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WordPerfect 3.0a Review

A Review by Brad Mohr

Note: This review originally appeared in the August 1994 issue of the Southern Maine Apple Users Group (SMAUG) Newsletter. This is ancient history in computer terms. Before being discontinued, WordPerfect was shuffled around from WordPerfect Corporation to Novell and finally to Corel. In September, 1999, Corel made WordPerfect 3.5 available for download for free.

Let me start right out by letting you know about my Word Processor bias: I don’t like Word. Maybe that’s not strong enough to convey my real feelings, but so be it. Microsoft Word, the unquestioned master of Macintosh Word Processors drives me crazy. It’s just too big, too slow, and too difficult to use.

Unfortunately, for some tasks, Macintosh users have virtually no choice but to use Word. MacWrite Pro, with its elegant interface, typical of Claris programs, simply lacks too many high-end features to be a real contender (and it’s no speed-demon either). FullWrite Pro, all but dead in the past few years, has only recently been brought back to life. It’s too early to tell where its new owners will take it. Nisus, a champion at handling multi-lingual documents and known for its powerful macros, is an odd mix of the powerful and the weak. WriteNow is solidly entrenched at the low-end. And earlier versions of WordPerfect looked and acted like, well, poorly though-out ports of a DOS program. What’s a Word-hater to do?

It is against this backdrop that I recently took a fresh look at the latest incarnation of WordPerfect for the Macintosh, version 3.0a. My evaluation was performed on a Power Macintosh 7100/66 using the PowerPC-native version of the program. Note that WordPerfect is the first word processor to run native on the Power Mac. Both 680x0 and PowerPC versions are included in the same package; a smart installer program installs the appropriate version from a common set of distribution disks. (Unfortunately, the installer isn’t as smart as it should be; although it can install either version, it cannot install a “fat binary” that supports both types of Macs.)

I was immediately impressed by the flexibility and simplicity of WordPerfect’s interface. As in most word processors, each document window is topped by a text ruler for setting tabs and margins. But WordPerfect goes a step further with eight specialized ruler bars. In addition to a “tabs & margins” ruler, there are ruler bars for font selection and character formatting, styles, layout, table editing, list editing, print-merge, and PowerTalk mail. Quite a bit of window real estate can be lost to the ruler bars if all eight are enabled (which could be a significant problem on Macs with small screens). Fortunately, turning ruler bars on and off is just a mouse-click away, making it easy to tailor the selection of rulers to the task at hand. Most of the time I spent evaluating WordPerfect, just three of the ruler bars were enabled: the standard ruler, the layout ruler, and the font ruler. I enabled other rulers only as needed.

For the most part, I found the rulers to be well designed and easy to master. WordPerfect did not take the Microsoft route and try to design icon buttons for each and every command included on the ruler bars. Instead, they used a more balanced approach. Commands that are difficult to represent as icons are instead written out. In fact, most of the Merge, List, and Styles rulers are text buttons.

In addition to the ruler bars, WordPerfect has a separate configurable button bar that can be docked to the top, bottom, or side of the screen (outside of all document windows). The button bar is fully configurable, and four pre-configured bars are included for normal document editing, graphics editing, equation edition, and for access to other programs with which WordPerfect can communicate (such as DeltaGraph Pro). Creating a new button bar is simple. Once the process has been started by choosing “New…” from a menu on the bar itself, an empty bar is created and a dialog box containing all possible buttons is presented. Adding a button is as easy as dragging it from the dialog box to the button bar. In addition to buttons for normal commands and formatting features, it’s possible to add buttons that apply a specific style or run a macro.

User-defined button bars can be stored either in a “library,” a settings file of sorts, or in the current document itself. When stored in a library, the bar is available at all times; when stored within the document, the bar is available only when the document is being edited. More important, the bar will then be available to anyone who edits the document, not just the original creator. This flexibility also applied to styles and macros, making it very easy to use the same styles, macros, and button bars across all documents for a single user or within a single document no matter who edits the file.

In addition to the ruler bars and button bars, WordPerfect includes a status bar at the bottom of the screen. The status bar will be instantly familiar to users of Excel and those who have spent a significant amount of time on Windows systems. As with the button bars, the status bar is configurable and can display the current page and line number, the date and time, caps lock and number lock indicators, a battery charge indicator for PowerBooks, and a context-sensitive help message.

WordPerfect is as feature-packed as any Mac word processor. In addition to supporting “expected” features such as styles, multiple columns, page numbering, and footnotes, it includes a passle of others, including outlining, table-of-contents and index generation, print merge, cross-references, table-of-authorities generation, redlining, watermarks, and macros. I only scratched the surface of most of these features in my evaluation, but each appears to be easy to use and powerful.

WordPerfect has been quick to support new Apple technologies such as WorldScript, PowerTalk, and AppleScript. With PowerTalk installed (PowerTalk is included in System 7 Pro), WordPerfect adds a “mailer” ruler bar to each document window, making it simple to mail a document from within WordPerfect or read incoming mail in WordPerfect rather than a mail program. AppleScript support, while better than others, is still weak, however. WordPerfect does not support AppleScript recording of a series of actions, nor does it fully support Apple’s Apple Event Object Model for scriptability. As a result, some script commands are not available and others don’t work quite as expected. For many complex actions, the best bet is to create a macro in WordPerfect’s own macro language and run that macro from AppleScript using the “Do Script” command. Better AppleScript support, as well as support for new features in Apple’s upcoming System 7.5 are due in WordPerfect version 3.5 later this year.

A spelling checker, grammar checker, equation editor, and graphics editor are all well integrated into the WordPerfect application. The spelling checker works well, although its suggestions for mis-spelled words occasionally leave something to be desired. Text that has been language-marked using the “Set Language” feature is automatically spell-checked using the appropriate foreign-language dictionary, if present. The grammar checker (Grammatik Mac) is quite nice as grammar checkers go, but I generally find grammar checkers to be more trouble than they’re worth. Equation editing is well implemented and similar to the Word equation editor. As with Word, equations are edited in a separate window, rather than in place. This approach does have its advantages, but I’d rather see in-place editing of equations.

WordPerfect’s graphics handling deserves special mention. Unlike the stripped-down graphics editors in some word processors, WordPerfect sports a reasonably full-featured graphics editor. In addition to simple circle, rectangle, and line tools, WordPerfect’s editor sports bezier curves. Once a graphic has been created, WordPerfect makes it easy to place that graphic anywhere on the page and wrap text around it. In addition, adding a caption to a graphic is trivial. Once a caption has been added, it will stay with the graphic wherever it is moved.

So what’s wrong with WordPerfect 3.0? Well, the most annoying thing I found relates to its origins as a code-based word processor. In the days before WYSIWYG, most word processors embedded codes in the text to specify formatting (this is true for WYSIWYG, too, but in that case you generally never see the codes). For example, an embedded “center-justify” code specified that all text following that code (until a “left-justify” or something similar) should be centered. If there is no “left-justify” code, all text through the end of the document is centered. In WordPerfect, several common formatting features still work this way, unlike other Macintosh word processors. The implication of this is that if you attempt to center the first line of your document by clicking in that line and selecting “center,” the entire document is centered. Specifically, any text between the insertion point and the next justification code is centered. While this isn’t exactly wrong, it’s not what most Mac users would expect. It took me quite a while to understand why this was happening, and even longer to get used to it. In fact, I never did get used to it. To its credit, WordPerfect does allow you to show all of the codes embedded in a document.

Another problem is WordPerfect’s speed. Running native on a Power Mac, I expected never before seen levels of performance. What I got was a modest speed boost over running Word in emulated mode. Some tasks were admirably fast, such as spell-checking, opening and saving documents, word/paragraph counting, and global find-and-replace. On the other hand, reformatting text seemed sluggish, as did automatic re-wrapping of text when adding to the middle of a paragraph. On the whole, WriteNow on a IIci feels snappier than WordPerfect on a Power Mac. Don’t get me wrong, WordPerfect isn’t slow, it just isn’t up to my expectations of a native Power Mac program. Note that many reports have pointed toward Adobe Type Manager as a speed-killer on the Power Macintosh. I did find this to be this case, even when using non-postscript fonts.

WordPerfect’s RAM and Hard Drive requirements may be another problem spot for some. Compared to other full-featured word processors, WordPerfect’s 10MB full installation on disk is not unreasonable, but it’s certainly not petite, either. As for RAM, WordPerfect will run best on machines with at least 4 MB on a 680x0-series Macintosh or 8 MB on a Power Mac, although even more will be required to run other programs at the same time. Again, these numbers are not unreasonable for a program with as broad a feature set as WordPerfect.

So where does all this leave me, a card-carrying Word-hater and Power Mac owner? Well, for the time being, I’ll wait. My favorite in the interface department, MacWrite Pro is due to be released in a Power Macintosh native version sometime this summer. If the speed of the PowerPC chip can bring it back up to MacWrite II speeds, I’ll probably continue using MacWrite Pro as my primary word processor. Microsoft Word 6.0 is due soon as well. Maybe, just maybe, MS will dazzle me enough to switch. On the other hand, if I need truly high-end features (or if MacWrite Pro stays slow), I’ll definitely opt for WordPerfect. After several iterations, WordPerfect is finally a “real” Macintosh application with the power and features to give Word a run for the money. Even at its full retail price, WordPerfect is a tough program to beat on its combination of features and ease-of-use.

WordPerfect 3.0a for Mac
Rating: 4 1/2 SMAUG’s out of 5.