LetterPerfect. (Compute Choice) (evaluation)
by Joy Latimer
Since 1988, my word processor of choice has been WordPerfect. The program is packed with useful features, such as a spelling checker, thesaurus, and print spooler, and gives me quick access to the various type styles and graphics supported by my printer. While WordPerfect is an excellent word processor, it's not for everyone. The program doesn't run well on floppy-only systems, requires a minimum of 384K of free memory, and can be overwhelming to typists interested only in creating short, simple documents. Now WordPerfect Corporation has a solution for folks who don't need a powerhouse word processor. LetterPerfect is a scaled-down version of WordPerfect 5.1, with a feature list and price tag that will please the casual writer.
Gone from LetterPerfect are WordPerfect features many people rarely use, such as sorting, math calculations, and number columns. Still present are all the commonly used functions, including graphics and text integration, spelling checker, easy font selection, and the friendly thesaurus. The features carried over from WordPerfect into LetterPerfect work basically the same, but some have been scaled back. The spelling checker in LetterPerfect, for instance, checks only the entire document, while WordPerfect's checker lets you check a word, phrase, or page, as well as a document. WordPerfect's print spooler lets you queue several printing jobs and continue typing while your documents print. LetterPerfect, on the other hand, will only print your current document, and it makes you wait until it has finished printing before you can move on. Minor differences like these aside, using LetterPerfect is just like using WordPerfect 5.1.
LetterPerfect comes with six 5 1/4-inch and three 3 1/2-inch disks, a reference guide, keyboard overlays for six different PC keyboard designs, and a quick-reference pamphlet. Also included is WordPerfect Shell 3.0, a DOS shell that lets you launch and switch between multiple applications and cut and paste text between them. Installing LetterPerfect on my hard drive was easy and took only about ten minutes. LetterPerfect's installation procedure was replete with helpful prompts and hard to mess up. The only problem I encountered was with the XT-style keyboard overlay. It seemed that every time I tried to type, my palm would hit the overlay and send it whirling onto the floor. A little double-sticky tape solved that problem.
LetterPerfect works on any PC compatible with 330K of free memory and one 720K or two 360K floppy drives, making it an ideal choice for use on laptops or older PCs with limited memory and disk storage. While the program will work with a text-only display card, you'll need CGA, EGA, VGA, or Hercules graphics to use the page-preview feature. In addition, LetterPerfect will run on a network. I tested it using a 640K turbo XT system with EGA graphics, an Epson 24-pin printer, and a hard drive.
When you first glance at LetterPerfect's editing screen, you'll notice the program's user interface closely resembles that of WordPerfect 5.1. The bottom line of the screen displays the name of the file you're working on, as well as the page number, line, and the cursor's position on the page. Across the top of the screen is a pull-down menu bar. Mouse users can just point at the selection they want and click the mouse button; laptop owners and others without pointing devices can select menu items using the Alt, cursor, and Enter keys. LetterPerfect also lets you use WordPerfect-style function keys to choose options. I found this the fastest way to access LetterPerfect's features.
LetterPerfect has an extensive online help function. To get instant information, all you have to do is press F1 or pull down the Help menu and then select the topic you need help with from an alphabetized list. You'll find the help function especially useful if you don't thoroughly understand a feature. It will also keep you from having to scrounge around trying to find the reference guide for simple questions. If, after checking the onscreen help and the reference guide, you're still unable to solve a problem, WordPerfect has a toll-free customer support line that operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mountain time. If you have a problem in the evening, there's another support number, but it's a toll call. When I called these lines, I was greeted by friendly and knowledgeable support people who helped me solve my problems in a matter of minutes.
Using LetterPerfect's graphic features, you can draw lines around sections of your document and import and edit graphic images. LetterPerfect will only directly import files in the WPG (WordPerfect Graphics) format, but you can use the included conversion utility to port most popular graphic formats, such as PCX, PIC, HPGL, EPS, and TIFF, to WPG. Once an image has been converted, you can view, size, edit or invert it and then place it into the document you're working on. You can place borders around graphic images and wrap text around them. This makes it possible to place your letterhead design at the top of correspondence, as well as create simple but professional-looking newsletters and forms.
LetterPerfect has an outliner function that I found especially helpful when working on school papers and articles such as this one. When you activate the outliner, LetterPerfect will automatically insert Roman numerals, letters, and numbers in your document, depending on which level of the outline you're currently typing.
The manual included with LetterPerfect is well illustrated with clearly written step-by-step instructions. There are nine tutorials you can work through to learn how to use most LetterPerfect functions and a complete reference section detailing each command individually. The thorough index and table of contents make finding references easy. Appendices cover topic such as error messages, ASCII conversion, embedded codes, graphics conversion, network installation, and troubleshooting. LetterPerfect never crashed while I was using it, and when I did encounter an error, I found the manual's explanations of possible errors and solutions very helpful.
I used LetterPerfect to compose this review. After using it for a few days, I decided that I enjoyed using it much more than WordPerfect 5.0. The program's mouse support (also present in WordPerfect 5.1) won me over.
LetterPerfect contains most of the great features of WordPerfect that millions have come to know and love, yet it dispenses with the high price tag. Thanks to its compact size, it can be used on laptops and other systems that can't run the high-end word processors. Whether you're new at word processing or a seasoned professional, LetterPerfect is a solid choice. It's priced right, easy to use, but still capable of producing high-quality output.
What to Look for In a Home PC
If you're in the market for a home computer, here are some helpful guidelines to getting the most out of your investment.
The Right Software
Look for software that is already set up and ready to use. After all, you don't want to have to learn how to use a database just to catalog your stamp collection or set up a spreadsheet to figure interest charges. Software should be easy to use and designed specifically for the home. So you can, for instance, keep an inventory of your possessions for insurance purposes. Or make a detailed schedule for a vacation or business trip, with a list of things to bring along. Or plan meals--selecting recipes, then making a grocery list based on the number of people you're serving.
And, of course, you'll want software to help you manage your finances. Like an automatic checkbook register to do all the math for you, and then itemize your expenses for easy budgeting. And a program to manage your stock portfolio. And when you're thinking about a new house or car, you'll want a loan scheduler to find out exactly what your payments will be. Essentially, you need easy-to-use software to help you manage your finances now, so you can plan ahead for your financial future.
Of course, your home computer should be PC compatible, so you can run programs from the office as well as tens of thousands of other personal, entertainment and home education programs.
Getting Up and Running
The right computer should be so convenient that you'll use it all the time. And your system should be compact and quiet to fit well into any home environment. A definite plus is a feature that turns off the screen when not in use, keeping the computer both energy efficient and ready to use with the touch of a key.
Plus, you need to consider the keyboard. A top-of-the-line business system keyboard will make for easier, effective entry of information.
Finally, you need to be able to expand whenever you're ready. Look for built-in digital audio and joystick ports so you can take advantage of a wide range of game and home education software.
Fortunately, there is a computer that meets all these requirements: the Tandy [Registered] 1000 RL home computer. To learn more about home computing and the many benefits of putting a Tandy 1000 RL in your home, please stop by any participating Radio Shack store, dealer or Computer Center at your convenience for a personal demonstration.
Ease of Use *****
IBM PC and compatibles with 330K free memory, one 720K or two 360K disk drives; graphics adaptor required for page preview--$229
Package includes five 5 1/4-inch and three 3 1/2-inch disks, keyboard templates, a 441-page reference manual, 1 51-page WordPerfect Shall manual, and an 8-page quick-reference guide.
WORDPERFECT 1555 N. Technology Way Orem, UT 84057 (801) 225-5000