GPSOLO June 2008
Along with Bush v. Gore, “boxers or briefs,” and “Westlaw or Lexis,” the choice of a word processing program seems to be one of the great debates of modern society. Until recently, the debate was solely between Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect; but now, OpenOffice Writer deserves equal consideration. All three programs are good and do the key components of word processing well, and each has advantages and disadvantages. As in the choice among Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota sedans, each product has its zealous advocates; the decision ultimately comes down to the preferences of the end user and budgetary constraints. Thus, in this article I will not tell you which program is “best.” Rather, I will attempt to highlight the key distinctions to help you choose the right fit for you.
While writing this article, I came across a comment on the website WordPerfect Universe ( www.wpuniverse.com) that perfectly explains the fundamental difference between Word and WordPerfect: WordPerfect assumes that you know what you want to say, so you will start by creating the text and worry about the format when you are done writing; Word assumes that you know what you want your document to look like, so you start with the format and then write the text. Writer is similar to Word in this respect, but easier to use.
Because one of the key considerations for most solos and small firm practitioners is price, it seems appropriate to lead off the discussion with OpenOffice Writer. This is an open source program that can be downloaded—for free—at www.openoffice.org. Although you may be tempted to be skeptical about the capabilities of a free word-processing program, Writer merits a close examination. The program has the look and feel of, and compatibility with, Word. It is better than Word in many aspects, including ease of use, but Word still excels in others. Thus, it is important to do your homework to determine if it is the right match for you. For a comprehensive review of Writer versus Word 2007, see www.linux.com/feature/118986.
Microsoft Word is the most prevalent word processor, and that alone makes it the default choice for many. It will often be easier to find proficient staff if you use Word because so many potential employees are familiar with it. On the other hand, Word has, by far, the steepest learning curve of the three programs. To become truly proficient in its use, professional training is essential. Thus, if you are not familiar with Word and do not employ a secretary, you need to factor into your decision tree the cost and time of training. The combined cost of the purchasing and training makes Word the most expensive of the three choices.
The prevalence of Word in the computer world makes it an important option if much of your work involves collaboration on documents with a client or co-counsel. Although WordPerfect is adept at working with Word documents and saving documents as Word documents, the numerous coding changes involved when saving between Word and WordPerfect on successive versions of documents creates so many formatting problems that WordPerfect is impractical in such situations. If you are lucky, you will only end up with formatting problems; if your luck runs out, you could encounter serious file corruption issues.
Word, with its use of “styles,” is excellent at standardizing the look of a document. If your documents need to follow a consistent format, Word is a better choice than WordPerfect. Writer’s “styles” are actually easier to use; however, because many of the types of documents that require standardization will also employ a lot of cross-references, Word is the better choice—Writer’s cross-reference feature is not up to par.
Corel WordPerfect is the most full-featured of all three programs. It is far easier to use than Word and does not require specialized training. The reason for this is threefold: First, with WordPerfect, what you see is what you get. This makes laying out your document much easier. Second, WordPerfect’s reveal codes feature ensures that you can easily find the code that is causing your document to have the incorrect look. Finally, WordPerfect is simply more intuitive. In its latest versions, WordPerfect addresses the problem of hiring staff who are familiar with Word but not WordPerfect: It allows users to select an option that makes the program interface look like Word, so when the user selects the command for a Word feature, the WordPerfect version of that feature is selected. WordPerfect is also very good about making sure that it is compatible with previous versions, as well as versions of other programs (especially Word). (Microsoft has an annoying habit of making documents created in newer versions of Word incompatible with older versions of its own program—so that the user is forced to upgrade on a regular basis.) From a cost standpoint, WordPerfect is a better value than Word, especially when the cost of training is considered.
If word-processing programs were cars, you would get to your destination no matter which of the three programs you select. The cost of your ride and whether you want to arrive in style or comfort should govern your choice. Remember that no matter who gives you advice, including me, “your mileage may vary.”
Andrew C. Simpson owns his own litigation firm, Andrew C. Simpson, PC, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He is a frequent contributor to GPSolo and regularly writes and speaks on technology topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.