Five new Windows word processors compared – Software Review – Microsoft Corp.’s Word for Windows 2.0, WordPerfect Corp.’s WordPerfect for Windows, DeScribe’s DeScribe 3.0, WordStar International’s WordStar for Windows, Symantec’s JustWrite – Evaluation

Kay Yarborough Nelson

Word processors, especially Windows word processors, aren’t just for writing anymore. These days, most let you create detailed page layouts, add graphic elements, import spreadsheet data and charts, and even use sophisticated typesetting effects such as kerning and letterspacing. The more feature-laden Windows word processors even check your grammar, allow you to manipulate data from other programs while you’re in the word processor (more on this later), create drawings and charts, and rotate text for special effects. This is all, of course, in addition to basics like checking spelling, making hot links, and doing complex mail merges.

In this month’s software guide, we’ll take a look at the latest word processors for Windows: Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0, WordPerfect for Windows, DeScribe, WordStar for Windows, and JustWrite. They all have a suggested retail price of $495, except for JustWrite, which carries a bargain list price of $199.

Should you upgrade to a Windows word processor? Which one should you get? Before we look at what these packages can do, let’s take a peek at some things you’ll need to take into consideration before you buy. These hot-off-the-shelf word processors can give you capabilities that you never dreamed of. But you may be surprised to find out that you don’t necessarily want–or need–the biggest and the best of them. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Do you have what it takes? Any way you cut it, Windows word processors are slower than character-based (DOS) programs. That’s the price you pay for the graphical interface. If you’re a speedy touch typist who zips right along at 80 or so words per minute, you may find that these programs are slower than you are. I tested all the packages on a 25-MHz 386 machine with 8MB of RAM, and they were fast enough for me, but I’m only a little faster than Doogie Howser, and not by much. If straight typing speed is important and you don’t need the other capabilities, a Windows word processor may not be right for you. Or if you have a 286 machine and aren’t planning to upgrade to a 386 soon, stick with your DOS word processor for now.

Using icons. Interacting with your word processor using icons or buttons is another Windows feature that plain-vanilla DOS-based programs lack. Since icons represent common tasks, you can execute a command or even a complex set of commands with one click of the mouse instead of having to hunt through menus or memorize complex command shortcuts. So, even if you’re only an occasional word-processor user, composing just a few letters a week, you may prefer a Windows program for this feature alone.

Page layout. If you plan to create newsletters or brochures or do any other type of desktop publishing (which can mean just about anything from putting your logo on your letterhead to churning out pages for a book), you’ll probably want to check out a Windows word processor. The top-of-the-line programs we’ll look at here display fully formatted pages, and all but one of them (WordPerfect) give you zoomable editing views so that you can see parts of pages close up. All of them let you switch between a text view and a WYSIWYG view showing headers, footers, and footnotes, so you can see what you’ll be printing.

Graphics editing. If you need to work with graphics and produce special effects, such as rotating and inverting images, these word processors will give you that capability. Two of the programs (Word and DeScribe) come with their own drawing modules. All of them will let you crop and scale graphics.

Exchanging data between programs. You may be familiar with DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), which lets you create hot links between, say, budget data in a word-processing document and the spreadsheet program that created the data. As you edit the data in the spreadsheet, you can update the link so that the budget is updated in your word-processing document, too. All the word processors reviewed here support DDE. But the newest version of Word also supports OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). With OLE, when you click on an icon that represents an embedded “object” (text, graphics, spreadsheet data, or just about anything from another program), you’ll be placed in the program that originally created the material so that you can edit it there, using the proper tools from its native program. If you often work with documents that contain material from other programs such as databases and spreadsheets, Word can give you a lot of flexibility.

Macro making. The high-end Windows word processors also have macro-making capability. If you pick a program that supports macros, you can automate routine jobs for yourself and even create custom-tailored word-processing applications for other users. Say, for example, that you have someone who comes in once or twice a month to help you with billing or to send out mailings. With a macro language such as WordPerfect’s or Word’s, you can set up prompts and dialog boxes to help you part-time person perform those tasks.

Making the transition. If you’ve been using the popular DOS WordPerfect, you’ll probably find that making the transition to a Windows word processor will be easiest if you choose WordPerfect (of course) or (surprise) Word. Word has a “see me do it” help feature that lets you press the same keystrokes you used to use in DOS WordPerfect and see how to accomplish that same task in Word.

Which to choose? Of all the programs reviewed here, Word is clearly the most versatile. It’s also the only word processor that has had a previous Windows version, as WordPerfect for Windows has basically just been brought over from WordPerfect 5.1 with all its features intact (but with a new look), and DeScribe has been brought to Windows from its OS/2 counterpart. It’s not surprising, then, that when you compare these word processors feature by feature, Word stands out.

WordStar has an interesting array of features that keeps it in the heavyweight class, though. It comes with a grammar checker, the Bitstream FaceLift font-management package, and 13 free typefaces. On the other hand, JustWrite provides a lot of features, at a reasonable price.

Another basic consideration is whether you need to work on more than one document at a time. In my opinion, this is the most important feature of Windows word processors. After all, Windows wouldn’t be Windows if it didn’t let you cut, copy, and paste easily, would it? And it’s natural, at least to me, to want that capability. Word, WordPerfect, and DeScribe let you do this, but sadly, JustWrite and WordStar for Windows don’t; they let you edit only one document at a time. Do you want to close a document and open up a new one every time you have to cut and paste?

All of the Windows word processors I’ll discuss here contain basic word-processing features: They all let you do mail merge, check spelling (some, notably WordPerfect and JustWrite, are slower than others at this), and use styules to format documents, create tables, provide automatic backups, and so forth. Just a few years ago, thos features were the new bells and whistles that we were praising word processors for. I’m concentrating here on how these new Windows word processors are different–how they bring something extra to Windows.

Microsoft Word for Windows

Rating: * * * *

VERSION REVIEWED: 2.0 LIST PRICE: $495 STREET PRICE RANGE: $299-$329 SYSTEM REQUIREMENT: 2MB IBM compatible (4MB recommended); hard-disk drive; EGA, VGA, or Hercules; mouse; DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.0 or higher PUBLISHER: Microsft, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052; (206) 882-8080

Microsoft is obviously after the WordPerfect market with version 2.0 of Word: The program has a WordPerfect 5.1 help feature that lets me issue WordPerfect commands and get a demonstration of how I could do the same thing in Word.

Word’s most obvious new feature is “drag and drop” text editing tha lets me select text and simply drag it to reposition it in my documents. This lets me skip the usual monotony of selecting, cutting or copying, scrolling, and then pasting. Of all the word processors reviewed here, Word is the only one with this feature. If your work requires extensive text editing, you may want the program for just this reason. You can drag and drop graphics, too.

Word comes with a customizable icon bar called the Toolbar. I saved different Toolbars that I customized for different types of tasks, which is a great help because I often do vastly different things with my word processor, such as mail merging one day and setting up a newsletter the next.

I work with several Windows programs, I prefer Word over the others for its DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) and OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) capacities.

Word also has built-in drawing and graphing modules. A WordArt feature produces special effects with text, such as rotating words and arranging text in circles–great for presentation graphics. Contact the publisher if you want a rundown of the other “hot” features I found that are too numerous to mention here.

The bottom line: If you want as many features as you can get in a current Windows word processor, this is the program to have. CIRCLE 93 ON READER SERVICE CARD

WordPerfect for Windows

Rating: * * *

VERSION REVIEWED: 1.0 LIST PRICE: $495 STREET PRICE RANGE: $279-$329 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 2MB IBM compatible (4MB strongly recommended); hard-disk drive; EGA, VGA, or Hercules; mouse; DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.0 or higher PUBLISHER: WordPerfect, 1555 N. Technology Way, Orem, UT 84057; (801) 255-5000

Finally, here’s the WordPerfect Corporation’s Windows product. WordPerfect for Windows has basically the same feature set as WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, but with the Windows graphic interface. The pretty face comes at a price, though: speed.

WordPerfect 5.1 documents are completely compatible with WordPerfect for Windows, so I didn’t have to perform any document conversions. In fact, I keep both my WordPerfect for Windows and my WordPerfect 5.1 documents in the same directory and use them interchangeably. WordPerfect for Window’s license agreement allows use of both programs on the same machine, so there’s no problem doing this.

WordPerfect for Windows also comes with its own stand-alone File Manager that I even use with other Windows programs. The File Manager previews both text and graphics, carries out complex searches, and locates text within documents.

Its button bar is customizable: All I need to do to put a menu command on the button bar is click on the comman in a “see me do it” fashion. Once I’ve recorded a macro, I can easily make that into a button too. And like Word, WordPerfect lets me create different button bars for different tasks.

Unfortunately, WordPerfect lacks a drawing module. To draw or paint, you have to use another program and assimilate your artwork through the Clipboard or retrieve it directly. Also, its outliner is not collapsible. This feature is promised in a later release of the program.

The bottom line: If you’re a WordPerfect user, the switch to WordPerfect for Windows is a natural. But don’t expect the speed you’re used to. CIRCLE 94 ON READER SERVICE CARD


Rating: * * *

VERSION REVIEWED: 3.0 LIST PRICE: $495 STREET PRICE RANGE: $329-$399 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 3MB IBM compatible (4MB recommended); hard-disk drive; VGA recommended; DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.0 or higher PUBLISHER: DeScribe, 4047 N. Freeway Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95834; (916) 646-1111

Of all the Windows word processors reviewed here, DeScribe looks the most like a page-layout program. It has much more of a desktop-publishing orientation than the others. In fact, its editing window reinds me a lot of PageMaker. This is no “little” word-processing program. It’s a workhorse that lets you create documents as large as 25,000 pages.

DeScribe let me easily create special text effects such as drop caps and it comes with a large collection of sample layouts for designing simple and complex types of documents. And its typesetting features (such as kerning) are superior to those of the other programs I looked at here.

The bottom line: Many of today’s word processors may have enough desktop-publishing features to support your business already (multiple columns, fonts, graphics importing, and so on). But if you’re looking for sophisticated desktop-publishing capabilities in your Windows word processor, take a closer look at DeScribe. CIRCLE 95 ON READER SERVICE CARD

WordStar for Windows

Rating: * *

VERSION REVIEWED: 1.0 LIST PRICE: $495 STREET PRICE RANGE: $379-$349 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 2MB IBM compatible (4MB strongly recommended); hard-disk drive; EGA, VGA, or Hercules; mouse; DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.0 or higher PUBLISHER: WordStar International, 201 Alameda del Prado, Novato, CA 94948; (415) 382-0606

Icon City! If you love using icons, you’ll probably love WordStar for Windows (I counted 40 icons plus three pop-up lists on its editing screen). On the other hand, if you’re an old WordStar hand, you may appreciate the feature that lets you use the old Ctrl-key combinations and bypass the icons.

Of all the packages reviewed here, WordStar comes with the most freebies: Correct Grammar for Windows, a well-known grammar checker; and Bitstream Facelift, a printing-enhancement package.

WordStar for Windows comes with a nice set of sample templates and general-purpose clip art such as a fax form, an invoice form, business cards, letterheads, and so forth, which are all useful for business.

Unlike that in some of the other Windows word processors reviewed here, WordStar’s Speller operates at an acceptable speed on a 25-MHz 386. It automatically checks capitalization, but for some reason I couldn’t keep it from checking combinations of letters and numbers. This is annoying because I often type things like “the F1 key.” The spelling check isn’t interactive with the document, so I couldn’t switch back and forth for editing, which can also be annoying. I also found it restricting to be unable to drag graphics and to have only one document open at a time.

The bottom line: A slick-looking but middle-of-the-road Windows word processor. Despite the included goodies, it lacks some common-sense features, such as multiple-document processing. CIRCLE 96 ON READER SERVICE CARD


Rating: *

VERSION REVIEWED: 1.0 LIST PRICE: $199 STREET PRICE RA-$129 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 2MB IBM compatible (4MB strongly recommended); hard=disk drive; EGA, VGA, or Hercules; mouse; DOS 3.1 and Windows 3.0 or higher PUBLISHER: Symantec, 10201 Torre Avenue, Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 253-9600, (800) 441-7234

JustWrite bills itself as “the perfect product for professionals in home offices, small businesses, or corporate environments.” It does have all the standard features of a Windows word processor, and it is available at a far better price than the other Windows word processors.

In spite of its name, JustWrite was harder to use than the others because it insists on displaying in its editing window either a README file or the last document you opened. If you choose New to try to get a clean editing screen, you get the same document again. And there’s nothing in JustWrite’s index under New or Create Document that explains what’s going on. In fact, you can use the Preferences menu–you have to figure that out–and you need to dig pretty deep to stop this display.

Also, I had hoped for an easy-to-use mail-merge feature, since Symantec is the company that brought us the Q&A database program. Unfortunately, JustWrite doesn’t come with a sample database, so it’s not easy to see how “easy” it is to use mail merge without creating your own database first. (Word for Windows comes with a Print Merge Helper that walks you through the mail-merge porocess, and WordPerfect for Windows has lesson on the subject.)

JustWrite’s reference manual is inviting: not too big, not too complicated, just simple instructions. The help system is indexed to the manual, too, which is great if you need more information than can easily be displayed on the screen. But there are just too many typos in the documentation for my taste. Yes, they probably spell-checked it, but they missed an awful lot of it’s for its and you’re for your. I can’t help it: If the documentation has mistakes, I find myself expecting bugs in the program.

On its good side, JustWrite has a wide variety of document templates that can be very useful for business: invoices, memos, to-do lists, and so forth.

The bottom line: JustWrite might be just right for the street price of $79, but it’s not enough for me. Make sure it’s enough for you before you buy. CIRCLE 97 ON READER SERVICE CARD

COPYRIGHT 1992 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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