that people mis-type, such as "teh" instead of "the", multiple spaces between words, no capitalization at the beginning of a sentence, or an inadvertent second capital letter at the beginning of a word. QuickCorrect isn't a full spelling checker, or it would be way too slow. It does catch little mistakes quite well, in exchange for a slight hesitation in some screen operations.

You can also use QuickCorrect as a mini-glossary. You can edit QuickCorrect's substitution list to include up to 254 characters for any "word" you want to be shorthand for the longer piece. For example, if you always want to write out "alternating current" instead of "ac", just edit the list appropriately.

Native Power Mac support was added in 3.0a last March, and 3.1 adds a fat binary install option. PowerTalk support also existed in a previous version, but I haven't tried it.

Speed -- Scrolling is only slightly faster than 3.0a, but screen redraw action is much quicker in normal text entry. If you type in tables on a 68030-based Mac, the screen redraw still gets jerky when the text is being entered in a cell that is right along the edge of the document window. It's sad to see my IIci become the slowpoke of the Mac family, but I still find 3.1 serviceable on the old machine. Novell says 3.1 will run on a Mac Plus under System 6.0.7 in a 2 MB memory partition. I believe it would run, but I'm almost positive I'd use a text editor with a mark-up language before I'd wait for any long document editing on a Plus. Maybe one of these days I'll drag out my Plus and see what it's like.

If you want some numbers (all times in seconds), I'll pick on scrolling and word count for the WordPerfect Read Me file, which has 67 pages and about 19,500 words. In case you're wondering why the file so long, 40 pages are appendices which offer a list of all the command key equivalents, an Apple event dictionary, macro commands, and macro variables. All this information is available online, but not in the bound manual. Apparently Novell took so much heat for not printing it that they put it in the Read Me file.

                           jump     jump to       jump        word
  Machine   System         to end   beginning     to end      count
  ------------------------------------------------------------------
  IIci       7.0.1 (w/tuner)  19 sec     4 sec      7 sec     35 sec
  IIci       7.5              10         ?          4         19
  7100 with  7.1.2             4        <1         <1          4
    L2 cache

The reason I include multiple jumps is that the first time through the file, WordPerfect checks some formatting information as it goes, after that it remembers most of what it checked. For anyone tempted to inject an "I can do that instantly on xxx," I'll throw in the additional test of using the scroll box to go part way through a large file. WordPerfect's times are proportional to the distance through the file. The "instant" jumps in other programs often go away when you go somewhere other than the beginning or end. Scrolling with the scroll arrows is much too fast to read on the Power Mac. On the IIci, arrow scrolling goes quickly for just text, but gets jumpy or slow when graphics are involved.

In the last review I complained about text entry in a ten column by thirty row table. On the IIci, I can still out type the screen redraw by the time I'm halfway into the table, but the screen redraw is noticeably better than 3.0. (My work-around is to do heavy data entry in tab delimited form, select it all, and convert it to a table with the Text-to-Table function. It only takes a few seconds.) On the 7100, I didn't have to wait for the screen at all.

I've been on a speed binge for a while, and I find myself asking whether this much emphasis on speed makes sense. It may, in that anything distracting will irritate a writer, and lack of speed is distracting. [Indeed! -Adam] Other things are important when considering power and ease of use: consistency of the interface, ease of access to the most often used functions, predictable access to infrequently used features. I've thought for a long time that WordPerfect's creators had a strong design vision. Most of the time I like their design strategy, so I like the program.

What's Present and What's Missing? -- The review of 3.0 gives a lot more information about the implementation and features. Almost none of that information has changed in 3.1 - except, of course for items mentioned here.

I think the biggest negative surprise in 3.1 is that Outlining is still nothing more than flexible paragraph numbering. I guess Marketing figured keeping up with Apple was a bigger plus than waiting for other major feature additions.

The other disappointment is the lack of character-based styles. The way WordPerfect handles paragraph styles pretty much requires that manual formatting changes be avoided if styles are ever edited or different styles applied to existing text. Since the ability to make those changes is supposed to be one of the major advantages of styles, I find WordPerfect's styles not useful enough to bother with often.

WordPerfect now includes Macintosh Easy Open from Apple and Microsoft Word translators from DataViz. You can finally export to Word format. There is also the choice of the built-in or DataViz version of the Word import translator. I think WordPerfect's converter does a better job than DataViz's (on slow save format files - if you have extensive fast saved Word files, the DataViz translator will probably be your only choice). I still have several complaints about the how much cleanup I have to do after importing files from Word. This issue is my biggest nit to pick with WordPerfect. If you're trying to take on the market gorilla, you must be prepared to swing from higher trees.

The Document Experts and clip art that WordPerfect mailed to people sending in their registration cards for 3.0 now come as disk 6 in the upgrade package. I don't know if first time buyers get disk 6 with the rest, or if they still have to register first. The Experts, which you can think of as combining stationery and macros, have become smarter in some cases. The envelope macro (which is a Document Expert run from the Macro menu) allows better control of address offsets from the default margins set up the first time you run the macro. I still have to trick the envelope macro into working properly with my DeskWriter C, but I appreciate the improvements.

Hardware Requirements -- WordPerfect 3.1 takes up around 12 MB of disk space on a 68K based Mac, if you include all the fonts, Document Experts, clip art, documentation, and tutorial files included in the package. I use a 3,000K RAM allocation for the program (even on the Power Mac, as long as virtual memory is on or RAM Doubler is in use). Novell claims it will run in 2,000K on a 68K Mac, but I've always found their minimums a bit optimistic.

WordPerfect document files are not svelte. Compression programs can regularly squeeze 75 percent of the space out of WordPerfect files. The Save As dialog box offers a "WP 3 Compressed" option, but I haven't been able to get it to give me smaller files, despite taking a lot longer to save. I think there is a bug here.

Pricing -- Anyone can buy WordPerfect Mac 3.1 for $99 until 31-Jan-95. Upgrades from prior WordPerfect versions are $59. After January 31st, the retail price goes to $395 and upgrades to $69. The upgrades are free to anyone who purchased 3.0a after 15-Aug-94 and until 30-Nov-94. If you do want to take advantage of the free upgrade, be sure to upgrade on or before 30-Nov-94.

All in all, I still like WordPerfect Mac a lot, and I have every intention of using it as my main word processor for the foreseeable future.

Novell Applications Group -- 800/451-5151 -- 801/225-5000
801/228-5077 (fax) -- <wpsupport@aol.com> (support)

 

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