Switchers Guide for Windows/WordPerfect Users

A quick “Switchers Guide” for people buying their first Mac with an emphasis on WordPerfect support.

Most everyone can pass over this blog posting. I was writing a lengthy e-mail to a friend who is considering “seeing the light” and moving to Mac. Her big concern is that she has a lot of old WordPerfect files. So this guide talks about (a) the different Word Processing options for your new Mac and (b) the two Windows “emulators” that will allow you to install a copy of Windows on your new (Intel) Mac.

Word Processor options for you new Mac

Option 1: Buy Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac

Cost: $399.95 (You can actually buy the Student & Teacher Edition for $150 on the “honor system” ie. you don’t have to show student credentials! You just have to keep a straight face while buying it from the store clerk.)
Benefits: It is a mature, easy-to-use system. It will have the greatest possible Word compatibility.
Downfall: no WordPerfect compatibility, but that doesn’t surprise us. A bit expensive.

There’s not much to say about Microsoft Office for the Mac except that it is a mature product. It includes Powerpoint (the presentation software) and Excel (for spreadsheets) and Entourage which is an alternative e-mail and calendaring program.

Option 2: Buy Apple iWork ’06

Cost: $79
Benefits: You can use it and feel like a total Mac Fanatic for being 100% Apple
Downfall: no WordPerfect compatibility

Apple offers its own Office suite custom made just for Mac. The word processor is called Pages, and although it defaults to saving documents in its own proprietary format, it will open and save Word documents. To be honest, I find its controls a little confusing and clunky, and if I have to create a fancy document like a business invoice complete with fancy headers and logo, I avoid using Pages. (If you don’t do very fancy documents, you might not care.) I would suggest having a bit of a walkthrough and experimentation in person at the Mac Store so see what’s like doing things like making a table, inserting and positioning a graphics image, making a document with 2 columns, centering text, etc.

Option 3: TextEdit

Cost: Free (comes with Mac)
Benefits: Few, but it shows how fully-featured the basic Operating System is that comes with the computer out of the box.
Downfall: Very simple/limited Word support. no WordPerfect compatibility

TextEdit is Apple’s built-in almost-no-features text editor that comes with the operating system. If your documents are only the most basic in nature, you can use it as a word processor and it will optionally save and load files in Word format. I tried opening one of my business invoices (complex Word file) in TextEdit and it was an unusable mess. On the other hand, I just opened a letter I wrote a Congresswoman just fine.

Option 4: Download FREE NeoOffice

Cost: Free (and pretty darned amazing) download from the Internet
Benefits: FREE, incredibly full-featured, SUPPORTS WordPerfect Documents!!!
Downfall: It’s still considered beta software (not final product) but I’ve yet to see it crash.
NeoOffice is a Mac port of an Open Source (ie. commie beatnik Linux geeks) office suite called OpenOffice. Until now OpenOffice was only available for Windows and Linux. By the way, I introduced Mike Vorndran to it, and he now uses it exclusively on his Windows machine. He doesn’t own Microsoft Office and he’ll swear by OpenOffice.

NeoOffice (which you can call “OpenOffice for Mac”) falls under the “Holy Shit!” category. It is more fully featured than ANY of the products above including Microsoft Office. It has a database comparable to Microsoft Access, and Microsoft hasn’t even ported Access to the Mac yet. It’s even got the facility for making Web pages. It’s just scary how much is in there. Ever since OpenOffice was started 5-8 years ago the Microsoft Word Compatibility has been a high priority, and I suspect it has the most compatible Word support except for Word for Mac itself.

More important: NeoOffice/OpenOffice has WordPerfect support! I was able to open my old WordPerfect documents including some with tables. I don’t know how well it preserves advanced formatting, but if you send me your most complex WordPerfect document I’ll open it under NeoOffice and print it as a PDF you can view.

Windows Emulation options for you new Mac

(Note: these options are only for new Macs that use the Intel processors. Older PowerPC Macs can only use Microsoft’s Virtual PC product. Also, I’m assuming you already have a legal version of Windows on CD or DVD. Otherwise you have to buy a copy.)

Option 1: Apple BootCamp

Cost: Free
Benefits: Free, Simple
Downfall: You have to dedicate a permanent chunk of your hard disk to Windows. You can only boot into Windows OR Mac when you start up your computer. You can’t switch quickly between the two.

Apple just released its downloadable “BootCamp” utility for free. BootCamp allows you to set up your Mac where you “partition” your hard drive into two pieces. On one you install your Windows operating system and on the other you install Mac OS X. Your Mac then has a “Jekyll & Hyde” dilemma, meaning that it is either one personality or the other and neither really know about the other. Although there are some tricks you can probably pull, it can be difficult to share files between both systems. In other words, you may have an Office document on the Mac partition, but you can’t see it or get at it because you are currently booted into the Windows side.

In other words: Apple BootCamp is simple (in principle) and free, but it’s also limited.

Option 2: Parallels Desktop for Mac

Cost: $79.99
Benefits: Doesn’t permanently allocate part of your hard disk for Windows. You can run Windows and Mac OS X at the same time.
Downfall: It’s not free.

>With Parallels you create a “Virtual computer” that runs like another Mac application, but this program is a simulated PC that runs Windows. This can be very clever because it allows you to quickly switch from one OS to the other without rebooting your computer AND there are ways for both operating systems to share your filesystem so your Windows “virtual machine” can access your common documents. Although you have to create a “disk image” file that simulates the PC’s hard disk (so it does take up significant space on your hard drive) it’s not the permanent “you lost it forever” approach that BootCamp’s disk re-partitioning involves.

Murray’s Final recommendations:

Word Processing: Try NeoOffice, buy Microsoft Office if it doesn’t suffice.

It’s impossible for me to know your needs exactly. Maybe just maybe you need full-power access to Microsoft Word and Office is just a no brainer $400 expense. If you want the quickest, simplest solution, just drop the $400 and buy Microsoft Office and be done with it.

But if you would like to save yourself $400, give NeoOffice a spin. It’s a free download from the Internet. It’s still considered Beta software, but as I said before, I haven’t seen it crash. It also handles WordPerfect files natively and (apparently) effortlessly.

Windows Emulation: Try living without Windows, buy Parallels if it doesn’t suffice.

As much as I prefer FREE software, the idea of repartitioning your hard disk shouldn’t be taken lightly. Trust me: I’ve been doing it for years in order to run Windows and Linux on my PCs. File swapping between partitions is tough and you have to magically decide exactly what SIZE you make each partition, and if you’re wrong you have to repartition and reinstall both operating systems and all your software. That in itself is enough for me to recommend Parallels.

On the other hand, I suspect most “Mac switchers” will want Windows as an emergency fall-back for peace of mind, but after a week will never use Windows again. That’s almost enough to recommend using BootCamp and saving $79.99. But when push comes to shove I say: buy Parallels. Actually, I would suggest deferring your purchase of Parallels until you’re convinced you actually need Windows. With NeoOffice’s support of WordPerfect files, I’m not so sure anymore.

Postscript: As “switchers” articles go, this is a really light one. There are so many other topics like Quicken (answer: yes, Quicken 2006 for Mac works perfectly well and you can transfer you PC Quicken files with a little work) that I didn’t hit, but for the most basic Windows users apart from e-mail and web browsing that’s already covered “out of the box” the unknown question of word processors still makes them nervous. Thankfully NeoOffice appeared just about a month ago and changed my ultimate recomendations drastically.

Author: Murray Todd Williams

I live in Austin, Texas. I'm enthusiastic about food, wine, programming (especially Scala), tennis and politics. I've worked for Accenture for over 12 years where I'm a Product Manager for suite of analytical business applications.

2 thoughts on “Switchers Guide for Windows/WordPerfect Users”

  1. I’d add one recommendation to your list: AbiWord. NeoOffice requires 10.3 or later, my older iBook still has 10.2.8, and I’m in no hurry to upgrade it. AbiWord opens wordperfect files, and runs on 10.2 and above.

  2. Murray: NeoOffice is the best of all possible worlds for recent Mac converts with WordPerfect documents from their lives in XP. But If they have to maintain other Windows apps, Quicken for example (and Intuit promises to come out with a fully featured version for the Mac later this year), VMWare Fusion runs a great virtual machine environment that lets you switch back and forth between XP and MacOS (and if you default WP documents to a shared folder, clicking on a WP file in MacOS will fire up VMWare, then XP and WordPerfect, and there’s your file, ready to go. Just thought I’d mention it.


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