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WordPerfect e-mail takes on Outlook

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 25, 2001
(Issue 1921, Online Travel and Entertainment)

Over the last few years, choosing an e-mail program has come down to a choice between convenience and security.

With more and more idiots out there writing viruses, the rest of us have to balance the power of a full-fledged integrated suite like Microsoft Office against the vulnerability of such a package to viruses.

By having the Outlook e-mail client tied so closely to its word processing program (Microsoft Word), Microsoft has offered an incredibly powerful way of using e-mail to communicate. And Outlook is much more than an e-mail client, of course – it has a built-in calendar, a project organizer, and a very advanced address book. By supporting HTML documents, Outlook has also given e-mail a facelift – rather than plain ASCII text, more and more folks are now used to getting e-mail with colored fonts and backgrounds and fancy graphics.

All that power and convenience carries a price, though – since Outlook is a fully integrated part of Microsoft Office, that means it can access your hard drive through Microsoft's Visual Basic (the software used by Word and other Office modules to automate tasks).

A Visual Basic virus like the much-publicized Melissa would arrive attached to an e-mail. If you were using Outlook and double-clicked on the attachment (it was usually touted as being some graphic), it could then use Visual Basic to make multiple copies of itself and then read your address book and send those copies to everyone in there – all without your knowledge or consent.

When Melissa appeared, many folks decided the convenience wasn't worth the risk. For if Melissa could do something as relatively harmless as use your computer to reproduce itself, someone with a more devious bent could use that same access to erase your hard drive or peruse your system for personal files – tax and financial records, perhaps.

And so the popularity of more basic or bare-bones e-mail clients rose. Folks gave up the ease of use in order to protect themselves. ASCII may be boring to look at, but at least it can't contain a virus.

But it doesn't necessarily have to be that stark of a choice – convenience and security don't have to be exclusive domains.

Microsoft's only major competitor in the office suite arena, Corel's WordPerfect, is now shipping its new Office 2002. Included in the new suite is a vastly upgraded version of CorelCentral, the personal information manager that plays the role of Outlook. For the first time, CorelCentral includes an e-mail client to go with the calendar, address book, day planner and memo pad. Best of all, it's included in the standard version of WordPerfect Office 2002, as well as the more expensive professional version.

If the interface of CorelCentral Mail isn't as slick as that of Outlook, it has most of the features a home user could want. (One of Outlook's strengths is its ability to set up shared planners, where an entire department or team can track what meetings are coming up, what deadlines loom, etc. – businesses love that option.) From the Tools pull-down menu in CorelCentral Mail, you can get to any of the other CorelCentral modules – card file, calendar, address book, memo pad.

Like Outlook, CorelCentral can be run in the background and left on for quick access. The CorelCentral day planner can even be set up to slide in and out of the margins of your monitor, just like the Windows taskbar. From the day planner, you can click on icons at the bottom to open any other CorelCentral module – probably the easiest way of checking e-mail yet.

Being the first version of Corel's e-mail client, it's a bit buggy. In two weeks' of use, I've already had it crash twice on me (far less than Word/Outlook crashes at work, however; if I get through an entire day without Word crashing at least twice, I consider it a victory.) It's support of plain ASCII text – a 35-year-old industry standard – is spotty, at least when pasting plain text into a new mail document. (It loses any spaces at the start of a new line, making every line flush left even if you put five spaces at the beginning of your paragraphs. Not tabs, mind you – regular ASCII spaces).

Also, there doesn't seem to be a way to set up CorelCentral Mail to automatically check for new messages whenever it is launched, as Eudora does. Nor does the F5 function key (the default Windows refresh key) work to automatically check for new e-mail, as Outlook does.

But it does allow multiple formats for sending text (ASCII or HTML, it supports both MIME and UUENCODE encryption, and it allows you to set up an industry-standard vcard (virtual business card), as well as a signature file.

While WordPerfect did begin incorporating some Visual Basic support into its last version of its office suite (in order to offer more compatibility with Microsoft Office templates that used VB scripts), WordPerfect probably won't be able to run a Melissa-style virus unless the virus has been specifically modified to work with WordPerfect – or so say the folks at Corel. But you still need to run a good virus protection program, no matter which e-mail client you choose.

Overall, though, CorelCentral Mail is easy to set up and use, and does a nice job of integrating your main address book with the e-mail program. It may not be for everyone, but it's a more than capable e-mail client.

To learn more about CorelCentral Mail, you can visit