PRODUCT REVIEW

WordPerfect Office X4

Reviewed by Michael A. Koenecke

As everyone knows, it has been many years since Corel’s WordPerfect enjoyed the dominant market position that made it the de facto standard legal and business word processor in the days of DOS. The effective strategy of bundling Microsoft Office with computers sold running the Windows operating system, together with flawed early implementations of WordPerfect for Windows, has established Microsoft Word as the dominant consumer and business word processor for years. WordPerfect managed to retain substantial influence in the legal and government markets, however. Devotees saw it hit its stride with WordPerfect for Windows 6.1, and the program has continued with improvements in features and performance since then (versions 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and X3, to be exact). So let’s look at what the most recent version, WordPerfect X4, has to offer the modern law office.

WordPerfect vs. Word

The first issue has to do with file formats and compatibility. The good news here is no news: The WordPerfect file format has remained unchanged since version 6, meaning you will only need to do conversions if you happen to have 20-year-old data files stored away somewhere, which in any event can be converted seamlessly to the modern format. This is very different from the Microsoft Word experience. The Word file specification has been changed multiple times, most recently with the current version of Word 2007, which introduced the XML-based DOCX file format.

There is a reason why the WordPerfect file specification has been able to remain stable: It remains “stream” based. Much like an HTML file, formatting codes are applied either from a point carrying forward or with defined beginning and end points and can be viewed (and edited) using the unparalleled “Reveal Codes” feature. New and enhanced features to the program can be easily inserted into the existing file structure. The Word file format, on the other hand, treats each document as a binary data store consisting of defined units: letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, sections. Pointers are set to formatting information in the file header to define the document structure and appearance. In simpler terms, the longer a Word document gets, the greater the possibility of corruption, performance slowdowns, or formatting confusion. If the formatting gets too inconsistent and hard to fix, frequently one has to save to a simple text file in order to start all over. Not so with a WordPerfect file, where one has the option of looking at and removing any troublesome codes. In any event, WordPerfect X4 keeps the traditional WordPerfect advantage.

Also unlike Microsoft Word (whose new interface, by all accounts, people either really hate or really love), WordPerfect’s look and feel have remained remarkably consistent through several versions. The only changes dating back to version 9 relate to various dialog and input boxes, which have on occasion been rearranged (with varying degrees of usefulness). The overall program operation is stable and familiar. Like the file format issue, for a law office this is a good thing: No significant retraining is needed.

WordPerfect’s traditionally superior document assembly and automation features are just as reliable in X4: Macros convert to PerfectScript 14 without a hitch, and no changes have been made to the merge programming language. This has not been a given with prior versions, and you should still check the “Use WordPerfect 9 Text Selection” option in Settings/Environment to keep it operating the way you are used to.

Improvements and New Features

A primary focus of Corel in recent WordPerfect versions has been extending its PDF file-handling capabilities. In prior versions WordPerfect could export PDFs, but for more sophisticated capabilities Adobe Acrobat Professional was still a useful accessory. The need for Acrobat has been greatly reduced or eliminated in X4. Word-Perfect can now:

  • Create password-protected PDF files (very useful for maintaining confidentiality)

  • Export PDF/A files (an international archival standard)

  • Import PDF files natively

Not only that, it can perform OCR (optical character recognition) on image-based (scanned) PDF files, converting the image into text. In an informal test, it converted a scanned and e-mailed copy of a contract with surprisingly few errors. In fact, it did a better job than Acrobat 9 Professional did. It also offers the option to preview the PDF file you just created (view it immediately within Acrobat Reader), which formerly required printing through Acrobat Standard or Professional. It is a small but undeniably useful thing. The end result of the X4 improvements is that most lawyers will not need to buy Acrobat at all. It does a substantially better job creating PDF files in general. In X3, PDFs created with Acrobat were often smaller and better formatted than those created by WordPerfect natively. There is no noticeable difference using X4 to create PDFs.

Another improvement to WordPerfect X4 is the Redaction feature, which allows one to black out portions of text and export the result to a WordPerfect, Word, or PDF document. Redacting text within a document via automation is lot more complicated than it would initially seem: It requires figuring out exactly how much black space needs to be inserted into the document to maintain its overall formatting and appearance, while removing (instead of simply disguising) the underlying text. It is a helpful feature to maintain confidentiality and a nice addition to the program. It works well and keeps pace with Microsoft Word, which added that ability via a plug-in for Word 2003.

Regarding performance, for decades software designers have been cobbling features onto their existing codebases, resulting in applications becoming consistently larger, more bloated, slower, and consuming more resources. Often this process is effectively hidden by the increases in processing speed and memory brought by each new generation of computers, but Corel appears to be going in the opposite direction: WordPerfect X4, on the same hardware, appears to start up quicker and have snappier response in general than X3, or even the two versions before that. Because the software has been running on the same computer and operating system throughout, that may indicate that some code optimization has been done.

WordPerfect X4 also ships with a completely new set of clip art, which will have little or no impact on a law practice, though it can come in handy for personal use. The clip art is updated but essentially similar to the old collection. One annoyance is that the Scrapbook dialog box does not keep its size settings, meaning one must resize it every time to work on a large (modern) monitor.

Other Programs and Extras

Two new applications are included with the office suite: WordPerfect Lightning and Corel Visual Intelligence. Lightning is an interesting concept: It is intended to be a nexus for information transfer and works as an efficient document viewer and notepad. It has connections to e-mail, contacts, and calendaring, so Corel apparently envisions Lightning as being an Outlook-like idea center, from which one can create documents in WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations. But the contacts, e-mail, and calendaring are only provided in the form of a Corel online service. Attorneys in particular are unlikely to trust their confidential data to someone else’s server, so Lightning is hobbled right out of the gate. It has some promise, and some find it quite helpful, but without local data it is a non-starter for a lawyer. Corel Visual Intelligence looks to be a tool like Presentations (or PowerPoint), which might be helpful to litigators preparing trial exhibits but would be of limited use in an office practice.

WordPerfect Office X4 ships with Quattro Pro X4 and Presentations X4 as well. The latter two programs continue to be competent, though unexceptional, alternatives to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, respectively. The only enhancements relate to exporting their files as PDFs, which does work more seamlessly than it did under X3. However, PDFs cannot be imported (though I am not sure how useful that would be anyway), and in all other respects they are essentially the same programs they were ten years ago. Good and useful programs to be sure, but (unlike WordPerfect) they offer no particularly special features. If you use the Paradox database program, it is still available, but you will need the Professional version of the office suite.

Some Drawbacks

There is a negative side. First, some may find Corel’s reworking of the “Publish to PDF” dialog box to have been a mistake: In X3 and prior versions, it behaved similarly to the Print dialog, where one could choose various options before producing the file, but in X4 these options only appear if you click the “Settings” button. The biggest problem is when publishing only a single page to PDF. Unlike the Print dialog, the setting does not reset but stays on “current page,” meaning one must be careful not to wind up archiving only a small portion of a large document accidentally. Also, there are some PDF files that Acrobat can handle easily, yet WordPerfect refuses to open, saying the file is “protected” or “corrupted.”

Regarding importing and conversion: Although one can import PDFs, the formatting is often so inconsistent that the best course of action is to save the file as text, then re-open and apply formatting to the fresh copy. Similarly, although Corel continues to tweak Word-Perfect’s importing and exporting of files in Microsoft Word format, the same procedure is frequently the best approach for anything other than very simple documents—and do not even think about bringing in complex outline formatting and cross-references correctly. According to Corel, X4 (unlike X3) can read not only the Microsoft Word 2007 DOCX file format, but also the OpenOffice ODF format. However, it cannot save to those formats, so that functionality is of limited use. Even die-hard WordPerfect partisans still find that purchasing a copy of Word (Word 2003 or even 2000 works just fine) is necessary for those clients who insist on sending DOC files back and forth electronically with review comments. In all other cases, it is preferable to send PDF files because the formatting and pagination will be retained properly. So WordPerfect X4’s import functions are handy, but the essential file structures are so different that the Holy Grail of seamless conversion will probably never be found.

Another negative for WordPerfect Office as compared with Microsoft Office is the continued absence of an integrated application to handle contacts, tasks, calendaring, and e-mail because Corel abandoned its efforts to perfect its Outlook alternative called “CorelCentral” several versions ago. There are plenty of other options available, and many attorneys will be using programs such as Time Matters, AbacusLaw, or PCLaw anyway (this reviewer actually still uses the ancient InfoCentral 7).

Conclusion

In summary, WordPerfect Office X4 has a few handy enhancements and tweaks, performs well, and has no substantial negatives as compared with earlier versions. It is a recommended upgrade if you are running Office X3 or an earlier version. If you are just starting out and considering alternatives, try it. It can be had very inexpensively ($299.99 new, $159.99 for an upgrade) and remains better suited for serious document production than Word.

For more information on pricing and feature options, see www.corel.com.

Michael A. Koenecke is an attorney in the Dallas, Texas, area who has a WordPerfect macros site called Mike’s Macros ( www.macros.koenecke.us). He may be reached at .

Copyright 2009

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