Originally published in the April 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.


Comparative first impression

Ami Pro, WordPerfect face off

By Chuck Musciano

Two mainstays of the PC desktop publishing world have made the transition to the Unix desktop. Ami Pro 3.0 for Unix from Lotus Development Corp. is the first version of Ami Pro offered for the Unix environment. WordPerfect 6.0 is the latest Unix release of WordPerfect, which is now sold by Novell Inc. Both spare users from having to use complex Unix commands to produce formatted text. And both differ from the sophisticated mainstays of Unix document creation, FrameMaker and Interleaf, by focusing on ease of use and a broad range of short-document features. While FrameMaker and Interleaf offer much more sophisticated long-document tools (including advanced book-management tools, much better graphics tools, and detailed page-layout and text-flow control features), Ami Pro and WordPerfect concentrate on the typical office document, providing handy document templates, preview features, and feature sets closely attuned to the needs of the casual user.

While both of these word processors offer a small set of features intended to help manage long documents, these applications are clearly intended for the typical document processing task: memos, reports, letters, and simple newsletters. Even novices will have little difficulty producing a professional-looking memo or report with either tool using predefined style sheets and document templates. Both interfaces are fairly intuitive, with feature sets that are adequate but not overwhelming to the new user. The two applications are similar in both functionality and interface, but each offers a number of distinct features.

Ami Pro 3.0 for Unix ($495) runs on SPARCstations (Solaris 2.3 or greater) and HP 9000 series 700/800 (HP-UX 8.0.7 or greater) and requires 16 megabytes of RAM and at least 52 megabytes of disk space (68 megabytes on SPARCs). WordPerfect 6.0 for Unix ($279) runs on SunOS 4.1.2/Solaris 2.3 or greater for SPARCs, IBM's AIX 3.2.5, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX 9.03, SCO Unix 3.2.4 .2, and SGI's IRIX 5.2, and requires 9 megabytes of RAM per user and 55 megabytes of disk space.

Getting started
We installed WordPerfect without a hitch; however, Ami Pro presented a few difficulties that were most likely attributable to its newness to the Unix world. Difficulties starting and working with the Ami Pro font server were resolved after a concerted effort by the excellent Lotus technical support staff. Both products performed well on our SPARCstation 10/30 (loaded with 96 megabytes of RAM, a 2.5-gigabyte disk, Solaris 2.3, and OpenWindows 3.3), although WordPerfect seemed to have a bit more snap to its user interface.

Showing their PC-based heritage, both products offer a WYSIWYG user interface, which is heavily reliant on pull-down menus and icon-laden tool bars. Ami Pro gets the nod for most sophisticated tool bar implementation, offering a number of customizable tool bars that can be cycled with just a mouse click. Ami Pro also allows full customization of the tool bar, complete with an icon editor. WordPerfect offers both a tool bar and a customizable button bar in a separate window.

In both apps, most functions are accomplished through dialog boxes, and WordPerfect offers a handy effect-preview window in many of the dialogs that lets you see the impact of your actions before leaving the dialog box. Overall, the WordPerfect interface seemed a bit snappier and easier to navigate. Both tools suffer from an overabundance of cryptic tool-bar icons, and both try to compensate by popping single-line help messages into the window title bar when the mouse cursor passes over an iconic button. Expert users can employ keyboard shortcuts for most common functions. Both products let you create keystroke macros; WordPerfect also provides complete keyboard redefinition capabilities and comes with four predefined keyboard layouts.

You'll find draft and WYSIWYG viewing modes in both tools, with custom-view scaling. Direct manipulation of margins, indents, and tabs in a horizontal ruler are de rigueur, and Ami Pro offers a useful vertical ruler as well. Ami Pro adds an integral outlining mode, allowing you to reduce your document to an editable outline. WordPerfect also supports outlining, but only as an embedded object in your document.

As you'd expect, document and paragraph text styles are used to control the appearance of your document with multicolumn support and various layout options. Both products come with dozens of predefined document styles. Ami Pro's styles are a little more sophisticated. They include automatic macro execution when loading a style and a useful style-preview feature.

Proofreading features in each of these applications include spell checking, grammar checking, embedded Post-it-style notes, a thesaurus, and find-and-replace tools. WordPerfect offers multidocument searches as well. Both word processors have support for tables of contents, indexes, footnotes, and endnotes. Ami Pro provides automatic glossary creation, while WordPerfect supports automatic index creation using a user-defined concordance.

Both tools can load and store documents in their native and ASCII formats. Unlike FrameMaker, which supports only a few non-native text formats in addition to their native formats, Ami Pro can handle a wide range of formats, including Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Interleaf, and dBASE. WordPerfect supports a smaller range. (See the table Word processor features.) A huge number of printers are supported. Ami Pro has a print-preview feature, while WordPerfect offers support for document binding, duplex printing, booklet creation, envelope printing, and label creation, and it comes complete with predefined layouts compatible with popular label media.

Both tools support document merging and allow editing of the merge datafiles. Ami Pro's data editing features are more slick; WordPerfect can automatically generate postal address barcodes when printing addresses.

Beyond paragraphs
You can create simple tables with both applications, including straddled cells and a variety of ruling, shading, and filling features. Both tools will convert tab-delimited text to a table automatically. WordPerfect supports table header rows that repeat across multipage tables; neither tool supports table footer rows. Both offer simple spreadsheet capabilities within tables, letting you sum rows and columns and perform other computations. You can also create fields within a document that insert computed or other dynamic information within a text flow, with WordPerfect having a bit of an edge in its ability to link field values to other fields and table cells.

You can create mathematical equations with both packages, although the Ami Pro equation editing interface is more graphical and easier to use. Ami Pro also supports the inclusion of equations composed with TeX, Donald Knuth's oft-used equation typesetting tool.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the tools lies in their graphics capabilities. While both support importing bitmap and vector images with control over bitmap contrast and brightness, WordPerfect includes a complete vector graphics drawing package. Ami Pro expects users to create such graphics with a third-party package and import the result into their documents. WordPerfect's drawing tools offer basic drawing capabilities along with fancier features like splines and gradient fills.

WordPerfect also boasts a charting tool that creates line, bar, and pie charts based on tables of data. In contrast, Ami Pro requires the user to create a chart in another tool and import the result into the Ami Pro document.

In an apparent effort to make third-party application integration easier, Ami Pro offers LEL (link, embed, and launch-to-edit), which lets you embed an object in your document and invoke an appropriate editor to modify the object. While good in theory, LEL works only with other LEL-enabled tools, which are few and far between on most Unix desktops. (One possible exception involves integration of Lotus's own Notes groupware and Ami Pro.) Both tools integrate with Unix e-mail, allowing you to mail documents directly from within the word processor.

Shades of gray
In many respects, differentiating between these two tools is like discerning shades of gray. For the vast majority of features, there is little difference between the two products. Perhaps due to its maturity in the marketplace, WordPerfect does offer several additional features, including the ability to sort text by line, by paragraph, or in tables, to create hypertext links in a document and attach sound clips to a document, and to create citation lists for legal briefs. Both tools have the same general look and feel, and moving between the two is not difficult. Indeed, the decision as to which tool to purchase may come down to either pricing, a desire for a specific feature, or the need to remain compatible with documents created with other tools.

All in all, both applications offer a broad range of document processing features that satisfy users' requirements. These word processors don't boast all the fancy layout features or support for extremely large and complex documents offered by FrameMaker or Interleaf. But the more casual users who need only knock out the occasional memo or report will find both Ami Pro and WordPerfect more than adequate -- and perhaps more suitable -- for their tasks.

Novell Inc., 1555 N. Technology Way, Orem, UT 84057, 800-321-3280, 801-228-9911. Lotus Development Corp., Word Processing Division, 1000 Abernathy Rd., #1700, Atlanta, GA 30328, 800-831-9679, 404-391-0011.

[Copyright 1995 Web Publishing Inc.]

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Last updated: 1 May 1995