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WordPerfect Mac 3.0: The Next Best Thing

I’ve been using WordPerfect Mac since the infamous pre-1.0 beta sale. To paraphrase Victor Kiam, I liked WordPerfect Mac 2.0 so much I wrote a book about it. (Well, actually only about 55-60 percent of a book. My wife, Holly Morris, wrote the rest.) And I think that WordPerfect 3.0 continues WordPerfect’s continual improvement in features, interface implementation, and performance. Overall, I feel that WordPerfect Mac 3.0 is the best available Mac word processor.

Interface — Major software packages these days have feature lists far in excess of what any single user needs – general purpose software will always fit that description. Consequently, the design and implementation of the software’s interface determines the usability of all that power. WordPerfect has added Button Bars and Ruler Bars to the standard Mac interface used in the 2.x series. Other noticeable changes include simplified dialog boxes and a new location for the Status Bar at the bottom of the screen instead of at the bottom of each document window. (You can choose to hide the Status Bar completely.)

You can display a single Button Bar along any edge of the screen, and you can change any button on the bar to activate any of WordPerfect’s features. WordPerfect can only show one Button Bar at a time, but you can define any number of bars, saving them in a preferences file (WordPerfect calls it the Library) or in individual documents. WordPerfect has different default Button Bars for normal editing, graphic editing, and equation editing; you can swap among the bars via a pop-up menu at the top of each.

Ruler Bars are a cross between Button Bars and a normal ruler. You can show or hide any of the eight ruler bars (you only see the eighth, the Mailer, if you have PowerTalk installed), but you can’t change the functions of the buttons on the Ruler Bars. Of the Ruler Bars, Ruler and Layout make up what was the ruler in 2.x. The other Ruler Bars (Font, Styles, Table, List, Merge, and Mailer) tend to have functions that had been in hierarchical menus. I find the Ruler Bars easy to use, and I generally only display the Ruler and Layout Bars. If you prefer a spartan interface, the only thing that must remain onscreen is the Control Bar, a thin strip under the window title bar that contains the buttons to show or hide the different Ruler Bars.

WordPerfect expanded the Status Bar to display up to eleven parameters and abbreviated help. This help feature is great, since it works much like balloon help but is so fast I don’t anticipate the need to turn it off. The Status Bar help only describes Button Bars, Ruler Bars, and the Status Bar itself. For menus and dialogs, you must still use balloon help. Although I find WordPerfect’s balloon help to be about twice as fast as Word’s, it is still too slow for standard use.

I don’t think there is room in the Status Bar for all eleven parameters at once, but most people won’t want them all. The parameters are: logical page/line (logical page is the number that actually prints out on the paper), physical page (the one that the printer driver needs if you’re printing only part of a document), time, date, position on the page from top left, write protect status, caps lock status, num lock status, active document number, active cell in a table, and PowerBook battery status.

There are the usual (and sometimes unusual) raft of choices available in the Preferences arena. You can choose whether you want formatting to act like Word (one paragraph at a time) or like WordPerfect (until another formatting command overrules it). There is a choice to prevent WordPerfect from trying to translate fonts linguistically (if you use Symbol font sporadically for science/engineering you do want to prevent the linguistic approach at least sometimes). You can assign a keystroke to any of the 306 commands. You can choose whether and how often to have WordPerfect back up your open files, and you can make WordPerfect drop a guide line from the ruler whenever you reposition a tab or margin setting, which I found to be much more helpful than I expected. There are far more settings, but those are the most memorable options.

Features — New features are always the most obvious to an old hand at a program. Tables, an equation editor, drag & drop editing, and the integration of Grammatik 5 into the main program are the main additions.

Tables are fairly predictable, and I find them easier to modify than Word’s (at this point I have about the same experience with tables in both programs). WordPerfect used to meet about 80 percent of my table needs with its column features. The biggest advance for me is the ability to select a column (it’s about time). In a large table, text entry display bogs down toward the bottom. In a 10 column by 30 row table, I could easily out-type WordPerfect by the end. For single value tables (like data tables) the solution is to type the data as tabbed text without formatting it at all, select the text, and quickly convert it to a table with a menu command. By contrast, reformatting tables in WordPerfect is much faster than in Word for the same table. If you discover that you need more room in one column, just grab the column border and move it. Redraw of the reformatted table isn’t fast, but it beats Word.

WordPerfect lets you perform simple arithmetic on table elements, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and averaging (the most common spreadsheet functions). Recalculation after editing a cell is strictly manual, though, via a recalculate button on the Table Ruler Bar. WordPerfect is smart about arithmetic in that it lets you mix numbers and text in a cell and can still add the number to a total (it considers only the first item recognized as a number in each cell for arithmetic operations).

The equation editor is simple, straightforward, and capable. My secretary raves about how wonderful it is. I have used it for a few dozen real equations, and I figure I won’t bother with my third party equation editor any more. WordPerfect supports Edit Graphic Object, so if you don’t wish to switch from another equation editor, you should get better integration with WordPerfect 3.0.

The internal graphic editor enables you to create fairly sophisticated drawings. I especially like its bezier curve tool, which I find easier to use than the same tool in Canvas. I wish arrowheads were a normal feature. Mike Tippets of WordPerfect wrote a macro for creating arrowheads, but they aren’t as easily modified as native arrowheads usually are. You can assign any color available in Apple’s color wheel to any object, including text in the main document. There are two special types of graphics – Draw Overlay and Watermark. Both are full page graphics that overlap the text area on the page. A watermark works like a header or footer in that once defined it appears on every page until discontinued or changed. In contrast, a draw overlay appears only on the page where it is originally defined. You can have a separate overlay for each page and up to two watermarks and an overlay active simultaneously.

Style support is better than in earlier versions, but I’m still waiting for them to get rid of what I call the "style bulldozer." If you apply a style to a paragraph containing manual changes (remember that sporadic use of Symbol font I mentioned earlier?), the "partial paragraph" formatting changes are wiped out if the applied style includes information contrary to the manual change. Because of this limitation and the lack of character styles, styles are poor for body text, but great for everything else, such as headers, footers, and tables of contents. You can link styles together in a chain, or base one style on another.

WordPerfect allows you to create lists, including Tables of Contents, Tables of Authorities (for lawyers), figures, text boxes (sidebars), tables, indexes, and up to six other custom lists. If you assign captions to your figures and tables, the list automatically uses the caption as the list text. For indexes, WordPerfect includes a concordance feature that enables you to use a list of terms, one per line in a separate file, to generate the index without marking each entry. Your concordance need not be in alphabetical order, but since WordPerfect lets you sort text, there’s no reason not to speed up indexing by sorting the concordance.

I mostly use Sort for distribution lists, but it’s really a mini-database scheme implemented in a word processor. Sorting seldom receives nearly enough attention in any review I’ve seen, including this one.

WordPerfect treats endnotes and footnotes as separate entities, so you can use both at the same time. I can’t live without endnotes in my technical writing, and on the occasions when I’ve needed footnotes too, it has been nice not to have to fake it manually.

Outlining in WordPerfect is weak, being little more than sophisticated paragraph numbering, and without outlining features like collapse/expand or ready rearrangement of levels.

You can script WordPerfect with Frontier and AppleScript, and it supports the Required and Core suites of Apple events, along with the Word Services Suite that enables you to, for instance, use an external spell checker like Spellswell from Working Software. Although WordPerfect is WorldScript-compatible, it cannot handle right-to-left languages.

I can’t effuse enough in describing how much I like WordPerfect’s macros. I almost always have the macro recorder create as much of an operation as I can do manually; then I go to the macro edit window and add loops, conditional branches, keyboard input prompts, and so on. The macro editor has an on-the-fly syntax checker when you hit return after typing a command – a valid command automatically boldfaces to let you know it is valid. If invalid, the first invalid part becomes underlined to identify the glitch. Macros have three kinds of variables – local, global, and document. Local variables are restricted to a single macro, global macros are available to all macros during a session, and document variables are stored with documents. I have a memo-creation macro that stores the author’s name in a document variable. Since the variable is saved with the document, when I or my secretary finish a memo, a signature line macro recalls the author’s name without asking.

Performance — Since version 2.0.1, every release of WordPerfect has been faster than the previous version, an unusual and welcome feat. I think WordPerfect assigned some poor programmer the sole task of making WordPerfect 3.0 scroll quickly. Using the arrow buttons on the scroll bar, WordPerfect screams. I opened a 2.3 MB text file (it took slightly over two minutes to open on a IIci in System 7.0.1) and it scrolled smoothly and quickly. The one action that I suspect WordPerfect will never make quite as fast as the fastest competitor is jump-to-beginning or -end of a file. WordPerfect does some format tracking during that jump, so it will never be instantaneous. Nevertheless, they’ve made the jumps faster too. The first jump is the worst: a beginning to end jump on the 2.3 MB file took 30 seconds the first time (the file had no carriage returns in it, so it was all one "paragraph"), and 10 seconds for subsequent jumps.

WordPerfect has published data which claim that WordPerfect compares well with Word 5.1a in the speed of most features, and is up to three times faster at arrow scrolling, spell checking, and grammar checking for some unspecified file on several configurations. I haven’t checked with a stopwatch, but it feels like it might be true, other than for text entry in large tables.

WordPerfect files can balloon to a large size. The 10 column by 30 row one page table occupies 60K. Other documents aren’t quite so outrageous, but WordPerfect files aren’t particularly space efficient. WordPerfect offers a compressed format as an option for file saving (yet another thing you can set as a default, if disk space is an issue). WordPerfect compresses its own files a bit better than Compact Pro does, so WordPerfect’s solution is fine.

Compatibility — WordPerfect Mac 3.0 files should be compatible with WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS and Windows. The import/export conversion filter hasn’t yet shipped for the Mac version, but supposedly the other versions can read Mac files directly. WordPerfect will even be the first to offer cross-platform equation compatibility (it’s about time), but only with version 6.0. WordPerfect Mac can still read and write WordPerfect 5.1 and 5.0 formats, and the 6.0 filter should ship by the end of the year.

WordPerfect Mac does a decent job of reading Word files, but can’t read fast-saved files, like some other Mac word processors. I find that I have to strip out fixed line height codes in many imported Word files. WordPerfect tries so hard to make the file immediately printable in an identical page image that the line heights wreak havoc with display of graphics. A one-command macro does the trick ("Remove All Code (forward;line height)"). Sometimes I need to tweak converted styles a bit, too, but all things considered I think the Word import is good. The conversion is a one-way street with only a sidewalk (RTF) to go back the other way, and this doesn’t always work well. Unfortunately, saving in DOS WordPerfect format and then importing that into Word fails. WordPerfect Mac also supports XTND conversions, both for import and export, but includes no XTND filters.

WordPerfect Mac requires a 2 MB memory partition, along with System 6.0.7 or later. If you plan to use the graphic editor much, I think a 2.5 or 3 MB memory allocation is safer. The application itself is about 2.5 MB on disk, although a full installation uses about 7.5 MB. WordPerfect includes a bunch of fonts – some are required for the equation editor, and some facilitate compatibility with the fonts that ship with the 6.0 products.

Give this word processor a try, it truly is a Word beater.

[Even I, with my bias toward Nisus, must admit that WordPerfect has a winner here – WordPerfect Mac 3.0 does many things right and continues to support Apple’s technologies such as QuickTime, PowerTalk, AppleScript, and WorldScript more fully than anyone else. Word 6.0 will have a fight on its hands when it ships sometime next year. -Adam]

Upgrades cost about $50 ($25 if you only want the disk), sidegrades from other word processors are about $85, and the full version is about $300. You can find a demo version of WordPerfect that cannot save files and that prints "DEMO" across all pages at <> as:


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