Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0

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Corel WordPerfect Office 12.0

Bottom Line

Modest upgrade to a solid suite offers better (but not flawless) Microsoft Office compatibility.

Would you buy this?

If you can't beat Microsoft Office, mimic it - at a lower price. That's the philosophy behind Word-Perfect Office 12. This minor upgrade to Corel's venerable, capable suite adds tweaks aimed at keeping cost-conscious small businesses and home users, as well as long-time WordPerfect aficionados, productive in a Microsoft-centric world.

The Standard version comprises and Presentations 12. The database manager, Paradox, is available only in the Professional version. You do get 600 TrueType fonts and a VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) bolt-on for WordPerfect 12.

We tested a shipping version and found that, although the new features help, the best way to ensure that you'll always have full Microsoft Office compatibility when you need it is still to use Microsoft Office.

With two clicks, you can now switch the WordPerfect word processor, the Quattro Pro spreadsheet, and the Presentations tool into rough approximations of their Microsoft counterparts. Choose this option in WordPerfect, for instance, and the program not only adopts a Word-like menu structure, it also defaults to Word's file format.

The Corel suite lacks an alternative to Microsoft's Outlook e-mail and calendar programs; instead, it has features such as the ability to do mail merges using Outlook contacts.

The Microsoft-like menus do make it easier for Microsoft Office users to convert to Corel's Office. And in my tests, most files travelled back and forth between Offices without a hitch. Unfortunately, file importing worked less than perfectly: for example, Presentations jumbled elements on some complex PowerPoint slides, and Quattro Pro couldn't handle an Excel spreadsheet with elaborate formulas and macros.

As for version 12's other additions, the slick OfficeReady utility lets you preview the suite's templates, including 40 new ones for work and home tasks. However, the WordPerfect Wireless Office Suite - a set of tools for exchanging messages with SMS-enabled mobile phones - is misnamed, poorly documented, and haphazardly integrated with the rest of the product.

Like previous versions of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations, the software in the new suite already match most of the significant features of their Microsoft equivalents, and they offer some bonuses of their own. To create PDF documents in Microsoft Office, for example, you need a separate program such as Adobe's $299 Acrobat 6.0 Standard package; Corel's suite does it natively. Additionally, Microsoft Word still does not duplicate WordPerfect's Reveal Codes mode, which lets serious document tweakers massage page layouts by editing the underlying formatting instructions.

The $499 Standard edition of WordPerfect Office undercuts the $699 Microsoft Office Standard Edition 2003 suite list price by $200, and volume licensing agreements bring even deeper discounts. An academic version retails for $189.

Ultimately, Corel's suite is a better value than Microsoft's for some users, but not all. In its favour are its more-liberal licensing policies, which allow you to install a single copy on both a business PC and a laptop or home system, as long as it is used on only one machine at a time.

People on tight budgets should investigate OpenOffice.org, a free open-source download that feels even more like Microsoft Office in some respects. But if you need a powerful e-mail/personal information manager such as Outlook, or if you can't risk file-compatibility glitches, then Microsoft's pricier suite remains the best bet.

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