This past March, I reviewed WordPerfect 4.0, a word processing program for the IBM PC and compatibles. I was impressed enough to begin using it regularly. The newest version, released this month, is even better. It is published by Satellite Software International (SSI) of Orem, Utah.
Considering its capabilities, WordPerfect 4.1 is easy to use. Most commands are entered via one of the function keys on an IBM keyboard. Commands are summarized on a plastic overlay that fits neatly over the function keys. There is also an on-screen help function that provides brief descriptions of most of the program's commands. The documentation includes a reference card, a learning tutorial and an extensive alphabetical reference section.
One feature that contributes to the program's ease of use is its ability to create "macros." The macro feature allows you to design the equivalent of your own commands, by assigning a word or key to execute a particular sequence of keystrokes. Rather than memorizing some of WordPerfect's commands, I've created macros that allow me to invoke the command by typing a word or a key that I can easily remember.
Like its predecessor, the program allows you to create a multiple column format, which is especially handy for projects like newsletters and screenplays. But the new version, unlike any other word processing program I've used, shows you the columns on-screen.
Another new feature is the ability to draw lines and boxes on the screen. You can use the left or right arrow keys to draw lines. To produce a box you use the up or down arrow keys. The program automatically handles corners. This feature is great for producing organizational charts, flow charts or simple bar graphs. The program uses the "IBM extended character set" to draw solid and broken lines in various thicknesses, but not all printers are capable of printing those extended characters.
As with the previous version, you can work with two documents at a time and quickly switch back and forth and move text between them. Now it's also possible to divide the screen so that you can see both documents, each in its own section ("window") of the screen.
All word processing programs allow you delete text; WordPerfect 4.1 also allows you to undelete. The program stores your last three deletions in memory and allows you to reinsert them anywhere in the text. You can even delete text from one document and insert it into another.
The built-in spelling checker, which has a 120,000-word dictionary, is very fast and packed with features. It allows you to check an entire document, a page, a single word or a designated block of text. When it finds a word that appears to be misspelled, it generally presents a list of alternate spellings. You select the letter adjacent to the correct spelling, and WordPerfect makes the correction in the text. If it can't find a correct spelling, you can request that it check phonetically. If you type "daug," it will suggest several alternatives, including "dog." It took me about a minute to check a 1,000-word file and correct five errors. It also checks for double words like "it it."
One option on the spelling checker allows you to count your words without necessarily having to check the spelling. It took about 6 seconds to tally up a 1,000-word file that I retrieved from my hard disk.
The program also has a thesaurus. To find a synonym for a word in your document, you place the cursor on the word and press the thesaurus function key. In less than a second, a list of synonyms appears on the screen.
The speed and ease of use of the dictionary and thesaurus depend, in part, on whether you have a hard disk. Floppy disk users must insert a special disk each time they use these features.
The new program allows you to temporarily leave what you are working on without having to store it away and return to the disk operating system where you can run another program if you wish. When you are ready to return to WordPerfect, you type "exit" and you are back in the program, exactly where you left off.
Your ability to run another program depends on whether you have enough random access memory (RAM) to run both WordPerfect and the other program. With 640K of RAM it is possible to "exit" WordPerfect, run Lotus 1-2-3 and return to WordPerfect.
Although primarily a word processing program, WordPerfect also is able to perform some tasks ordinarily handled by other kinds of programs. One such task is simple math. You can, for example, use WordPerfect to type a financial statement and have the program perform the necessary addition and subtraction. It is not a substitute for a sophisticated spreadsheet, but is fine for simple arithmetic. The new WordPerfect also has a sort feature that can be used to alphabetize text and sort numbers. While it doesn't have nearly the versatility of a database management program, it's quite handy for applications like sorting a personnel list.
Another interesting function is WordPerfect's ability to scan all WordPerfect files on your disk for a key word or phrase. This can be handy if you are looking for a reference but can't remember the name of the file where it is stored.
The program includes the ability to mark words so that later it will be possible to generate an index or table of contents using those words. It has also has a merge feature, allowing you to create your own computerized form letters.
I rarely get excited about word processing programs, but WordPerfect 4.1 makes a genuine contribution to the genre. The program sells for $495. Owners of previous versions of WordPerfect can get an update for $45. The program requires 256K of RAM. Satellite Software International can be contacted at 1-800-321-4566.