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WordPerfect and the 'Net

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 30, 2004
(Issue 2231, Time to Hit the Books)

I'm writing this column in WordPerfect 12, the latest version of the venerable word processing pioneer. If second fiddle to the dominant Microsoft Word in the marketplace over the past decade, WordPerfect remains as good as or – depending on which features you prefer – better than Word.

On price, it blows Word away: WordPerfect Office is just $150 suggested retail for the upgrade, $300 for a new purchase. Microsoft Office is $400 for a full purchase, $240 for the upgrade. Shopping around can get you WordPerfect even cheaper.

And if you don't need the whole office suite, you can purchase the WordPerfect Family Pack for well under $100. (The office package includes the Quattro Pro spreadsheet and Corel Presentations, similar to and compatible with Microsoft PowerPoint.)

Changes for version 12

Let's face it: Programmers long ago got word processors maxed out on features. Once you could use your mouse to highlight text and then bold face or italicize it, and copy and paste blocks of text, the typewriter was doomed.

Since then, Word and other word processors have become bloatware – taking up more and more of your computer's hard drive and memory for more and more functions you hardly if ever use.

WordPerfect has spent the last three or four iterations tightening things down, not adding more unnecessary features. The file format of WordPerfect hasn't changed since version 6, which means WordPerfect is forward compatible as well as backward (meaning if you upgrade to WP12, your friends who only have WP9 can still open and read your files – try doing that between newer and older versions of Word).

But the biggest difference in WP12 is in the improvements in compatibility with Word – and WordPerfect 5. The new Workspace Manager lets you change the entire WordPerfect interface on the fly – from having Microsoft Word toolbars and pull-down menus to having the blue DOS screen of WordPerfect 5.1. Or if you're upgrading from a previous version of WordPerfect, you can go with the familiar interface from versions 10 and 11.

Advantages in the age of the 'Net

While using the full Microsoft Office platform offers an interoperability that is convenient, it comes at a steep price in loss of security. The Melissa virus was only the best-known of vulnerabilities that exploit Microsoft's Visual Basic scripting language that is built into Office. While VB lets you automate basic tasks in Word and the Outlook mail program, it also allows malicious hackers to take over your system.

While WordPerfect has supported Visual Basic macros for a couple versions now, it doesnt' include a mail program – meaning your vulnerability to Melissa-type viruses is lessened with WordPerfect, even if you still use Outlook Express. Want to lower your vulnerability even more? Use WordPerfect with an e-mail program other than Outlook.

Web basics

For those of us with our own Web sites, WordPerfect is a powerful tool. For your purchase price, you not only get a solid word processor, but you get powerful HTML, PDF and XML export filters as well. Anyone who's ever saved a Word document into HTML knows what a mess the source code is, with all kinds of proprietary 'MSO" tags that are not HTML-compliant.

WordPerfect's HTML filter is much, much cleaner – when I post my columns to my online archive here from WordPerfect, they need very little cleaning.

And just as in WordPerfect 11, you can publish directly to Adobe's PDF format, the de facto standard for searchable formatted documents online. With Word, you need to get a plugin before you can publish to PDF.

One significant loss in WordPerfect 12 (although it may have been in WP11 and I simply never noticed) is the loss of the 'Open As" feature which allowed you to view HTML documents in ASCII format, so that you could use WordPerfect as a text editor to edit your raw HTML code. WordPerfect now opens HTML documents in a browser-like WYSIWYG view, just like Word.

More goodies

In addition to the solid HTML filter and built-in PDF capability, WordPerfect 12's install discs also include hundreds of TrueType fonts, plus a modest collection of clip-art and stock photography. The clip art and photos won't get much use on most Web sites, but if you prefer to use PhotoShop to make your own navigation menus, you'll find the dozens upon dozens of different tyepfaces and variants to be a huge bonus. (Also nice is the PDF typeface chart included on the CD so you can look at the fonts before you install them.)

Installation easier

I was able to install WordPerfect 12 overtop of WP 11, and all of my preferences, custom templates and even history list under the File entry in the pull-down menu showed up when I first ran WP12. It was as seamless an upgrade as I've ever experienced.

If you're tired of having to constantly download new security patches from Microsoft to keep your system secure, or of having to re-do all your HTML after exporting from Word, WordPerfect 12 is definitely worth a look – and if you have broadband, there's a 30-day trial version of WordPerfect 12 available for download, although it's huge.