Careers: Interviews
Recognized WordPerfect Expert...

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Laura Acklen.

Prolific author and WordPerfect expert, Laura Acklen, first encountered WordPerfect 4.2 in 1988 when she developed custom courseware and trained law offices during their conversion from Wang systems to Novell LANs. Through the early nineties she developed student and instructor courseware for an international training company, Productivity Point International. In 1993, she wrote her first two books for Que entitled, “Oops, What to Do When Things Go Wrong with WordPerfect. Later that year she wrote, “WordPerfect 6.0 SureSteps”. Since that time she has authored or co-authored more than a dozen other books for Que including six editions of Special Edition using WordPerfect (versions 6, 6.1, 7, 9, 10, and the recent 12) and three versions of The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to WordPerfect (versions 10, 11, and 12).

Laura was contributing editor for the WordPerfect for Windows Magazine for four years. Currently she writes articles and tutorials for Corel’s WordPerfect.com website and for their monthly e-newsletter, “The WordPerfect Expert”. Laura continues to contribute to and maintain her website, WPWriter.com, which boasts the largest collection of WordPerfect tips on the web. The site includes articles, links to other WordPerfect resources, and a page containing updates and patches for virtually every version of WordPerfect.

Her latest book, co-authored with Read Gilgen, “Special Edition using Word Perfect 12”, is crammed with tips, tricks, and practical examples that you won’t find anywhere else.

Discussion:

Q:  Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.

A: It’s my pleasure.

Q:  Currently you write for Corel’s WordPerfect.com website and for their monthly newsletter, the “WordPerfect Expert”. You also contribute to and maintain your successful website, WPWriter.com and you have just completed your latest book, “Special Edition Using WordPerfect 12”. Bring us up-to-date and what do you see on the horizon for yourself?

A:  Well, the newsletter is doing very well and I’ve signed on for another year. I’m very excited about the positive feedback we’re receiving from subscribers. We’ve been able to shape our content around user requests, and Corel gives me a lot of creative freedom, which is quite gratifying.

I am hopeful that we will be updating the "Absolute Beginner’s Guide to WordPerfect" and the "Special Edition Using WordPerfect" books for the next release of WordPerfect. In the meantime, I will continue to build the site, adding links to knowledge base articles for newer releases of WordPerfect, adding more tips and tricks and getting rid of outdated or dead links. It’s a huge job so I tend to procrastinate a bit. I’ll also continue to volunteer my time on the WordPerfect Universe forums and on the Corel newsgroups.

Q:  Your latest book, “Special Edition Using WordPerfect 12”, has been described as the most comprehensive and up-to-date book on the market today - a must-have reference book. What differentiates it from other books on the topic? Can you give us an overview? 

A:  To be honest, there is no other book that covers WordPerfect with such depth. It is the only reference book available for WordPerfect (versions 10, 11 and 12). There were other reference books available for WordPerfect 9, but those books were never updated.

Read and I are proud to be able to continue improving the Special Edition WordPerfect book that we have worked on since WordPerfect 9. We feel that every new edition is better than the first because we are able to add time-sensitive information such as the differences in newer operating systems, updated knowledge base articles and new online resources. And last, but definitely not least, we add the knowledge that we’ve gained by supporting WordPerfect users.

To get back to your question: our book is different because of it’s depth of coverage, but also because it caters to all levels of user. A complete beginner can pick up the book, learn the basics and then move on to intermediate and advanced feature sets. On the other hand, intermediate and advanced users will benefit from tips and tricks for using features together, troubleshooting strategies that go beyond the most common problems, and notes that point to additional information available online, or in the help topics.

Let me also bring up something that I think is critically important to someone who needs to learn the tools, but doesn’t necessarily have the time to delve into every nook and cranny. Before we show the reader how to use a feature, we explain why they would want to learn that feature. How is the feature used in “real life” situations? We spend a lot of time and energy coming up with realistic examples that a reader can relate to. Why do we put so much emphasis on this? Because once someone understands how a feature can be used, they are more motivated to learn it.

Q:  The book covers the material in a thorough, but easy to follow format including a troubleshooting section, and is targeted at both the new and the advanced user. Content layout can be an issue, especially when dealing with the wealth of information presented in this book. How have you used your experience in teaching, courseware development, and troubleshooting to help you to understand the potential reader and user of your books?

A:  Absolutely! One of the most important things I learned during my days as a corporate trainer is that you have to explain why someone would want to use a certain feature before you launch into explaining how to use it. Only if someone can relate a task back to their own daily work will they invest the time (and energy) to learn it.

Another important lesson from courseware development is that you have to be able to anticipate the trouble spots so you can warn readers before they get lost, confused, and frustrated (in that order). Also, the best tips in the world are of no use unless you present them in the proper context. The key is to supplement the “core” material with valuable information that we have compiled over the years.

I have three school-age children, so I’ve given up the long hours of corporate training. I stay in touch with the user base by checking the WordPerfect newsgroups and the forums at WordPerfect Universe (www.wpuniverse.com) every day. I can see where people are getting tripped up, and because there is such a broad range of knowledgeable responses, I have several easy and straightforward solutions to choose from. When I get stuck, or if I need someone to confirm something, I can post a message and expect enthusiastic, speedy responses from WordPerfect users that are scattered all across the globe. I don’t think there is a friendlier community than the WordPerfect user base.

I truly feel that the enormous amount of information in the tips, notes, cautions, troubleshooting items and end-of-chapter projects, is what sets this book apart from other books. A beginner can choose to read through the steps, noting only the cautions, while another more experienced user can spend more time on the notes, tips and troubleshooting items.

Q:  Can you provide us with five tips from your new book “Special Edition Using WordPerfect 12”?

A:  Absolutely! I edited these a bit from the way they appear in the book:

1)  No matter where you are in a document, no matter what you are working on, or what you have selected, if you right-click, you’ll get a menu of items that directly relate to what you are doing. Instead of using the main menu and hunting for a specific item, you can choose from the most frequently-used commands on the QuickMenu.

2)  If you want the world to see your documents the way they look in WordPerfect, you can publish them to HTML or PDF, and post them to a Web server in just a few mouse clicks. A quick related tip: you can embed fonts with your WordPerfect documents so they will look as you intended, no matter what fonts are present on the computer.

3)  When you are ready to fine-tune your formatting, let the RealTime Preview feature give you a preview of the change, before you make it! For example, if you want to change a heading font, select the heading, then open the Font list. As you arrow down through the list, the heading is dynamically updated to appear in the selected font. The same thing goes for font size changes, alignment changes, zoom changes and much more.

4)  Did you know that you can edit your heading styles to automatically mark headings for a table of contents? You can, and it only takes a few minutes. Whether you edit WordPerfect’s heading styles, or the styles that you created, you can mark headings for a five-level table of contents as you format them for appearance.

5)  The collaboration features in WordPerfect make it possible for several people to work on a single document. Each reviewer has their own color so their changes are shown in that color. The author can accept or reject each specific change from series of reviewers either all at once, or one reviewer at a time. Document compare markings ensure that every change is clearly noted so nothing is modified without author confirmation.

Q:  What major improvements have been made in WordPerfect 12 versus WordPerfect 11? What justification is there to upgrade to the WordPerfect 12?

A:  WordPerfect Office 12 is described by some as a “compatibility release” because the focus was on increased compatibility with Microsoft products. Most of the work that was done is invisible to the average user, until they start exchanging files. Only then does the hard work done by the programmers become apparent. For the majority of documents, the conversion is clean and transparent. Microsoft Word users would never know that a document was originated in WordPerfect.

The Publish to PDF feature was redesigned to eliminate file bloat and to ensure compatibility with Adobe Acrobat 6.0, so if you work with PDF files, you’ll definitely want to upgrade.

The new OfficeReady browser is pretty cool because for the first time, you get a high-resolution preview of the WordPerfect templates. You can browse, preview, and launch the new OfficeReady templates in a full-screen application. From time to time, new solution packs are released, which lets you expand your template collection.

For those considering an upgrade, take a look at the page at www.wordperfect.com. Corel has done an excellent job providing materials that explain why you would want to upgrade, what the minimum system requirements are, the top 10 reasons to buy, a comparison matrix that explains what is in each edition of WordPerfect (standard, professional, academic).

Q: Bugnet.com looks at the bug/fix success rates of different and major software, and compared the bug/fix success rate of MS Word and Corel’s WordPerfect. Based on BugNet's figures over the last 18 months, users of Word have a 10% better chance of getting bugs fixed than users of WordPerfect. Do you think that this is a fair assessment?

A:  Not really. Word has a larger user base so there are proportionately more bugs being reported. In that same vein, Microsoft is a huge company so the number of programmers dedicated to fixing bugs is proportionately larger.

I think the best way to gauge the stability and usability of an application is to spend time on that company’s newsgroups. I’ve spent time on both the WordPerfect newsgroups and the Microsoft Word newsgroups. My perception is that with Microsoft Word, there are more problems that cannot be fixed, fewer workarounds, and a significantly less flexibility to customize the program .

Q:  As an acknowledged WordPerfect expert, name two areas of improvement that you would you like to see in the next version of WordPerfect?

A:  Continued development of PerfectScript tops my list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this mentioned in the newsgroups and at WordPerfect Universe. There are bugs that need to be fixed and improvements that need to be made. More comprehensive documentation is a must. If the book publishers won’t do a book on WordPerfect macros, then Corel should self publish a manual. They could make it available online as a modestly-priced download.

Second on my list is continued work on file conversions. This is a hard one because the results are mostly invisible. If you spend a year working on a product, users expect a bunch of new features and they don’t get that when resources have been devoted to conversion improvements. It’s a tough decision for Corel to make and I applaud them for making the right choice with WordPerfect Office 12. 

Q:  Word has a large part of the word processing market. With the compatibility issues between Word and WordPerfect diminishing with successive versions, do you see a shift coming in the market towards WordPerfect? What do you see in the future for the two major word processing giants?

A:  Yes, I do see a shift happening. WordPerfect is a more economical choice and despite the prevailing opinion that Microsoft Word is a better application, WordPerfect is more powerful, more flexible and infinitely customizable. I see Microsoft Word being relegated to companies that have to use Microsoft products due to the intermingling of applications and operating systems, especially on large networks that are running Microsoft network operating system applications.

Home users, students and small-to-medium sized businesses are not tied down by these issues so they are free to make the economical choice. They can freely share their documents with Microsoft Word users by saving their WordPerfect files in Word format.

I see more interface changes for both programs. I’m not crazy with the direction that Microsoft is taking with the Task Pane in Word 2003. It’s fairly obtrusive, and even after you turn it off, it keeps coming back. WordPerfect, on the other hand, has implemented some very subtle changes. The Workspace Manager, for example, lets you quickly choose between different interfaces: WordPerfect Classic, WordPerfect 5.1, WordPerfect Legal and Microsoft Word. If you choose Microsoft Word, you get toolbars and menus that match Words. There is a toolbar that lets you save documents in Word, PDF, XML or HTML formats with just one click. The Publish to PDF feature is more user friendly and has more options for customization.

There were countless small changes made in response to user requests. Those types of changes bring immediate gratification to users. They are tangible and they obviously save them time.

Q:  For those ex-WordPerfect or current Word users out there, do you think there is enough in WordPerfect 12, which would warrant making the switch?

A:  I’m a WordPerfect author, so it goes without saying that I want the product to do well. But it really depends on what a person wants to do. There are features in WordPerfect that cannot be found in other programs. For example, the Publish to PDF feature in WordPerfect 12 is like a diamond in the rough. It was enhanced to decrease file sizes and to update compatibility with Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0. To get that same power outside of WordPerfect, you would have to purchase Adobe Acrobat Reader for around $250.

There are thousands and thousands of computers sitting in government offices that still run Windows 98. The cost of upgrading to Windows XP is prohibitive and with tight budgets, new computers are not on the horizon. The latest release, Microsoft Word 2003, will only run on Windows 2000 with SP3 and Windows XP. Unless these governmental entities can upgrade to Windows XP, they will not be able to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Word.

WordPerfect Office 12 will run on Windows 98SE (Second Edition) so it becomes the logical choice. With all of the interface improvements, it is easier than ever for Microsoft Word users to migrate over to WordPerfect. During the transition, users can use the Microsoft Word workspace so the menus and toolbars look familiar. The file format is set to Word so when they save a file, they don’t have to remember to change it.

Ultimately, the increased power gained with the Reveal Codes feature will ease the transition process. The people that I’ve talked to who have been through this change are happier with WordPerfect and they say it was easier than they thought to make the switch.

Q:  What books can we look forward from you in the future?

A: As I mentioned earlier, I hope the "Absolute Beginner’s Guide to WordPerfect" and the "Special Edition Using WordPerfect" books continue to do well so I will have the opportunity to update them. I’m in discussions with my publisher to write another WordPerfect book, but I’m not at liberty to discuss the details at this point. Suffice it to say that the books have been doing well enough to get my publisher’s attention and to get them thinking about writing more WordPerfect books. That’s the best news I could hope for.

Q:  What are the most compelling issues facing technology professionals today and in the future? How can they be resolved?

A:  I’m not really qualified to answer that one. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to keep up with the technology publications. I read the occasional article from links on WordPerfect Universe or the newsgroups, but that’s about it.

Q:  Any further comments that you would like to add?

A:  I’m very excited about the changes in WordPerfect 12 and I agree with the direction they are taking in the theme of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. They will never be able to complete toe-to-toe with Microsoft, so they chose to develop an office suite with a new level of compatibility. Corel has brought a cost-effective alternative to Microsoft Word to market and this latest version is getting the attention it deserves.

Another great development is how Corel is reaching out the community and asking for feedback. The monthly newsletter isn’t a replacement for the WordPerfect for Windows magazine, but it’s a very good start. The OfficeCommunity Web site has downloaded templates for WordPerfect 9 and 10 and a wealth of information on those versions. Corel took the site down when they redesigned the primary Corel.com site, but when the users asked to have the site back, they put it back up. How many companies can claim that level of responsiveness to their user base?

Q:  Laura, thank you for taking the time to update us.

A:  You’re quite welcome, Stephen. Thanks for checking in!

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