Home Computer: Not quite the real thing: Tim Jackson quickly picks up the rudiments, but wonders if it is all worth the effort

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The Independent Online
TWO THINGS will strike anyone who picks up the latest version of WordPerfect's famous word-processing program. One is the sheer physical size of the package.

Apart from eight floppy disks and a licence agreement in 19 different languages, there is a booklet for those who are Getting Started; a 262-page book on Learning WordPerfect; and a tome the size of a bible containing the full story of what WordPerfect is and how it works.

What this means is that there is a great deal to master before becoming properly familiar with WordPerfect 6.0. Learning the basics, such as opening a new document, writing and editing it and moving bits about, is straightforward: I managed, to my surprise, to work comfortably with the program in a couple of hours.

But that is a far cry from being able to take advantage of all its facilities. There are details to be learnt about using the spelling dictionary, thesaurus and grammar checker; about generating indexes and tables of contents; about sending and receiving documents by fax; and about headers, footnotes, and tables.

Such facilities have become common currency in the market for word processors. What started out as basic text-editing devices have now become much broader families of programs that help you not only to write a document, but also to improve its aesthetic presentation, check its spelling and literary style, incorporate into it tables of statistics, charts, and cross-references and turn it into camera-ready copy for a printer.

The documentation provided with WordPerfect 6 is creditably clear, starting right at the beginning with a picture showing which part of the computer is the screen and which the keyboard. There are shortcomings, of course: more imaginative use of typography could have been used to help the reader distinguish between advice, warnings of possible mistakes, hints and problems.

The size and complexity of the new WordPerfect would be welcome, were it not for the size of computer that it demands. Almost all the machines large enough and powerful enough to take advantage of the features built into this package will already be loaded with the Windows 3.1 graphics- based operating system.

The pros and cons of Windows do not need to be rehearsed here. But it is hard to see why anyone but existing committed WordPerfect users would want to spend quite a lot of extra money on buying a program that is incompatible with the operating system that is growing to dominate the PC-compatible market.

One important consequence of that incompatibility is that it is harder for WordPerfect 6 to exchange information with other programs - such as databases or spreadsheets - than it is for Windows- based word processors.

There is also the minor point that although the developers of WordPerfect 6 have done a good job of imitating many of the features of Windows, they have not done a perfect job. Few users will want to toggle backwards and forwards between 'text mode' and 'graphics mode' when they can buy a word processor that allows them without fuss to see on the screen what will later appear on the printer.

There is, of course, a niche at the other end of the market: for a wordprocessing package that can deal with indexes, footnotes and the like, but is more modest in its appetites for memory and processing power. XyWrite, for instance, a distinctly unfriendly piece of software used by many journalists, takes up about one-fiftieth of the disk space of WordPerfect 6.

So the verdict must be unenthusiastic. A clever piece of technology, to be sure; but who would want to buy it?

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