My first exposure to WordPerfect occurred a long time ago. If I recall correctly, it was in law school and I was introduced to version 5.1 by the editor of our international law review, Jim Meyer. He and I were working on a project for the law review, and I remember Jim telling me, “It’s really easy to use.”
I wasn’t concerned about ease of use. Back in high school I had cut my teeth on WordStar, a word processing application that originally ran on the CP/M operating system and then on DOS. WordStar was tough to learn, but I will say that when push came to shove, WordStar could do some things that its competitors couldn’t. It might take you a year to figure out how, but it could get the job done.
Anyway, ever since that experience in law school, I have marveled at how WordPerfect has managed to hang on to a healthy share of the legal market, even while its marketshare in other industries has all but vanished completely. Microsoft Word has become the dominant word processor in the Windows world, but it hasn’t been able to force its way into the legal profession. It has made significant inroads, but WordPerfect is still holding its own.
So what does this mean for a Mac user? Not a whole lot. We Mac guys have Word, and we can use Apple’s own Pages application as well. The problem, though, is that neither of these are compatible with WordPerfect files. So, as the lone Mac user in a law office that uses WordPerfect, I have a couple of challenges.
First, since we have a central file server, all my work is (and should be) stored there. If I was hit by a falling satellite and knocked out for a few months, others in the firm should be able to access the files on the server that I’ve created. But they wouldn’t be able to open documents saved in the format created by Pages. That’s a problem.
The second challenge is opening and reading WordPerfect files. Fortunately, there’s an inexpensive solution: WordPerfect Viewer. Ten bucks lets you buy this app, which will open WordPerfect files, let you copy the text, and then you can paste it into Pages (or Word). Unfortunately, it doesn’t preserve formatting, and some (or a lot) clean-up is required. The solution is not perfect, but it’s definitely workable.
With the second challenge solved, it’s back to the first problem. Pages has the ability to export files to Word and Rich Text Format, but not to WordPerfect. More recent versions of WordPerfect can open Word and RTF files, but again you run into the issue of formatting and the need to clean up problems caused by the incompatible file formats.
In an ideal world, we would have a unified, open source file format that all word processing apps use—just as we have HTML for web sites. Until then, we will have to make do with these workarounds. Of course, I could solve the whole set of problems by just using a Windows system, but where’s the fun in that?