WordPerfect 7 for Linux

WordPerfect 7 for Linux, I'm pleased to say, is very good—certainly good enough for me to finally abandon Windows as a word processing environment.
Installing from the CD

Installation from the CD is much simpler. Mount the CD the way you would any other CD-ROM, change to the mount directory and execute install.wp as root. This is basically the identical program to “Runme” above, except that the distribution is formatted differently. The resulting installation will be identical if the same options are selected.

Running the Program

First of all, even if you installed via the character-based interface, make sure your X server is running when you go to run the program. WordPerfect for Linux absolutely requires the X Window System to run. Most other WordPerfect for Unix distributions include a character-based version (ah, function keys), but the Linux distribution does not at this time. It hasn't been ruled out for the future; it's just not currently included. I gather they want to see how the “main” product does first, and then see what demand there is for the character-based version. I, for one, wouldn't mind having the option, but I don't fault them for their caution.

Once the program is installed, make sure you have its binary directory in your path (if you installed in /usr/wp, you want /usr/wp/wpbin/ in your path) and run xwp. You should see a splash screen within a second, a small window with two menu items shortly after that, and a large new document window a second or so later. To add a comparative note here, I found WordPerfect's start-up time to be remarkably fast compared to StarOffice.

The Good

At this point, if you've ever used any of the modern Windows or Macintosh word processors, you should be right at home. WordPerfect for Linux has all of the features of WordPerfect 7 for other platforms, including simple drawing and charting modules, spelling and grammar checking, auto-correct and spell-as-you-go highlighting, tables, mail merge, outlining, lists and style sheets. This is a complete implementation of the feature set people have come to expect in a word processor.

For all of that, somehow, the program manages to not be a complete memory hog. While typing this review, I found that the program had a resident set size of only 5.5MB, while a small daemon that runs concurrently (wpexc) took up a mere 416K—not exactly svelte, but not bloated by today's standards either. These numbers basically mean that I can run the program on my small 16MB laptop without swapping. To get comparative again: while I do not remember the exact resident set size of StarOffice, I do remember quite clearly that it swapped like crazy when handling anything more than just typing.

The secret seems in part to be that SDC has taken advantage of the Unix model and split a lot of the “under-the-hood” functionality out into separate programs. The grammar and spell checkers, for example, are each a separate binary, and so are many of the file conversion filters. Some of these can even be run independently of WordPerfect from the command line. The result is that most of the time all that needs to be in memory is the basic interface to handle commands and typing.

Ease of Use

If you need to get started quickly, WordPerfect is a definite winner. Although the default text style is not the best for a document, reformatting is simple enough that you can just start typing and worry about it later.

At any given time, the right mouse button will bring up a handy menu of common formatting commands. In addition, the paragraph the mouse pointer currently points to will always have a small button next to it. Pressing this button brings up a small window with just the paragraph formatting commands.

If you have Spell-As-You-Go (the name of the feature that highlights misspelled words) turned on, the menu that appears when you right-click over a highlighted word changes to provide suggestions for replacements. You also are given the choice to add the word to the dictionary right then or to bring up the full spell checker.

Word Processing with Style

Even the simplest word processors these days have style sheets, although they all handle them a bit differently. WordPerfect's handling falls into the middle range, in my opinion, for ease of use. What keeps it from a better rating is the sheer complexity of the underlying style-sheet model, and an interface that does not seem to have been completely thought out from the user's point of view. There are several different kinds of styles: character, paragraph and document, and several different “locations” where style sheets can reside: single document, personal style-sheet library, system library. Users have to pay very careful attention to these details, particularly if they want a single style sheet to be used in several documents (for example, the chapters of a book). In some cases, however, it's not entirely obvious how to set the options you need.

The other complication is an historical artifact of WordPerfect itself. WordPerfect is still code driven; that is, it performs stylistic changes by transparently marking up text with bracketing tags, much like HTML. It is, in fact, still possible to tell WordPerfect to show you these codes in your document—WordPerfect old-timers will be familiar with the “Reveal Codes” feature.

The window that lets you actually manipulate a style either shows you these codes to tell you which features you've selected or shows you nothing at all. To a user more familiar with Microsoft Word or StarOffice, this can be quite confusing; the more so since the user really doesn't need to know about the codes. It would have been just as useful to list which features had been set up for a given style, leaving “Reveal Codes” as an option for the power user.

To WordPerfect's credit, there is a “QuickStyle” option that simply creates a style based on the current formatting under the insertion point. So, a user could type a document, change the style of one paragraph using the normal formatting commands until satisfied, then invoke the Styles feature and select QuickStyle. After that, a Select All followed by selecting the new Style would apply the style throughout the document.