Many free and inexpensive office suites are available for download or for use in a Web browser. What's the advantage of paying a pretty penny for a desktop office suite? Corel WordPerfect Office X4 offers a strong software package that comes closest to the breadth and depth of features found in Microsoft Office.
The most attractive new features within WordPerfect X4 include its juggling of more than 60 file formats from competing applications. You can open OOXML files from Office 2007, although you'll have to save them in another format. That's not only a contrast to Microsoft's decision to develop its own open file format rather than using ODF, but also a survival mechanism for Corel, whose WPD format is being ignored by most rival services.
The Corel WordPerfect Office X4 $299 Standard edition ($199 upgrade) includes WordPerfect for text, Lightning for notes, Quattro Pro for spreadsheets, Mail, as well as Presentations, and the Presentations Graphics editor. The $119 Home and Student Edition includes WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Presentations, Lighting, and Visual Intelligence. Users who only seek word processing and spreadsheets alongside Corel MediaOne image editing and Ulead VideoStudio video editing may want to check out the $89 Corel WordPerfect Family Pack 2009. The $399 Professional ($259 upgrade) version, which is increasingly attracting government agencies, adds enterprise tools including the Paradox database, which we did not test.
Setup and interface
WordPerfect X4's system requirements are relatively gentle. Running Windows XP with the latest service packs, you only need a CD-ROM drive and 256MB of RAM (twice that for Vista) with at least a 466MHz processor (800MHz for Vista). Make sure that you have 600MB available on the hard drive.
The installation on Windows XP took an uneventful 20 minutes or so in our tests. We weren't thrilled that it left us with desktop icons for each application.
Once open, gray-and-white layouts of the applications feel no-nonsense and traditional. For instance, the WordPerfect word processor has nine menus atop the screen ranging from File to Help with small icons representing commonly used features, but there's no "ribbon," as Microsoft dubs its tabbed, colorful Office 2007 toolbar.
We appreciate that WordPerfect can run in regular, legal WordPerfect 5.1 and Microsoft Word modes, which will alter the appearance of the work space. The 5.1 mode takes you back in time to a blue background with gray text. Quattro Pro lets you run in its own mode, or in modes resembling Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3.
WordPerfect X4 offers every basic feature you'd expect in a word processor, and then some. In addition, it and other Corel tools share many of the same keyboard shortcuts as Microsoft Office, which is handy if you use software from both vendors.
A red line marks potentially misspelled items. It was pleasant that, unlike Word, WordPerfect didn't make default alterations to words. We liked how the embedded spelling and grammar checkers, as well as thesaurus and Oxford dictionary, can appear along the bottom of the page for easy reference.
Among the advantages of WordPerfect over Word is the Reveal Codes option, which lets people manage document formatting granularly. Attorneys can take advantage of the Pleading Expert as well as tools for Tables of Authorities and Contents. Also, you can number paragraphs, add watermarks, and publish to EDGAR.
WordPerfect has added redaction to its solid security features. You can black out text in a document and then export it to DOC, PDF, or WPD. Users would be wise to frequent the straightforward Save Without Metadata option under the File pull-down menu before sending a document to someone.
WordPerfect X4 includes strong PDF support. You can view, tag, and save PDFs and even add password protection. WordPerfect will also recognize and translate the text from an image-based PDF to a document you can edit. It has also added support for the PDF/A archival format.
As regular users of Word and Google Docs, we found that minor behaviors in WordPerfect were hard to get used to. For instance, when we used the down arrow to move to a blank line, the cursor sometimes appeared in the center rather than on the left margin. This also happened while running in Word mode. When we accidentally highlighted huge chunks of text, it wasn't as easy to let go as in Word. We also panicked when hurried typing led us inadvertently to hammer out a keyboard shortcut designed to configure PerfectExpert Projects. Luckily, we were able to cancel the action without losing our work.
Unfortunately, we found it hard to manage multiple open documents, which appear under the File menu, and you can't flip between document open within an application using the CTRL-Tab shortcut. We were extremely frustrated when opening a WPD file hid the DOC file we were composing. WordPerfect wouldn't let us back into the DOC file, claiming that it needed to convert the format and then giving us a list of several dozen options. With its touted support for more than 60 file formats, WordPerfect X4 should have figured this one out. Instead, in several attempts, we selected various versions of Microsoft Word to no avail. We had to open the document in Microsoft Word, then cut and paste it back into WordPerfect to keep using Corel's application.
Quattro Pro is a fine spreadsheet application that handles loads of formulas, builds attractive charts, and can create professional-looking reports. It's one of the heartier Excel alternatives, and in our limited tests we found it to be easily compatible with Excel spreadsheets. Still, Microsoft Excels' Pivot Tables and other intelligent features feel more intuitive and rich. We found Microsoft Excel 2007's data-analysis improvements among the best reasons for an Office user to upgrade. Corel's similar, new Visual intelligence features--which we did not test--are meant to make it easier for business users to analyze data patterns through charts and color coding.