When we looked at Microsoft's Works Suite 2003 and found that the integrated Works program came appealingly close to the ideal even if Microsoft skewed the set toward the bloated, bells-and-whistles camp by replacing Works' word processor with Word 2002. This week, we can report that Corel uses a different strategy with WordPerfect Family Pack 4: If Corel found one bowl of porridge that was too cold and one that was too hot, it wouldn't bother to taste the temperate third bowl, but would simply dump the first in with the second.
The Family Grab Bag
Trampled by Microsoft Office in the business suite arena, Corel's WordPerfect word processor and Quattro Pro spreadsheet have lately been moving downmarket, preinstalled on value-priced PCs from HP, Gateway, Dell, and Sony. (Such systems formerly came with Works, but Corel's been offering ultra-low pricing and the Justice Department's been leaning on Microsoft to quit pushing PC vendors to buy Works or Office along with Windows.)
Family Pack 4 is a retail cousin of Corel's value bundle, without the personal finance management that many PC makers provide by adding Intuit's Quicken. For a fire-sale $69 (a $20 rebate coupon in the box makes it $49), you get the full versions of WordPerfect 10 and Quattro Pro 10, along with the Picture Publisher Digital Camera Edition image editor (still wearing its Micrografx label, though Corel acquired that company in October 2001).
School report writers can look up information in Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia, while greeting card- and label-makers can use the creative templates of Avery DesignPro. Finally, the suite supplies McAfee VirusScan antivirus and firewall and Dragon NaturallySpeaking Essentials speech recognition or dictation software, complete with a headset microphone for the latter. A Task Manager menu offers categories of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro document types and previews of the 100-odd supplied templates.
This makes WordPerfect Family Pack 4 even less smoothly integrated or more of a grab bag than Works Suite 2003. We grumbled that the latter's setup menu lets you pick which programs to install, then runs successive, discrete installation routines, but Corel's installs only the word processor and spreadsheet; you must insert CDs and install the other programs one at a time, ending up with over a dozen new desktop icons and Start-menu submenus. Similarly, while the printed manual is quite nice, it refers solely to WordPerfect and Quattro Pro; documentation for all the other programs is limited to Adobe Acrobat files.
It also leads to the swinging-between-extremes or mixing-bowls feeling we alluded to earlier: While Word 2002 apart Works Suite 2003 programs like Works 7.0, Money, and Encarta offer pretty much the same interface and level of complexity (moderate, or friendly yet not skimpy on features), Corel's pendulum swings from the near-limitless power and depth of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro to weak fare like Avery DesignPro and Britannica Ready Reference.
The latter two, in fact, are a couple of the most disappointing programs we've seen in some time. From the outside of the box, you'd think DesignPro was a friendly card-, banner-, and poster-creating toolkit for kids and families along the lines of Broderbund's Print Shop. Well, technically it is, but once you get past a single hand-holding, "start from scratch or use a template?" screen, it's mostly a collection of templates for Avery (forget about any other brand) labels, blank cards, and other print media.
Some of the designs are attractive enough, as is the tabbed interface for working on different pages or views such as the inside and outside of a folded brochure. But the Explorer-style template menu is as unintuitive as can be once you click on the "Greeting Cards and Note Cards" folder, you don't see choices like "Birthday" or "Anniversary," but like "Half-Fold Cards 3254 3273." (You get one, count it, Avery sample blank in the box.)
On the other hand, at least DesignPro does let you customize and print some handsome cards and labels. In terms of homework help, the Ready Reference encyclopedia isn't fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Microsoft's Encarta there are a few archival photos and 30-odd QuickTime video clips with audio narration, but nowhere near the variety of great-looking multimedia content and extensive, cross-referenced links of its rival.
Much worse, most of the so-called articles are more like captions often only a sentence or three, not counting the "Need more? Upgrade to the complete Encyclopedia Britannica" tag at the end of each. The American Revolution, for instance, gets 440 words. It's pathetic.
By contrast, while both McAfee VirusScan 6.02 and Dragon NaturallySpeaking Essentials 5 are one version behind their current incarnations, they're still useful even vital, in the case of McAfee's combined antivirus and firewall protection, if users don't already have such utilities installed (though version 7, which adds script-fighting code for arguably today's hottest class of nasties, would be preferable).
NaturallySpeaking takes some patience and training to manage fairly rudimentary dictation or voice-command control maybe a notch above Microsoft Office XP's, but below ScanSoft's current Dragon packages' but is at least fun to play with. And though its interface takes some getting used to, Picture Publisher 10 Digital Camera Edition combines basic crop/retouch/remove-redeye functions with some artistic filter effects and handy thumbnail-album management for digital image accumulators.
WordPerfect Alone Is Worth the Price, But ...
While Family Pack 4 doesn't have a personal finance manager to match Microsoft's Money, it has a far more powerful number-cruncher in Quattro Pro a fast, multipage-workbook match for Microsoft Excel, leagues above the simple, single-sheet Works spreadsheet. We're particularly keen on its charting capabilities, which range from nearly instant, select-data-and-click graphs that automatically choose the most appropriate chart type to artistic options that outdo most paint programs.
And when desktop-publishing push comes to ultra-precise-formatting shove, we'll take WordPerfect 10's six of one over Microsoft Word 2000's half dozen of the other: Still renowned for its DOS-vintage "Reveal Codes" option that shows precisely where precisely which formatting options take effect, the venerable word processor has managed to gain both raw power and remarkable accessibility, with aids like the immaculately organized Perfect Expert command menu that manage to appeal to intermediate as well as novice users.
Some prize features, like the pull-down box that suggests corrections if the cursor's on a misspelled word and thesaurus synonyms if it's on a correct one, hark back several WordPerfect versions; others, like the extreme convenience of real-time previews if you simply hover over formatting, font, or zoom-view choices before clicking to choose one, are relatively recent. All are addictive.
Unfortunately, the provided document and worksheet templates are an underwhelming lot: Besides being fewer in number than Microsoft Works Suite's, most of them apart from the expected, adequate resumes, letters, and loan-interest calculators are simpler and scantier. The only newsletter template, for instance, is just the start of a first page (two-column layout below a title box); many others are for home-inventory or to-do checklists meant to be printed out and filled in with pen or pencil, not the basis for your own electronic documents.
Overall, while it's an undeniable bargain, Family Pack 4 feels less like an appropriate home productivity kit than a handful of extras accompanying the big-business-suite refugees WordPerfect and Quattro Pro; it does a good job of keeping that duo from being too daunting, but remains more of a potluck supper than balanced family meal.
Adapted from WinPlanet.com.