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Lost in Cyberspace

WordPerfect Office 2000 makes case for getting rid of specialized HTML editors

This article was originally published on July 6, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Web editors have been a mixed lot. None have really succeeded at giving us a workable WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") environment for creating Web pages as easily as we can write a letter to Aunt Madge on the word processor; that allow us to skip learning hypertext markup language as surely as we skipped learning Word or WordPerfect coding tags.

There have been two different approaches to building the perfect HTML editors:

1. Fully graphical WYSIWYGs, where what you create looks like a Web page and you don't need to know the HTML language, although you can still edit the raw code if you like. These include Microsoft's FrontPage, Netscape Composer and Adobe PageMill.

2. Text-based editors where you edit in raw HTML, tags and all, and then use a viewer to see what you've created. These would include HotDog and HomeSite. (Then there are the HTML "guides" featured on online sites such as GeoCities and HomeStead, which are completely WYSIWYG with no option of getting into the raw code to fine-tune a page.)

WordPerfect Office 2000The WYSIWYG editors – FrontPage, Composer, PageMill – each have their own peculiarities which make them less than ideal. Either they add proprietary tags which can add unwanted spaces in tables or they make you handle images a certain way. They also don't like frames or in some other manner limit what you're trying to do, forcing you to go to a text-based editor and learn HTML anyway if you want to create anything more than the simplest of pages.

The limitations of text-based editors are clear – while working, you're staring at a page of code, not the end result of what you'll see. That's programming, not writing. We've not had to enter printer codes by hand in our word processors for 15 years, why should we have to do something similar in order to create a Web page?

Interestingly, it's the old-line word processing programs that are now among the most useful HTML editors, especially for the kinds of simple Web pages most of us create on our personal sites. Which really shouldn't be a surprise – after all, WordPerfect and Microsoft Word have years of experience at converting boldface, italics, indents and graphics into a variety of formats and getting them to look great on hundreds of different printers. Adding HTML to the mix ought to be easier for them than would be creating something new from the ground up (as with the programs mentioned above).

The newly released WordPerfect Office 2000 for Windows is light-years ahead of the previous version, WordPerfect Office Suite 8, in terms of incorporating HTML capabilities into its existing desktop applications. It's also significantly better than Microsoft Office 97 at exporting simple HTML files.

Mostly what it gives you is a familiar, comfortable environment that lets you concentrate on the content, what you're creating, not the process.

The heart of Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 is, of course, WordPerfect, the veteran word-processing program that's been around since the heyday of DOS. Now in version 9, WordPerfect includes both its own built-in HTML editor (WYSIWYG), a completely standard ASCII editor (so you can edit HTML tags by hand if you like), and a stand-alone Web publishing program called Trellix, which is like GeoCities' or Homestead's WYSIWYG-only editors.

The combination should serve to meet just about anyone's needs in creating Web files, from simple personal pages for the HTML-illiterate to more complex pages with frames, tables and other elements.

You don't need to know HTML to build Web pages with the WYSIWYG editor(which you launch by selecting the "Internet Publisher" option under "File" on the pull-down menu). And you can change the basic properties of a Web document – such as text size, background color, background image, etc. – from the toolbar, making WordPerfect just as easy (and nearly as powerful) as the dedicated HTML programs.

The only real bug here is once you've converted a regular document to HTML, there doesn't seem to be a way to convert it back. One quick way around this shortcoming, though, is to simply save your document before opening the HTML editor; then, if you don't like the result or screw something up, you can re-open the saved file.

To use the text editor, you simply create a file, save it as plain ASCII, and then edit away, only making sure to use HTML tags to indicate bold, italic, headlines, etc. It's no different than using WordPad or any other plain-text editor, as long as you remember to save in ASCII format.

And you also have the option of converting your existing files to Web pages, or even building new Web pages, by simply building them as you would a normal WordPerfect document and then saving them as HTML (again, with the Internet Publisher option) when you're done. With a little practice, you can learn which word-processing features work best and which to stay away from. For instance, I try to avoid WordPerfect's text art option, as that doesn't convert to HTML very well.

That's three pretty solid options for creating Web content from one program. And, frankly, the WYSIWYG interface and appearance in WordPerfect 9 is a lot easier to figure out and use than the one on Word97.

In addition to WordPerfect 9, Office 2000 also includes the Paradox 9 database, Quattro Pro 9 spreadsheet, Presentations 9 multimedia package and CorelCENTRAL 9 personal organizer.

Paradox, Quattro Pro and Presentations all have HTML export options – as with WordPerfect, all seem usable enough, although advanced users seeking a more polished result may need to engage in a little hand tweaking of the HTML.

Presentations 9 has the most problems converting to Web documents. A digital slide-show program similar to Microsoft's PowerPoint, Presentations outputs to HTML not in text, but in image files – and any text in either the GIF or JPG format comes out horribly pixelated,or displayed so large as to make the image unattractive by making the individual square pixels visible to the naked eye.

You can also save Presentations 9 files to a PDF file (which can be read by Adobe Acrobat Reader browser plugin), but the results were even worse than the other images – text was repeated on almost every page, resulting in a horribly unprofessional result.

But that's a small complaint given the overall quality and breadth of options available with WordPerfect Office 2000. It more than gives Microsoft's Office suite a run for its money – it offers enough power and versatility to make HTML editors unnecessary for most of us.