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Ease Is the Word for WordPerfect, Word 6.0

LAWRENCE J. MAGID <i> is a Silicon Valley-based computer writer</i>

When I started writing this column about 10 years ago, the most popular word processing programs for the IBM PC fit on a 360K floppy disk and ran on desktop computers that weighed about 30 pounds.

Today’s state-of-the-art programs can occupy 50 or 100 times as much storage space and come in boxes that weigh more than many of the notebook PCs that run them. Is this progress?

Well, that depends on what you expect from a word processing program. But whatever it is, chances are the newest Windows versions of WordPerfect and Microsoft Word have it.

The new WordPerfect is as much an environment for living as it is a word processing program, offering a full-blown spreadsheet, superb file management and program launching and switching, in addition to powerful writing tools.

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Focusing on writing, Microsoft Word offers everything from 100 levels of undo--that’s right, undo your 73rd change in a document--to automatic correcting as you type. You can sort of live in it as well thanks to Object Linking and Embedding 2.0. More on this later.

Both WordPerfect and Microsoft Word carry version number 6.0, offer a staggering array of features and will do just fine for even--or perhaps mainly--the heaviest word processing. But both are huge--WordPerfect is downright Gargantuan--and those with more modest needs should consider something simpler.

Building on its best-selling Word for Windows 2.0, Microsoft concentrated its upgrade efforts on making the product easier to use. With Word’s AutoCorrect feature, for example, type the letters “comtuers” and Word automatically makes it “computers.” You can even create your own abbreviations; tell Word to spell out “International Business Machines” every time you type “IBM,” for instance.

Word also watches for common mistakes such as failing to capitalize the first word in a sentence, or accidentally starting a word with two capitals. Of course, you can turn this off if it gets in your way, which it sometimes will. I’m no E.E. Cummings, but there are times when I want to break the rules.

Similarly, Word’s AutoFormat feature helps you dress up homely texts by looking for patterns in your document and, depending on your wishes and the style you’ve selected, adds bullets, subheads and other elements.

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Both Word and WordPerfect have added custom tool bars--icons you click on to issue commands. Both products let you add any command or macro to a tool bar, but WordPerfect lets you easily add other programs too. Just drag a program or file from Windows’ File Manager to a WordPerfect tool bar and launch it or switch to it without leaving WordPerfect. You can do this with Word, but it requires writing a macro.

Both Word and WordPerfect have macro languages that let sophisticated users automate tasks, and, as always, they’ll also write the macro for you by transcribing your keystrokes. Both programs allow users to customize menus with their favorite commands.

Both programs have drawing tools that let you dress up your document by adding boxes, circles or even sophisticated graphics. I find WordPerfect’s drawing tools a little easier to use, but Word’s are better integrated. With Word, you can see your words on the screen as you create your drawing. WordPerfect hides your document while you draw.

Word is one of the first programs to offer the newest version of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE, pronounced “olay”), which allows in-place editing of objects or elements from other programs. You can paste a spreadsheet from Microsoft Excel directly into a word document and, by clicking on that document, bring up Excel in the background. Thus, you have all the functionality of Excel with your Word document on screen. OLE 2.0 works with non-Microsoft products as well and will be available in a future version of WordPerfect for Windows.

Meanwhile, WordPerfect’s built-in spreadsheet includes advanced formulas suitable for fairly sophisticated financial modeling. Both programs let you put in tables, which are handy for figures and word charts, and Word’s allows simple math.

WordPerfect is better than ever at file management. You can easily access commands such as move, copy, delete and rename, plus it has advanced search capabilities. You could, for example, find all files that mention IBM and not Apple. Word’s file manager is harder to use and less robust.

Both programs make adequate desktop publishers and even let you wrap text around irregularly shaped graphics. Both bristle with templates and “style sheets.” Word comes with several “wizards” that automate the creation of newsletters and the like. WordPerfect uses “coaches.”

Choosing between the two programs is tough. If you’re already a WordPerfect for Windows or Word for Windows user, I see no reason to switch. Both programs are good, and it will be a lot easier to upgrade from your current product than learn a new interface.

If you’re upgrading from WordPerfect for DOS, you may find WordPerfect for Windows slightly more to your liking. When you make the transition from DOS to Windows, you should take a fresh look at all your software.

Word’s use of OLE 2.0 will be handy for people who like to integrate spreadsheets and draw elements into their word processing documents, but WordPerfect’s built-in spreadsheet will be adequate for most casual users. I started using Word as soon as I migrated from DOS to Windows, and I see no reason to change. Most WordPerfect users will probably feel the same way.

WordPerfect takes up a recommended 32 megabytes of disk space and 6 megabytes of RAM. Microsoft recommends 18 MB of disk space and 4 MB of RAM for a “typical” installation of Word 6.0.

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Many users, especially those whose needs are more modest, ought to consider something smaller and cheaper. Microsoft Works for Windows and ClarisWorks are integrated programs with excellent basic word processors. Q & A Write, from Symantec, is another good choice.

And though it won’t have a new version for a while, Ami Pro by Lotus Development Corp. is an elegant writing tool that pioneered many of the features in the new Word and WordPerfect versions.

WordPerfect 6.0, available now, has a suggested price of $495, but upgraders from any high-end word processor can get it for far less. Word 6.0, due out in November, will also list for $495, also with huge discounts for upgraders.


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