What do you do if you don't want to wait for the full version of Office 2007? Consider this: feature for feature and pound for pound, Corel's £277 WordPerfect Office X3 Standard Edition tops the mighty Office 2003 Standard in every category.
All five principal apps – that's WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Mail, Presentations and Presentations Graphics – are first-rate. For many users, one feature puts WordPerfect head and shoulders above Word and the rest of the word-processing pack: Reveal Codes. This menu option opens a pane at the base of the screen showing a document's formatting codes. For fine control over look and content, nothing beats it.
You needn't worry about Office users not being able to open and edit the files you create with WordPerfect Office. In WordPerfect, Quattro Pro and Presentations, you're given the option of working in the mode of the program's Office equivalents (Word, Excel and PowerPoint, respectively). There were a few minor formatting issues, however, especially when working in WordPerfect itself.
The suite is far more comfortable with PDFs, which it has supported for years. This latest version adds the ability to import and edit PDFs in WordPerfect and Quattro Pro.
WordPerfect's Mail program, formerly the Bloomba mail client from Stata Labs, features a search function that matches anything Outlook – or, for that matter, any other email program – can come up with. It indexes your messages and lets you search for mail via drop-down menus using a combination of date, sender, content and other attributes.
Another addition to the suite is the Presentations Graphics program. This image editor won't make people forget about Photoshop but, considering that Office has no graphics program, it's a nice addition. It has all the standard tools for creating layouts and working with shapes, colours, textures and shading.
Although we enjoyed using WordPerfect Office X3 it has some annoying traits. For example, it will rather surreptitiously add Yahoo Toolbar to your browser during setup if you don't pay attention. And the pesky InstallShield Update Manager puts itself in Windows' startup list and resides in the system tray, even when no WordPerfect Office programs are open.
A free alternative: ThinkFree Online Basic
Traditional suites such as Office and WordPerfect seem likely to be with us for a while yet. However, online suites are beginning to make a case for themselves – not least because of the money you can save. ThinkFree Online Basic Edition, for example, gives you an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package completely free.
ThinkFree's full-blown word processor has all the features most people will ever need, including automatic table generation, auto-correct and formatting options, while the ThinkFree spreadsheet is a close approximation of Excel – formulae are given extensive support, with many database, engineering and mathematical functions included.
The suite has some useful tricks up its sleeve, such as automatic conversion of your files to PDFs and the ability to tag files with comments, but its online facilities are what's really going to sell ThinkFree. You get 1GB of storage space, and you can log into your account from virtually any computer and work on your files without needing to carry them around on a DVD or flash drive. You can even share files with other ThinkFree users and check who accessed them.
The shrunken workspace may be a problem, as will the advent of text ads. However, ThinkFree won't cost you a penny, and its sharing facilities make it ideal for workgroups. Try it at ThinkFree.com.