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Tuesday, 24 June 2008 08:50

Corel's new WordPerfect Office X4: PDF capabilities galore and "only" $99

So, Corel has launched its latest version of WordPerfect Office. What have they done to make it better than Office 2007, better than the free Open Office, and better than web apps like Google Docs? Turns out there’s some key new features which are very attractive - but are they enough to make you switch – or even take notice?

Corel, famous for its Corel Draw application, is also known as the owner of the WordPerfect Office suite.

Coming with the usual collection of wordprocessor, spreadsheet, database, presentation program and more, it still bears the name of the once all-powerful and once Microsoft conquering WordPerfect wordprocessor.

Although the office suite wars were long ago won by Microsoft, competitors have always remained on very low heat.

But competitors have started simmering again, and while they’ve an incredibly long way to go before the still red-hot boiling point sales of Microsoft Office, which still generate billions of dollars per year, Microsoft Office alternatives have never been more acceptable to users and have never been more widely available.

Obvious examples include web based alternatives such as Google Docs, Zoho, ThinkFree Office and the freely downloadable Open Office suite. Even the Apple Mac has Apple’s own AUD $99 iWork suite in competition with the several hundred dollar Microsoft Office for Mac.

Now coming back into the ring is Corel with its WordPerfect Office X4 Suite, which it bills as “the world's leading alternative to Microsoft Office”, with full Microsoft Office 2007 file format compatibility.

While I’m sure the Open Office people would have something to say about being ‘the world’s leading alternative’, Corel is pulling out all the stops in an effort to get the world’s attention as never before.

One of its major drawcards is being “the world’s first PDF office suite”. Corel bills this as offering a “full range of PDF capabilities, making it easy for users to import, edit and export PDF documents – including scanned PDFs – dramatically simplifying user workflows and reducing the need for third-party PDF software.”

While there are many features across all of the programs within the suite, having proper PDF compatibility built-in is an important advance that not only challenges Microsoft,  but Adobe and all other PDF software makers, too.

So, just what are those PDF capabilities, and what else does Corel WordPerfect Office X4 offer, besides a $99 price point (among others) from one exclusive Australian software vendor? Continued on page 2.

We’re yet to receive a review copy of the new Corel WordPerfect Office Suite X4, but it’s on the way so we can test the new feature claims for ourselves.

But in the meantime we have no reason to doubt the feature list, with new PDF capabilities of most initial interest.

These capabilities start with the ability to actually import PDF files, either through the conversion of electronically generated PDF files or scanned “image-based” PDF files into fully editable documents through the use of OCR (optical character recognition) technology.

Right up this gives anyone who has ever wanted to edit a PDF or more easily extract the text from within one the ability to do just that, and competes with those PDF converter programs while also offering a full wordprocessor in the background.

How well it converts the actual layout of PDF files is yet to be seen, but I look forward to finding out.

Of course, the ability to print or publish to PDF is within as well, but that’s hardly a unique feature these days.

What is more special is the ability to assign “password protection” to PDF files to “easily control who can view, print, or edit PDF documents”.

There’s a new “auto-preview” feature that lets you see the PDF document using a built-in PDF viewer, which means you don’t need a separate PDF viewer, but you’ll probably still want the latest free Adobe PDF viewer on your computer anyway.

Another interesting PDF feature is called “tagged PDF support”. This allows PDF documents to “flow smoothly on handheld devices and deliver accurate results on screen-reading devices”, while the ability to create archival ISO standard PDF/A file format is also included.

In terms of file format compatibility (beyond PDF), Corel boasts of Office 2007 compatibility for Word, Excel and Powerpoint, Microsoft OOXML compatibility and ODF document compatibility, for reading and writing files.

File format compatibility is also available for more than 60 other and older file types, which extends all the way back to Microsoft Word 1.0!

Other features include WordPerfect's “legendary reputation for superior formatting power and control by introducing new Web collaboration and storage services, a new document redaction tool, a Web-connected digital notebook and an innovative new business intelligence package.”

In more detail, the collaboration and storage service gives you 200MB of free online storage and backup, although this is dwarfed by other services offering gigabytes of space. There’s an online calendaring, list, bookmarks and contacts service, which lets you “build shared work spaces online and share important information with colleagues.

And there’s WordPerfect Lighting, a “web-connected digital notebook” letting you take notes and capture content, saving ideas in notes, storing information gathered from the web which can then be easily organisaed, and the ability to turn these notes into WordPerfect or Microsoft Word documents.

Jason Larock, Director of Product Management for WordPerfect Office explained: “With WordPerfect Office X4, we wanted to deliver an office suite that enables users to more effectively communicate their ideas and achieve their best results”.

Larock continued: "WordPerfect Office X4 builds upon the unique strengths of WordPerfect, adding more PDF capabilities, more Microsoft Office compatibility and new tools for collaboration, digital note taking and business intelligence. We believe that our latest release provides users with an office suite that responds to their real-world needs and gives them the power to do more with words, numbers, and ideas."

So, which version of WordPerfect Office Suite X4 retails for $99, and where can you buy it? There are several versions, and several places to buy it, but only place has the $99 deal. Continued on page 3!

There will be four different versions of WordPerfect Office Suite X4 available.

The cheapest version will exclusively sell at Officeworks (an Australian office supplies store) for AUD $99, “for a limited time”, and will contain the “Standard Edition”.

The Standard “upgrade” Edition includes WordPerfect, Quattro Pro (spreadsheet), Presentations, WordPerfect MAIL, Corel Connector online services, WordPerfect Lightning for digital note taking and Corel Visual Intelligence SE for data visualisation and business intelligence.

This is obviously an attempt by Corel to kickstart sales of the Standard Version of WordPerfect through the highly popular Officeworks chain, as the software is classed as either an “upgrade or crossgrade” – but no previous software or other versions are required on your computer to install it, you just buy it and install.

So if you are tempted by WordPerfect Office Suite X4, and want something with more grunt, compatibility and features than Open Office or Google Docs, and don’t want to pay Microsoft Office prices, this $99 version will be the one to go for.

The other versions of Corel WordPerfect Office X4 are the Standard edition at the normal price of AUD $329, the Home and Student edition which is for non-commercial, home and education use, and can be legally installed on up to 3 computers for AUD $249, and the “Office” version for commercial, office uses will retail for AUD $599.

These other versions are also available at Officeworks, Harvey Norman, Dick Smith Powerhouse and other software retailers.

So, will all of this make Corel WordPerfect Suite X4 a massive success all of a sudden? Well, that's clearly unlikely.

The market is dominated, after all, with Office 2007, but in an era of growing inflation in the cost of petrol, groceries, utility bills and more, just how happy will consumers truly be with paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for Office suites which can cost as much as buying the computer itself?

Although Office 2007 can be purchased relatively cheaply when bought as a "Small Business" version with a new computer from a vendor such as Dell, and purchased for home and student use, it's not as inexpensive as the $99 WordPerfect X4 version available from OfficeWorks, or the free alternatives that are Open Office or Google Docs.

But Corel must still be making sales and expecting to make even more. Paying programmers to upgrade the WordPerfect Suite wouldn't have been cheap, and Corel obviously knows about all the free alternatives.

Are the PDF features and Office 2007 file format compatibility in Corel's suite of interest? Or are you a dedicated Microsoft Office user that will never change? Or perhaps you're a user of Open Office/Google Docs and are quite happy? Let us know!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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