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PDF the centerpiece of Corel’s WordPerfect X4

New functionalities designed to appeal to the office suite's core users in the legal and government markets

Interoperability with various document standards and a host of new capabilities around PDF files are among the drivers in WordPerfect Office X4, the latest version of the office suite recently released by Ottawa’s Corel Corp. (TSX: CRE).

It’s actually the 14th edition of the long-running office suite; the naming structure was changed with the last edition, WordPerfect X3, to avoid cultural superstitions around the number 13 as well as reflect a new generation of capabilities says Corel’s Greg Wood, senior communications manager for WordPerfect Office.

And while WordPerfect has supported export to PDF for sometime, the vendor is touting a range of new PDF capabilities in X4, dubbing it the word’s first PDF office suite. The suite is designed to make it easier for users to import, edit and export PDF documents, including scanned PDFs.

“It’s not like we woke-up in the middle of the night and decided to do PDF,” said Wood. “Our customers have been telling us time and again they’re using PDF, and we need to do more with this.”

The PDF functionality is particularly appealing to WordPerfect’s strong base in the government and legal markets, says Wood, as are the new capabilities around document archival and redaction.

“Customers are telling us they want to use PDF within an office suite, and right now to do this with Microsoft Office or an older version of WordPerfect you’ve got to get add-on software,” said Wood. “This is somewhere we’re really differentiating by adding this right into the suite.”

Another major area of investment for Corel in X4 is interoperability, says Wood. The suite now supports Microsoft Office 2007 files (OOXML) as well as the Open Document Format (ODF) used by programs such as OpenOffice.

“That’s where we’re seeing demand, and that’s a very heavy investment,” said Wood. “We’d rather be out creating new features, but if you want to be able to deliver customers the compatibility they need you’ve got to focus on the un-sexy but completely necessary compatibility issues.”

Also new with X4 is integration with WordPerfect Lightning, a free online note-taking application, as well as Corel Visual Intelligence, a data visualization tool.

“We’re trying to deliver tools that allow you to express yourself creatively, do it really easily, and give you good value. WordPerfect remains a big part of that,” said Wood. “We’re really going gangbusters on the digital media market. If you look across our portfolio we’ve got the broadest range of content creation tools in the market.”

From a market-share perspective Corel remains firmly sandwiched between the dominant player, Microsoft Office, and the open source products such as Open Office says Kevin Restivo, a senior research analyst with IDC Canada. According to preliminary IDC numbers, Restivo says Corel has about three per cent of the global market.

Restivo says for some time now Corel has been trying to find a better-defined niche for WordPerfect, outside its traditional legal and government strongholds. With X4, he says Corel is trying to differentiate with new features that make it more interoperable with open source alternatives and Microsoft Office.

“That says to me Corel is very much trying to defend its base of customers and ensure its current base of customers doesn’t need to defect or buy new products,” said Restivo.

While Corel is also trying to differentiate on price, Restivo says the price difference from Microsoft Office isn’t significant, and for those customers for whom price is the primary concern the free alternatives such as Open Office may be more attractive. Still, in the consumer space particularly he says having a strong vendor such as Corel behind the product is crucial, and WordPerfect remains a very strong brand.

“There always will be a base of WordPerfect, and I think Corel has taken the right measures to ensure its user base is relatively solid,” said Restivo. “But make no mistake; growing the user base will be a challenge going forward.”