Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 164 / MAY 1994 / PAGE 16

Power word processors. (includes related articles on word processors for DOS and using word processors for desktop publishing) (Test Lab) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by William Harrel

Edited by Mike Hudnall

Reviews by William Harrel

Are all three top Windows word processors--Lotus Ami Pro, Microsoft Word, and WordPerfect--created equal? Whether you need simple letters or sophisticated layouts, one of these word-crunching workhorses will get the job done.

Word processing sure isn't what it used to be. Windows has turned our favorite word crunchers into sophisticated document layout workhorses. No longer is it necessary to buy a separate desktop publishing package, such as Aldus Page-Maker or Microsoft Publisher, to create all types of publications. From sophisticated reports to newsletters, even lengthy books and manuals, any one of these three Windows word processors can do it all--which leaves you wondering, How do they perform when all you need is a simple letter or memo?

The answer is that word processing is rapidly becoming automatic. If current trends continue, you soon won't have to do any work--the program will do it all.

Creating simple documents has never been easier--once you have a reasonable grasp of Windows conventions, that is. For example, as I type this article, every feature I need is right here in front of me. To italicize a word, I just click on an icon. Changing fonts is as simple as selecting a name from a drop-down list. Why, I can highlight this sentence and drag it anywhere in this document. (Or, since I happen to be using Word for Windows 6.0, I can even drag it into another document.)

And as if all this isn't easy enough, I can customize my word processor's interface to fit more neatly into my work environment. I can, for example, place almost any function, even macros, on the button bar or on a menu. I can work in several different display modes, such as draft or a graphical page layout view with multiple magnification levels. Tables and columns are created visually, by simply dragging the mouse cursor over a grid. It just doesn't get any easier!

What You See...

By now most PC users are tired of hearing about Windows' WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get, pronounced "wiz-ee-wig") display. But there's no denying that Windows' graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced "gooey") is great for document creation. The ability to see font changes and graphics onscreen as you work is unparalleled in the character-based DOS word-processing world--even the new graphical displays of WordPerfect for DOS and Microsoft Word for DOS do not display page layouts as clearly. (See the sidebar on DOS products.)

Creating sophisticated documents resplendent with graphics, tables, and fancy fonts is a breeze. Each of these programs now ships with graphics modules that allow you to create images to embellish your documents. They also have simple charting applets that let you create charts and graphs. You'll find everything you need to create one-color newsletters, reports, and just about any other documents. About the only desktop publishing option missing is the ability to create color separations for reproducing your documents at the print shop.

Can You Say OLE?

Another Windows feature making your word-processing tasks less burdensome is object linking and embedding (OLE, pronounced "olay"). OLE provides a level of interactivity among applications unheard of in the DOS world. You can, for example, embed a 1-2-3 chart in your Ami Pro document. The chart remains linked to both your 1-2-3 worksheet and your document. As you make changes in the worksheet that affect the chart, the chart in your word processor is automatically updated. If you generate documents that require periodic updating, you'll find OLE invaluable.

Yet another advantage to OLE is the ability to embed sound and animation files in your documents. Organizations that communicate over networks or distribute documents on disk can use their Windows word processors to create electronic multimedia documents.

(OK, so the mention of multimedia word processing makes your eyes glaze over. Imagine the following scenario: You're making a proposal to your boss in a WordPerfect document. As part of the proposal you must include a process description, such as, say, explaining how a certain gadget works. Wouldn't your boss be much more impressed with a narrated animated demonstration of the gadget in action, rather than a boring several-page description? Say you're trying to sell somebody on an idea. Wouldn't your message be much more influential if you could include film clips with supporting data touted by Peter Jennings? With proper hardware, you can.)

Microsoft Word takes OLE further with its implementation of OLE 2.0, which lets you drag and drop text and graphics between documents. If you have other OLE 2.0 applications, such as Microsoft Excel 5.0 and PowerPoint 4.0, you can also drag and drop between applications. In other words, you can drag a chart from Excel into Word without having to cut and paste-- and OLE links are maintained!

The Race Is On

Since these are Windows applications, entering and editing text in each is quite similar. Like programs in most software genres, however, Windows word processors are engaged in a furious features race. The product most recently upgraded is usually ahead. Vendors incorporate all the new features in the competition's latest versions and leapfrog out front by adding several of their own. In one round of upgrades, for example, we saw all three products gain customizable button bars that let you access your favorite features with a mouse click.

Until late 1993, all three of these programs were primarily on equal footing. Word and WordPerfect have recently been upgraded (both are now at version 6.0), and Word now has a strong lead in the features race. WordPerfect has caught up with Ami Pro in some areas, such as automated templates, and moved slightly ahead in others, like providing context-sensitive help with the right mouse button.

None of this is to say that Ami Pro is not a great program. It's very powerful and easy to use. Lotus is a strong competitor, and an imminent Ami Pro upgrade will undoubtedly catapult it into the lead in the features race. For now, though, Word and WordPerfect sport longer lists of impressive features, especially in the interface and automation arenas--all adding up to further ease of use.

Interface Magic

While all three programs sport useful button and icon bars, Word and WordPerfect have upgraded their implementations substantially. Both programs now have contextsensitive button bars. When you edit text, the program displays the appropriate icons. When you work with a graphic or chart, the proper shortcut tools pop up. Both programs now offer help in using the icons, by displaying descriptions of each one when you run the mouse cursor over them (a feature Ami Pro already had). Double-clicking on an object brings up the tools needed to edit that object, and you can get context-sensitive quick menus by clicking the right mouse button.

Both Word and WordPerfect have also done away with their separate, noneditable print previews. You can now display and edit your documents in a wide range of zoom levels. In Word you can see thumbnail views of multiple pages, so that you can check your layouts--and you can even edit in thumbnail mode!


Unfortunately, word processors can't compose your documents for you--but these products come pretty close. All three programs provide strong macro features that allow you to record virtually any combination of keystrokes and play the combinations back as often as you like. And with a little programming savvy, you can create macros that make decisions based on variables in your document or based on user input. Depending on your dedication to learning the macro-building facility, you can even add your own dialog boxes that allow you to modify the action a macro takes. Word takes automation to new heights with automatic typing options. And all three programs ship with highly sophisticated automated templates.

Perhaps the most exciting advance in automation is Microsoft's new IntelliSense technology, which provides an exciting new feature (among others) called AutoCorrect that automatically corrects words as you type. The program ships with about ten automatic corrections, to which you can add your own. While WordPerfect can't match AutoCorrect, it does have an option called Abbreviations that lets you store large blocks of text and expand them by typing short two- or three-letter abbreviations. Word and Ami Pro have similar glossary options, but they are not nearly as easy to use.

Windows applications depend increasingly on templates, where all you do is type; the program takes care of formatting. All three programs have great templates, complete with extensive style sheets that make paragraph formatting all but automatic. However, all three programs now take the idea of templates further by providing automated templates that prompt you for information as you create your document. Again, Word leaps out ahead with Wizards. If you are familiar with other Microsoft programs, such as Publisher or PowerPoint 4.0, you know about Wizards. Wizards are automated templates that literally create documents for you. All you do is type. And if that's not enough, the program comes with several boilerplate letters where all you do is enter the recipient's name and address.

Until voice recognition takes off-- when we'll virtually dictate to our computers--it's hard to imagine automation advancing much further.

Word-Crunching Prowess

A disadvantage of Windows word processors is that they require much stronger machines to stretch out. You need enough memory for Windows and the word processor. If you create long documents or use a lot of graphics, your computer can slow down substantially. Each program has a suggested minimum RAM and system requirement; however, these requirements are minimal and do not allow for optimal performance. Here, Ami Pro excels. It requires the least amount of RAM and runs fastest on all systems. Ami Pro proves that there is an advantage to not loading a program down with features.

To get a feel for how well each program uses memory and system resources, I ran them on three different computers: a 25-MHz 386SX with 8MB RAM, a 33-MHz 486DX with 20MB RAM, and a 60-MHz Pentium with 16MB RAM. Performance issues are discussed below in the individual reviews. Suffice it to say, though, that unless you have a 486, you should not attempt to run WordPerfect 6.0. Word ran passably on the 386, but I would never attempt to run it on a 286. If you're looking for robust performance, Ami Pro leaves the others in the dust.

Suite Integration

As with all software applications, you should buy the one that best fits your needs. Keep in mind that all three of these products are strong word processors capable of producing almost any kind of document. The two issues you should consider are the power of your system and how you plan to use the product (which includes using it with other programs, such as your spreadsheet and presentation packages).

Along with ease of use and automation, integration is becoming an increasingly important issue for Windows applications. If you plan to use these products in conjunction with other applications, you'll find the best integration among products by the same vendor. Ami Pro, for example, has an interface that's almost identical to the interface used by Lotus 1-2-3 and Freelance Graphics. Icon bars are the same, and like actions are performed with the same commands. Furthermore, Ami Pro knows exactly how to handle imported data from other Lotus programs, and vice versa. When you import an Ami Pro outline into Freelance Graphics, for instance, the presentation program instantly turns the outline into a presentation. Each top-level topic becomes a new slide, and lower-level topics become bullet points.

You'll find this same level of integration among Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and among WordPerfect, WordPerfect Presentations, and Borland's Quattro Pro (Borland and WordPerfect Corporation are cooperating to integrate their products). In fact, you can buy these integrated products in bundles called suites. Suites contain word-processing, spread-sheet, presentation, E-mail, and database programs, all in the same low-priced package. The good news is that, if you look around, you can find a Microsoft, Lotus, or WordPerfect/Borland suite for about the same price as one of these word processors. WILLIAM HARREL

LOTUS AMI PRO 3.01 Ami Pro has been the unsung hero among Windows word processors. Although usually a step or two ahead in the features race, providing the most power and ease of use, it has garnered a significantly smaller chunk of the word-processing market share. However, recent upgrades of competing products have put Ami Pro slightly behind the others in features.

While this program has everything that you need to produce mail merges, long documents, legal pleadings, and all other types of documents, Ami Pro excels at page layout. In fact, last year I compared it to three low-end desktop publishing packages, including the popular Microsoft Publisher, and I found it superior in many ways.

Ami Pro uses a framed-object approach to page layout that's similar to the approach taken by Ventura Publisher but not nearly as complicated. You can, for example, place columns in any text frame. You can stack frames and control their stacking order using a procedure that's very similar to the one in PageMaker. Ami Pro automatically (and adroitly) wraps text around graphics; it even contours text around irregularly shaped images--a task that Ventura Publisher has not learned yet.

Need mail merge? Ami Pro makes it almost effortless. All you do is select Merge from the File menu, and a three-step dialog box guides you through the procedure. It prompts you for fields as you create the database. Ami Pro keeps your merge fields in a card-file-like database. This feature is so functional that many Ami Pro users use it as a simple flat-file database for contact and address management.

If this doesn't make managing your mail-outs easy enough, consider Ami Pro's envelope-printing interface, which is terrifically graphic. As you create a return address, you see exactly how it's formatted on the envelope. In addition, you can effortlessly save a variety of return addresses.

While Ami Pro does not have right-mouse-button context-sensitive menus, this doesn't mean your right mouse button is useless. When you click the right mouse button on an object, such as, say, a text frame, you get a dialog box for formatting the frame. While I don't find this as functional as the menus that pop up in WordPerfect and Word, it is helpful--and Ami Pro was first to put the right mouse button to use. It was also first to provide context-sensitive descriptions of tools and menu commands. When you pass your mouse cursor over a tool, icon, or menu command, you get a description on the menu bar.

You'll also like how easily the program lets you customize the interface. You can, for example, customize the icon bar (Smartlcons) for working with specific document types. You can create several Smartlcon configurations, such as one for letters, one for newsletters, one for reports, and so on, and use them as needed. The icon bar in Ami Pro is very similar to the ones in 1-2-3 and Freelance, and there's a lot to be said for having all your programs look and feel the same. It can save you a lot of time, which is, after all, one of the primary concepts behind Windows.

This brings us to ease of use. Ami Pro has terrific documentation, including a helpful section about getting started. But the real story here is the extremely user-friendly online tutorial. The first time you start the program, you'll see a QuickStart tutorial. Quick-Start takes you through the basics of using the program and then allows you to review more complex issues such as mail merge, tables, and long documents. You can exit the tutorial at any time, and you can call it up whenever you need to refresh your memory.

If, after going through the great documentation and tutorial, you're still stumped, you'll find that Lotus's technical support is tops. Every time I call, I get a courteous, knowledgeable technician who answers all my questions effortlessly. And I never have to stay on hold long, either.

Ami Pro is a great word processor; the only reason it doesn't stand out as the best program is that recent upgrades to Word and WordPerfect have brought some new features into the mix that Ami Pro doesn't yet have. Still, it has all the power and all the capabilities that most people need.

MICROSOFT WORD 6.0 FOR WINDOWS OK, let's get this out of the way first: Microsoft Word is a powerful word processor capable of creating all types of documents. It makes mail merges and long documents a snap. Its easy-to-use-and-configure button bar and ruler make formatting simple. Another exciting aspect of version 6.0 is its implementation of OLE 2.0, the recent upgrade to Microsoft's object linking and embedding technology. But the real issues in this recent upgrade are automation and ease of use.

Word's ease of use starts with its extensive online tutorials. There are two: "Quick Preview" and "Examples and Demos." Quick Preview provides an interactive, animated overview of the program, including a strong Getting Started section and a description of new features in version 6.0. There is also a good comparison of Word and WordPerfect features that shows you how Word performs similar functions. Examples and Demos is an extensive collection of procedure demonstrations you can run at any time to learn how to perform many functions or just refresh your memory of those functions, such as page layout and design, creating style sheets, and so on.

Microsoft's new IntelliSense technology provides many exciting new features, including the one called AutoCorrect that automatically corrects words as you type. The program ships with ten or so automatic corrections, such as I for i, separate for seperate, don't for don;t, and occurrence for occurence. And you can add as many as you like. Combine this with Word's extensive grammar-checking utility, and you may never make another mistake.

Automation is further enhanced with Wizards. Word has always had powerful, interactive templates that prompt you for information and then format a document based on your answers. The Wizards feature takes this concept into a new realm. The letter Wizard, for example, lets you choose among several different styles, including Modern, Classic, and Business. After prompting you for data, the Wizard then creates your letter template. All you do is type the letter. You can even choose to have Help displayed during the letter creation process. Or you can choose to have Word write the letter for you, from a database of boilerplate letters.

For business letters, for instance, you have a variety of circumstances to choose from: "Apology, delivery delayed," "Credit report request," and many others. These are quite well written and useful.

Another feature that will amaze you is AutoFormat. All you do is type unformatted text, and then select the AutoFormat command on the Format menu. Word then scans the document and lets you select a template from the Style Gallery. Before you select a template, a thumbnail preview can show you how the document will look. Word then formats your document, including paragraphs, layout, fonts, etc. The professionally designed templates create very nice-looking documents--that you and your organization can be proud of--almost instantly!

Want drag and drop? Word's implementation of OLE 2.0 provides new drag-and-drop features that seem like magic. All three programs reviewed here let you drag text and graphics to anywhere in a document. Word lets you also drag text and graphics between any open documents. Not impressed yet? You can also drag and drop data between Word and any other OLE 2.0 application, such as Excel 5.0 or PowerPoint 4.0, both of which should be available by the time you read this. So far, Word is the only word processor to incorporate this ability.

An area where previous versions of Word fell short of Ami Pro and WordPerfect is the compiling of long documents. Most book and manual writers do not create long documents all in the same document file. Instead, they create a series of chapters or sections. Both Ami Pro and WordPerfect provide master document features that make combining several documents easy. This version of Word not only adds master documents but also improves the procedures for marking text for inclusion in tables of contents and indices. No longer must you understand Word's complex merge language to create long documents. Simply follow the procedures laid out in the dialog boxes.

Also improved is Word's implementation of mail merge. No longer is it necessary for you to type complicated merge terms at the beginning of primary merge documents. Word now automates the process by scanning the merge documents and prompting you to enter the proper codes. Mail merge has traditionally been one of Word's more difficult procedures; it's a relief that Microsoft has fixed it.

I could go on raving about the new features in Word, but I have only so much space. This is a marvelous program worthy of your consideration, especially if you have a reasonably fast computer or if you use other Microsoft products. Word makes word processing easier and more fun.

If you can't find the help you need in the extensive online tutorials and documentation, you can get excellent support from Microsoft's technical support team. They answer the phone quickly and call back promptly. The technicians are well-trained. However, this program puts so much help at your fingertips that you probably won't have to call technical support often. For now, Word 6.0 is ahead in the features race. If you are not yet using a Windows word processor, this is the one to get.

WORDPERFECT 6.0 FOR WINDOWS In the world of DOS, WordPerfect is the hands-down favorite. The transition to Windows, however, has been difficult for this popular word processor. Version 5.1 was buggy and slow. Version 5.2 fixed many of those problems. Version 6.0 is rich in features, although it's too sluggish for the average computer.

In some ways WordPerfect is still the easiest of the Windows word processors to use, and it excels in some areas, such as its long document formatting and its powerful macro utility that comes with over 800 new commands. Also, only WordPerfect lets you create and save multiple keyboard configurations. Granted, this seems like an obscure, high-end use of the product. However, once you get used to configuring your keyboard to specific document types, you'll wonder how you did without it. For example, I have one keyboard configuration for articles, one for books, and yet another for creating text for laying out in PageMaker.

How does this keyboard configuration work? My articles keyboard has macros assigned to keystroke combinations specific to formatting and writing articles-- combinations, for example, allowing me to create hanging indent bullets with a single keystroke. The book keyboard has special keystrokes for creating numbered lists, inserting figures, marking text for indices, and so on. The page layout keyboard lets me insert style-sheet formatting codes used to format paragraphs in PageMaker. By using the keyboard configuration feature in conjunction with WordPerfect's multiple Button Bars, you can customize this program to work exactly the way you do.

Another big addition to version 6.0 is a collection of automated templates. You can use them to create automatically any number of documents, including resumes, letters, and reports. Each template prompts you for data that helps make creating the document easier, such as recipient name and address, subject, and so on. This latest version of WordPerfect also offers a bunch of new macros for automating common tasks. The one I liked most creates a drop cap, or large first letter, in a paragraph automatically. (However, Word has a command that does the same thing, and it's much more versatile.)

This version of WordPerfect also ships with two graphics modules: a charting utility and a draw program. Ami Pro and Word have had them for a while. Both of WordPerfect's modules are fairly sophisticated. However, WordPerfect still handles graphics clumsily. You cannot, for example, draw directly on the document page (except for lines). You must use OLE or Cut and Paste.

WordPerfect ships with a nifty text manipulation utility called Text-Art, which is similar to Word's Word-Art. With it you can create almost every kind of artistic text you can think of. You can, for example, form text on an arc, a circle, or hundreds of other shapes. I used it to create some impressive drop shadows for a newsletter.

My major objection to WordPerfect is that it's much too sluggish for the average computer, making big demands on system resources. You get good results only on a high-end system, such as a fast 486 with lots of RAM or a Pentium. In fact, in my tests some of the tasks, such as changing views, took far too long on the 486. On the 386SX/25? Frankly-- forget it! However, if you are a WordPerfect for DOS user, you'll find WordPerfect for Windows easy to use. Both Ami Pro and Word offer help to users switching from WordPerfect (still the world's most popular word processor). But there's nothing quite like using the real thing--especially if that's what you're used to.

Another advantage to using WordPerfect products is the company's famous support program. WordPerfect Corporation is one of only a handful of software publishers that provide toll-free technical support. You can call any time--day or night--as often as you want to get help using the product. If you are new to computers or to Windows software in general, this is a valuable feature. Calling Lotus or Microsoft during peak hours can get expensive.

WordPerfect 6.0 is a powerful word processor with a features list topped only by Microsoft Word's.



For one reason or another, not all COMPUTE readers run Windows. I've talked to a number of them who don't want anything to do with a program that requires so much in the way of system resources. They'd rather use DOS applications that fly on their modest machines--usually with considerably fewer performance problems. Those of you who do not run Windows will be happy to know that WordPerfect Corporation and Microsoft have not forgotten you. Both companies have released new DOS versions (both are version 6.0) of their word processors. The good news is that they're both performance screamers. Why Not Windows? So what do you give up by not using Windows? Frankly, quite a bit. Most notably, you do not run your programs under a common shell, where all of them can share information. Windows' Cut and Paste, OLE, and other data-sharing options integrate your various software applications in ways DOS cannot come close to matching. DOS programs also do not provide the multimeda options found in Windows. Even though both Word 6.0 for DOS and WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS allow you WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS allow you to share information with Windows programs when you run them in a DOS box under Windows, if you're going to do that, you may as well run Windows.

You do not give up the WYSIWYG graphics interface any longer, though. Both programs now have Windows-like interfaces that allow you to see how a document will print while you work on it. They also use True-Type and Type 1 fonts quite adroitly. Until now, using soft fonts in DOS applications has been a chore.

What do you gain? Like a finely tuned automobile, a DOS word processor responds quickly and decisively. When you issue a command, it's carried out. You don't sit there waiting for your computer to perform the millions of calculations required to run the Windows interface in addition to your word processor. And now that both programs sport graphical interfaces, you can use your DOS application to lay out brochures and newsletters.

You also gain about 80 percent of the functionality built into a Windows word processor. Wherever possible, each program provides the same options as its Windows counterpart. The best thing about using these packages is that you don't have to upgrade your system to run them comfortably. And they run almost identically to the Windows versions, which means that when you get ready to switch to Windows, you won't have to relearn the program.

You'll never use Windows, you say? If you continue computing on a PC and evolving with technology-- you will use Windows. It's inevitable.


A few years ago, before Windows word processors came of age, whenever people told me they planned to do some desktop publishing with word processing software, limmediately felt sorry for them. Desktop publishing with a character-based word processor is clumsy and unnatural. But with today's strong Windowsbased WYSIWYG word processors, the line between word processing and desktop publishing is no longer as distinct. In fact, because word processing software makes such efficient use of the Windows interface, it is often more efficient to lay out certain types of documents in a word processor than in a desktop publishing software package.

The question many would-be desktop publishers surely must be asking themselves is, Why bother with expensive, hard-to-learn page layout software? That's a good question. And the answer is that in many situations you shouldn't. The best reason to use a word processor for page layout is that often it is much easier.

There's a distinct advantage to doing all the work in one program. No matter how strong the support between applications, seldom can you import text from one type of program to another without some reformatting. Formatting a document as you type is highly convenient, which means you save time. Now that PageMaker and Ventura Publisher have spelling checkers and search and replace, you could create text in layout software, but the truth is that today's word processors are faster and just plain easier to use.

Another area where word processors outstrip page layout programs is support for data exchange among themselves. Word processors can easily swap files. For example, if you create a document--complete with graphics, text boxes, and tables--in Word for Windows and give the document to an associate (who uses WordPerfect for Windows) for editing, he or she can access this document with little or no fuss. And frequently the transfer requires little or no reformatting.

To date, there is no way to open a PageMaker document in Ventura, a QuarkXpress file in FrameMaker, and so on--even with a conversion program. And there probably won't be any time soon. Page layout applications depend heavily on styles (or "tags," as Ventura calls them) for formatting text. A style is simply a set of instructions, including type style, size, alignment, placement on the page--almost any attribute that you can think of. You can even include text color, add rules (lines) above, below, or around a paragraph, and place text in relation to other text. Styles save a great deal of time by letting you tag blocks of text from a style sheet, or list, instead of formatting each paragraph by hand. They also help maintain precision and consistency. Once you have defined it, a style remembers all of the formatting. You, on the other hand, are liable to forget.

Word processors also have styles--and they are just as powerful as the style sheets in desktop publishing packages. Almost any text attribute you can assign to text in the word processor can be included in a style. Furthermore, other word processors can convert them, and so can PageMaker, though not quite as well. (All the text in the sample documents used to illustrate this article was formatted with styles.) Although some desktop publishing programs have table editors, they are nowhere near as easy to use or as versatile as those found in the top three Windows word processors. Tables are simply combinations of text and graphics, and since they display data in columns and rows of cells, they can also be likened to spreadsheets. To create a table in, say, WordPerfect for Windows, you just click on a button, then select the number of rows and columns. In Ventura you define your table in a clumsy dialog box. PageMaker requires you to use another program (Table Editor) altogether and then import the table as a graphics file, which means it can-not be edited. And in the top three Windows word processors, you can link word processor tables to spread-sheets, so that data is updated automatically when the spreadsheet changes.

Where word processors fall short is in support for high-end layout features, such as color separations for printing presses and delicate type manipulation. But you really can get by with your word cruncher in most cases.