Few Mac users have missed the confusion and holy wars caused by the many choices of word processors. Offerings span a field from old Claris stalwarts MacWrite Pro and ClarisWorks all the way to the behemoth, Microsoft Word, and the quirky, yet powerful Nisus Writer. Somewhere in the middle lies Corel WordPerfect. WordPerfect has been through three owners in the last several years, and this article talks about the state of WordPerfect: its basic features, recent bug fixes, and different ways to acquire the software.
Earlier this year, Corel bought the WordPerfect Business Applications Group from Novell, promising new life to a Mac application that has changed little in years. Corel’s first update to WordPerfect was version 3.5.1, and, subsequently, Corel released version 3.5.2. The basic feature set, as described below, hasn’t changed since Novell’s WordPerfect 3.5. Visually, the main change in 3.5.1 and 3.5.2 is a new splash screen.
I use WordPerfect to write short-to-medium length essays (up to fifteen pages), letters, and my resume. I use WordPerfect tables for such documents as schedules and categorized lists. I also use the HTML Export feature.
What Makes WordPerfect Special? WordPerfect has kept on top of Apple technologies. It runs native on Power Macs, uses Apple Guide, and supports AppleScript, QuickDraw GX, Macintosh Drag Manager, PowerTalk, MacInTalk, WorldScript, and QuickTime. Corel has promised to implement OpenDoc in a future version.
Any serious competitor in the heavyweight word processor market has certain functions almost by default: tables, styles, a spelling checker, macros, image and equation editors, and import/export for a variety of file formats. Beyond those functions, most word processors have special features, interfaces, and quirks that define them. In particular, WordPerfect’s intuitive toolbar system and elegant table editor stand out.
WordPerfect isn’t a resource hog, and it launches, quits, and performs tasks quickly. On my Power Mac 6100/60 AV running System 7.5.5, WordPerfect 3.5.2 launches in about 10.5 seconds and quits in about 2.5 seconds. WordPerfect uses 6 MB of RAM and a complete install consumes 22.5 MB of disk space. Corel’s operating requirements are System 7.0 or above (System 7.5 recommended for Power Macs), 68020-based Mac or better, 2 MB application RAM (6 MB on a Power Mac), a minimum of 6 MB hard disk space, and a CD-ROM drive.
WordPerfect’s toolbars are set up by categories (font, style, table, HTML, etc.) and each turns on or off with a click. There is also a separate toolbar that duplicates common menu commands such as Open, Save, Print, and Print Preview. You can customize this toolbar to contain icons for functions of your choosing, such as changing the font to one size larger or smaller, and creating a new header or footer.
Features Galore, A Brief Tour — WordPerfect’s table editor should be a model for other word processors. The elegant interface, simple controls via the table toolbar and the Table menu, plus many features (including simple spreadsheet-like capabilities) make working with tables easy. The table toolbar provides a one-click approach to adding and deleting rows and columns, which in most word processors requires a trip to the menu bar. Borders, cell patterns, and cell margins are also simple to set up. You can control each cell’s border individually, or you can work with a group of them. A toolbar button converts contiguous selected cells to a single cell spanning the same amount of space, and another toolbar button that reverses the function. Tables can span more than one page.
WordPerfect creates mailing labels through a table-based template that can be set to various Avery labels or customized for other label types. Once you’ve set up a template, WordPerfect can walk you through the process of filling in labels with either text or print merge fields. The label toolbar also has functions for positioning text (top, center, or bottom), aligning text (left, centered, or right) and scaling text to fit on labels.
Academic writers will love WordPerfect’s footnotes and endnotes, which are highly customizable and a joy to use. Footnote numbering can be restarted at any time to any number, and can be set to restart from 1 for each page. Scientists and mathematicians will appreciate the equation editor, which offers a huge range of symbols and equation formatting options.
WordPerfect has a grammar checker, plus a QuickCorrect feature that watches you type and corrects certain mistakes automatically. In my opinion, these features are dead weight. For instance, the grammar checker corrected virtually every sentence in a short essay, making annoying comments ranging from "this sentence is too long" to "this sentence is in the passive voice" to "this is a cliched phrase." The QuickCorrect feature, though potentially timesaving, can make mistakes. For instance, using the default QuickCorrect error-replacement options, you can’t type "i.e." without it changing to "I.e". Toggling these options requires a time-consuming trip to the preferences, though a macro can ease the task.
Graphics are treated as single objects within the word processing environment. Text can wrap around them, on both sides of them, or under them. Images can anchor to a particular spot, such as an absolute location, a particular margin, or column. The graphics editor is nothing special, but it contains a few drawing tools, a paint bucket tool, and tools for grouping objects and changing line width, borders, and fills.
You create styles by choosing formats from the usual toolbar in a separate editing window that looks exactly like a normal word processing window. Styles can be saved globally or in a particular document, and for serious users there are "cascading" styles, wherein styles change based on changes made to a parent style. A style can be set so paragraphs always begin with specific text, and styles can be linked such that if you type a paragraph in one style and then press Enter (not Return), the next paragraph will be in the linked style.
WordPerfect’s table editor, equation editor, spelling checker, thesaurus, and grammar checker are all integrated into the main application. Tables are directly editable in the word processing environment and use the same styles, fonts, and other features usually available in WordPerfect. Although you can create equations and graphics within WordPerfect, you edit them in a separate mode – within the main word processing window, they are treated as uneditable objects.
Recent Fixes — Corel claims to fix many bugs in WordPerfect 3.5.1 and 3.5.2, and outlines a huge list of them in the Installer Read Me file. Fixes include problems involving Japanese characters, displaying the Ruler Bar on PCI Power Macs, crashing when clicking the ruler of "subdocuments" (such as headers or footnotes), and "sticking" scroll bars. There have also been changes to speed up certain actions, such as scrolling large documents. The 3.5.2 Read Me file notes another pile of fixes including troubles with selecting text, forward-delete, importing tables, printing envelopes with LaserWriter 8.4, and the French and German dictionaries.
These fixes appear to be genuine, but WordPerfect has picked up a few new bugs, and some old bugs remain. There have been many reports of erratic highlighting when changing styles or when finding text. One old bug occurs when you paste text; occasionally, the scroll thumb stays at the top of the scroll bar even though you’re not actually at the top. Another age-old bug involves ordinary typing: you can see text you type if it’s on the same line, but you won’t see the text as it goes onto the next line until you wait for the screen to redraw.
Although it is faster than Word 6, WordPerfect could be even faster. I’d also like to see WordPerfect learn a thing or two from Nisus Writer, such as multiple undos and non-contiguous selection. I would welcome the capability, also in Nisus Writer, to save all formatting information in the resource fork, leaving just the text in the data fork. Such a file format would allow me to open WordPerfect documents in a text editor with all the text, but sans formatting.
The Corel Way — Corel seems dedicated to converting WordPerfect users to the Corel Way. In addition to offering free (although not 800-number) support to WordPerfect customers (unlike Novell’s fee-for-support customer service), Corel continues to publish WPMac News, an online, monthly newsletter containing tips, a monthly macro, and more.
Although WordPerfect lists for $219 as a stand-alone package, you can purchase it in a number of ways. Owners of Novell WordPerfect 3.5 can order the Corel WordPerfect 3.5 Replacement CD for $29.95. Owners of version 3.5 can download the WordPerfect 3.5.2 Updater from Corel’s FTP site, and upgrades from even earlier versions cost $89. Finally, you can purchase WordPerfect as part of the $399 (list) CorelDRAW for the Mac Suite, a set of seven applications including the CorelDRAW 6 and WordPerfect 3.5.2. According to Novel customer service, upgrades to the CorelDRAW suite are available for $149, and you can crossgrade for $149 using a variety of products from Adobe, Deneba, Macromedia, and others. (Educational versions cost less, but don’t include a printed manual or free phone support.)
Should You Use WordPerfect? If you’re looking for a program with powerful graphics capabilities or advanced layout features, chances are that you need an application more specialized than WordPerfect. Still, if you need a specific feature, WordPerfect is worth investigating: it strikes me as an excellent blend of features for most people, and I hope this article has provided an idea of its overall flavor.
Corel Corporation — 800/772-6735 — 801/765-4020 (support)
DealBITS — Cyberian Outpost is offering TidBITS readers discounts on Corel WordPerfect ($158.95, $35 discount) and CorelDRAW ($385.95, $12 discount) through the URLs below.