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Thanks to an interface design that mirrors Microsoft Office 2007, Corel Home Office is familiar, attractive, and easy to navigate. A few color customizations let you personalize the software, but the accessible, responsive, and intuitive features and tools are what will satisfy users more. Lighter in features and modest in size, Corel's brand-new Corel Home Office productivity suite was designed with Netbooks in mind. Of course, the $70 suite will work on laptops and desktops, too, but the three office applications--Write, Calculate, and Show--handle word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations with basic and intermediate tools sufficient for most Netbook users' office needs, but certainly not all.
While Corel prides itself on compatibility with Microsoft's file types and with PDFs, our tests produced an uneven track record with a few embarrassing gaffes.
Installation and setup
Corel offers two installation methods. You can download the suite or install it using the product-branded Flash drive. Flash installation is another concession for Netbooks, which don't often have a CD drive, but which do have multiple USB ports. In our test, installation took about 5 minutes on an Acer Aspire One Netbook and used just 107MB in disk space compared with 358.39MB for the Corel Word Perfect Office X4 full-bodied office suite for desktops, and 1.5GB for Microsoft Office 2007 Standard.
To install the software, you'll need to locate and enter the serial number. USB installers will find the serial number printed in the Quick Start Guide shipped in the box. Corel will e-mail the serial number to electronic buyers.
An installation launcher assumes you want to install the entire suite, but you may uncheck boxes if you would only like to install the word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation components. If checked, additional tick boxes in the installation launcher will create desktop icons and will automatically look for updates.
Corel Home Office opens with an attractive launcher almost identical to the application installer. You'll click either Write, Calculate, or Show from this dashboard to open one of the office applications.
Microsoft Office 2007 users will find the application interfaces in Corel Home Office extremely familiar. As with Microsoft Office 2007, Corel Home Office uses a visual ribbon layout that replaces the long, text-heavy drop-down menus of old with menu tabs that are divided into submenu boxes. Each submenu box displays its tools as icons or labeled icons.
The similarities don't end there. Corel Home Office also mirrors Microsoft Office 2007's top-level row of quick action buttons to open a new document, open a saved document, save a document, undo, and print. The circular Start button in the top left similarly emulates its Microsoft rival. Corel isn't the first to crib this highly visual design (TechSmith's Snagit also uses it effectively), but we're glad the company did. The end result is a familiar layout that's as modern and fresh as it is easy to use. If you're not a fan of this look, however, you can switch--via the Options drop-down menu--to the traditional toolbar mode of Microsoft Office 2003 and Corel WordPerfect Office X4.
Corel's most significant interface contribution to this new Home Office suite is the F11 hot key, which toggles the menu bar between collapsed and full-screen view. Shrinking the menu bar buys you an extra inch or so of screen real estate--significant on 4.5-inch-tall screens like that on the Acer Aspire One. The menu bar won't disappear completely. Instead, it shrinks down to a small button that you can also click to recall the expanded menu.
In a nod to the personalization craze elsewhere in computing and on the Web, Corel Home Office adds four toolbar skins to the Options menu and three options in the Page Layout menu to color-customize the work space, columns, and page backgrounds. For the latter three, Corel makes the entire color palate fair game. You won't find texturing akin to Microsoft Office 2007's shaded-gradient blue work space background, but the splash of color does add a certain something, especially for those with sensitive eyes who prefer composing and reading text on a nonwhite background.
Corel Home Office automatically renders the application proportionately on a Netbook, resizing buttons and screens to fit the smaller resolution. To keep the suite's footprint dainty and the feature set relevant to a wider swath of users, Corel has done away with several features that were present in the fuller-fleshed Word Perfect Office suite, which was written with a separate code base. Some of these omissions include the legal writing mode and support for OpenDocument Format (ODF). You won't be able to import PDFs to edit, "redact" copy you want to hide in PDF, Doc, or WPD format, or convert slides to Flash format in Show. Likewise, Corel Home Office dispenses with endnotes, the Oxford dictionary, and saving files without metadata. Most casual users won't notice the omissions most of the time, or will use other services. Students, though, may suffer from the loss of endnotes and the dictionary definitions.
Corel Home Office supports Unicode in saved files, Microsoft Vista's MUI specification for multilingual user interface switching, and a language pack to run the suite in multiple languages.
Thankfully, the PDF creation feature to save and e-mail documents as PDFs remains in all three applications. We had no trouble creating PDFs from native documents born from Corel Home Office, but we encountered errors when creating PDFs from Write and Calculate documents that had been previously converted from Microsoft Word and Excel. The trip-ups ceased after copying and pasting the contents into a new Corel document.
While the compatibility across documents has its low points at times, being able to save and send as Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2003 documents in addition to Corel's file type is an indispensable work flow feature.
Microsoft Office users should also note that many keyboard shortcuts will work in Corel's intentionally lighter office suite. Those advanced hot keys that don't cross over, like Excel's Alt+W+U, could interrupt workflow for power users who rely on shortcuts over the menu and mouse.
Though leaner than its professional Corel counterpart, the feature set in the Write word processor is far from thin, and is a breeze for Microsoft Word 2007 users to pick up. (Some menu options and icons differ slightly, so expect needing a few moments to get acquainted with the finer points.) Corel Write features five tool menus: Home, Insert, Page Layout, and View. It lacks the References, Mailing, and Review tabs of Microsoft Office 2007 and Corel's WordPerfect Office X4 suite, but it does roll some reference tools into the Insert menu and bundles basic mailing tools into the Tools tab. There's also a Mail Merge shortcut in the Insert tab.
Many home users may not ordinarily use the Reviews tab, but students and entrepreneurs using Corel Home Office for their Netbooks will miss being able to view edits a friend made to their work, or track document changes themselves.
A spelling dictionary is included in Write (as opposed to a definitions dictionary), along with a thesaurus, grammar checker, and an autocorrector you can edit or decline altogether by opting out. Corel also includes macros, charts, and illustration tools, but no highlighter--one tool we missed most.
While past versions of Corel have had trouble maintaining multiple open documents, this version uses the Ctrl-Tab hot-key combination to pull up a list of active files, in addition to showing open documents on the taskbar.
Corel Write succeeded in the majority of its composition tasks, though pasting content from the Web and from other documents stretched Write's capabilities. Write stripped the images, formatting, and spacing between paragraphs from an article copied and pasted from the Web. Microsoft Word 2007, on the other hand, kept all three. The word processor also altered selected text pasted from a Word 2007 document, this time treating the content like a small image we had to expand from the corner to read.
Like Write, Corel's Calculate spreadsheet app includes most of the features you need for creating spreadsheets, plus a few more. Strong support for symbols, sums, charts, illustrations, and pivot tables are a plus, especially on documents created within Calculate.
However, like Write, Calculate suffers from some missing keyboard shortcuts and compatibility garbling. Calculate does not support Microsoft Word's macros, but you can make your own within the program.
We were disappointed by the experience of importing a Google Docs spreadsheet saved in the XLS file type. Calculate dramatically altered the row and column colors. The 12 tabbed spreadsheets in the single document were difficult to manage and navigate on the Netbook, given its shorter display bar that only comfortably held half the total tabs.
Corel's suite faltered again when creating a PDF from the same imported XLS document. A blank PDF (except for its title) and an error message that Calculate "could not start print job" followed. The PDF feature worked flawlessly after pasting a portion of the original document into a new Calculate doc.
Of the three applications, Corel's presentation creator, Show, is the more basic compared with its Microsoft 2007 analog. That said, if your only goal is to create a simple slideshow, flier, or presentation, Show will do a fine job. It handles layouts, the master slide, shapes, pictures, charts, colors, and animated transitions between slides.
What's more, it supports Microsoft PowerPoint's PPT and Microsoft PowerPoint 2007's PPTX file types, and saves as PowerPoint and PowerPoint Show files for both the 2003 and 2007 products. Corel Show's compatibility extends to inserting a wide variety of objects and documents, including those from Adobe, Corel, and Microsoft.
Since Show automatically saves your slides to the PPT format, importing and exporting presentations ought to work seamlessly. It didn't quite seem to. Text and images carried back and forth without a hitch, but the charts imported and exported as images, despite sharing an identical file type. The content remains intact. If you don't intend to edit many charts from imported documents, it shouldn't pose much inconvenience.
While there's enough substance in Corel Show to create presentations with some polish, the much slimmer application departs from PowerPoint 2007 by leaving out full-color templates, write protection, proofing, and video support, not to mention several artistic touches for the background, layout, and charts.
Emulating PowerPoint's chart interface would have left Corel Show's own chart creation process better off. Creating charts from the inserted template was confusing, and Show's help manual was thin on guidelines. Show also seems to have skipped over the chart's formatting menu when giving the application its new visual emphasis--Corel's chart formatting remains a linear text menu that's less meaningful than the thumbnail icons favored elsewhere in the application.
Service and support
Free support for Corel Home Office is available via e-mail, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as is the self-service online support forum. Telephone support is also available during business hours to several regions--6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT in North America; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. GMT in Europe; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. GMT+8 in Asia. In addition, a toll-free call for technical support costs only $15 per incident, a steal compared with Microsoft's roughly $50 e-mail or phone assistance for Office 2007.
Corel Home Office isn't the cheapest, easiest, or most comprehensive office suite on the market, but it holds its own as a light productivity suite and is the only one at the time of this review that's been optimized for Netbooks' munchkin size. As such, it strikes a good balance between feature set and size, and is fairly priced for a commercial application. Consumers looking for the familiarity of Microsoft Office 2007 without the hefty price tag will do well with Corel Home Office, as long as they don't foresee using the more advanced features for composition, spreadsheets, or presentations.
While we find Corel's $70 price tag quite reasonable, it's hard to beat the cost of Sun Microsystem's free OpenOffice.org suite. OpenOffice.org, however, is neither as flashy nor as small as Corel Home Office, and it may include more features (like separate database and drawing tools) than a Netbook user needs.
We're disappointed that Corel still suffers from compatibility and rendering issues, which we found frustrating and inconvenient, though not abortive to most projects. The rest of the feature pack performed well in our tests, making Corel Home Office a solid, if imperfect, productivity suite for basic and intermediate users. While we wouldn't recommend that Netbook owners who have Microsoft Office 2007 preinstalled replace it with Corel Home Office, it's definitely worth considering if you're looking for a brand-new installation.