- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Finding free, full-featured word processors compatible with Microsoft's Word 2002 (part of the Office XP suite) may be more difficult now that Sun Microsystems has said it will charge individual users for copies of the next version of StarOffice. The program had previously been available gratis.
Still, there are alternatives to Microsoft Word out there. Both OpenOffice.org and abisource.com offer free word processors. For other programs, you'll just have to spend some money.
Second in sales volume to Microsoft Word, and a reputed favorite of the Clinton-era Department of Justice, is WordPerfect, from Canada's Corel Corp., a product known as a star in the legal community. It's easier, many say, to format and prepare complex court filings. Also, because of an early toehold among lawyers, it remains a favorite in many law offices.
WordPerfect is generally sold as part of the WordPerfect Office 2002 "suite." It costs either $389 for the "full" version or $149 if you have either current or fairly recent Microsoft Word, Microsoft Works (which comes standard on many home computers) or Lotus SmartSuite (standard on many IBM models, and about which more in a moment). In short, just about anyone with a pulse (and a PC) will likely qualify for the upgrade price.
If the full suite doesn't appeal to you, Corel also offers the word processor as part of a home-oriented "Family Pack" for $89. It includes a spreadsheet, print-project software, photo editing and even a typing tutorial. Not bad for the money, I suppose, unless you need database or presentation software.
Either way, you gain access to a word processor that has many fans, and almost all of the features of Microsoft Word. WordPerfect still maintains the (largely) "blank page" which was its appeal back in the days of MS-DOS. Using the "Hide Bars" command, however, you can eliminate all the tool bars and rulers displayed under Microsoft Windows as a matter of convention. Users more familiar with WordPerfect's earlier tool bars version 9, 8 or 7 can go back to those if desired.
A status bar at the bottom makes it easy to select a caps lock function or go from "insert" mode to "overtype" mode. If you click on the cursor when it's in the middle or end of a blank line, type will be inserted there, a rather neat trick. And while WP files didn't automatically open when I used Microsoft Word v.X on the iMac, a Microsoft Word file created on that computer opened without flaw in WordPerfect on the PC.
All told, WordPerfect remains one of the best word processors out there trouble is, fewer and fewer folks are using it, or even learning how.
Tens of thousands of people use Lotus WordPro software every day. It is a program that originally began life as AmiPro from one-time Atlanta software firm Samna. Some use it because they must: they're employees of IBM Corp., which owns Lotus Development Corp., the company that bought Samna years ago. WordPro is part of the "SmartSuite" offered by Lotus to companies and government agencies. The software suite has an appeal, in part, because it is well integrated with Lotus' popular Notes e-mail system.
But that would sell WordPro and the rest of SmartSuite a bit short. The applications I found here were all very capable, full-featured and easy to work with. My simple Microsoft Word file, created on the Mac, brought over to WordPerfect on a PC and saved in a Microsoft format there for more editing in SmartSuite opened with ease. The editing screen in WordPro is very simple and elegant, with margins visible on both sides of the page.
There are limitations in SmartSuite's editing that might be fixable but will annoy the dedicated Microsoft Word user. Click on the blank space at the top or bottom of a Microsoft Word page and you'll be able to edit the header or footer for the page; no such option exists in Lotus WordPro. There, headers and footers are edited under the "Page" drop-down menu.
Despite this, and despite some other minor deficiencies, such as the lack of a one-click word-count feature (something also missing from WordPerfect), I found Lotus WordPro to be a very good program. I wouldn't feel too deprived if it were my only word processor. I liked its "button-down," corporate-style screen layout, and its basic file compatibility with Microsoft Word is helpful as well. You can get a copy of WordPro only as part of the SmartSuite 9.7 package, available online for $224 from www.ibm.com as well as from several retail and online sellers of software.
This isn't the end of the search for Microsoft Word alternatives. In a few weeks, check this space for reviews of a couple of Mac-based pretenders, as well as a cross-platform alternative that is Internet-driven. It turns out that there are plenty of Word alternatives out there, if you're willing to do some searching and be a little adventurous.

Write to: Mark Kellner c/o The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Send e-mail to [email protected]aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back to Mr. Kellner live every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST. on www.adrenalineradio.com.



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