Corel PrintOffice 2000

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Print Office 2000's main design and bitmap applications hide some surprising power under the user-friendly interface, but the bundling of Web Designer is misguided.

Corel Print Office 2000's power

With its long-term Corel Draw and Photo-Paint experience, there's no  doubt that Corel knows just about everything there is to know about  high-end professional graphic design. For the entry-level business user,  however, the company has always struggled to find the right mix of power,  ease of use and value. In the past its solution tended to involve cutting  down one or two of its own programs, bundling in whatever utilities  happened to be lying around the office and then papering over the cracks  with a few linking wizards. With the launch of the dedicated Print Office,  however, all that changed.

What made the difference was the Print Office interface. This was built on the "notebook", a side panel that not only provided context-sensitive help to guide users through tasks, but also acted as a full drill-down control palette offering access to all the program's functionality. After extensive usability studies the use of the notebook has now been extended and rationalized. In particular the Properties pages are now tabbed to give faster access while the Catalog pages offer access not only to the extensive CD-based clipart (now fully searchable), but also to Corel's dedicated Web site and to your own "scratchpad" where you can store items for regular use. The end result is an interface that seamlessly helps everyone, from beginner to expert.

Corel Print Office 2000's notebook

The notebook is the centre of work in Print Office from choosing initial samples through to final print.

One of the most important uses for the notebook is to choose a starting sample on which to base a project. There are now over 2,500 of these templates organised into thirty-two categories including two new business-oriented sections, booklets and resumés. There's very little intelligence to the system so that the stationery templates don't automatically pick up your address details, for example, let alone your preferences for colour schemes or fonts. Even so, while not competing with the likes of Microsoft Publisher, the use of samples should get you off to a pretty good start.

Once you begin customising your project, you'll find that Print Office is surprisingly powerful. The text control is particularly impressive. Single lines are treated as artistic text which you can distort, convert to curves or fit to a path. Multiple lines are treated as blocks of paragraph text which can be split into columns and flowed from page to page. The formatting options are comprehensive and include bulleting and drop caps, though sadly they don't stretch to named paragraph styles. The word-processor functionality is similarly advanced with enhanced support for the latest WordPerfect and Word formats, while the spell-checker and thesaurus have now been complemented with the introduction of Corel's type assist technology.

Print Office's drawing power is just as strong with tools for adding all the basics, such as rectangles, ovals and freehand lines, together with more advanced objects such as polygons and stars. You can even add cell-based tables and can spray on shapes derived from any symbol font on your system. Once added, there's a full range of grouping, aligning and distributing commands together with the ability to scale, rotate and even apply envelope-based distortions. Uniform colours and gradients can be applied to your objects along with semi-transparent fade effects though the range of fills on offer could benefit from the inclusion of bitmap-based patterns and textures.

Corel Print Office 2000's power

Print Office hides some impressive power from advanced page layout to text on paths and bitmap masking.

On top of its handling of text and vector objects, Print Office now also provides direct IXLA support for importing bitmap images from your digital camera in addition to the over 10,000 photos and 500 photo objects that are provided on CD. All photos can be dragged and dropped onto your layout from the notebook and scaled, rotated and positioned, but to edit them further you'll have to load them into the bundled Photo House application. Thankfully this is simple enough, with the right-click menu's Send to Corel Photo House command, and you'll immediately feel at home in Photo House as it employs exactly the same notebook interface as Print Office. In fact in many ways the notebook's drill-down approach is even more suited to guiding users through photo-editing tasks such as removing red eye.

As with Print Office, exploring Photo House's friendly interface again reveals a surprising amount of functionality with reasonable colour correction capabilities and special effects. New features in this latest version include the support for vector text, which means that text can always be re-edited if you save to Photo House's native CPS format, and six new transparency effects, which are ideal for the creation of fades and vignettes. There's also a new Optimize for the Web command, which allows you to convert images to JPG, GIF or PNG complete with an interactive quality slider, preview and feedback on file size. In practice though the feature proves disappointing especially when saving to GIF as there is no control over the creation of the final GIF palette.

Corel Print Office 2000's PhotoHouse

New features in Photo House include vector text and transparency effects.

When you're happy with the text, vectors and bitmaps in your project you're ready to print. Generally speaking, with no professional features such as colour separation, Print Office is only suitable for in-house print on your own local inkjet or laser. With the new ability to export to Corel Draw 9 format, however, you could be lucky if your bureau is feeling generous. For in-house work, Print Office offers one advanced publishing feature in its ability to print mail merges - ideal for common tasks such as producing multiple certificates or Christmas cards. To manage your list of names and addresses, Corel has "upgraded" its previous simple Colleagues and Contacts utility to the full Corel CENTRAL 9 as seen in its WordPerfect office suite. This PIM certainly offers more power, including the ability to keep your Address Book synchronised with your PalmPilot, but the separate Day Planner, Calendar, Memos, Card File and Alarm modules are serious overkill and smack of bundling.

Sadly the same is true of the other main new feature in PrintOffice 2000: the inclusion of Web Designer 2. The first version of this HTML authoring package appeared many years ago and I had assumed that Corel had wisely allowed it to die. Instead they've dusted it down and thrown in some modern features such as support for CSS, forms, applets, JavaScript, ActiveX, embedded files and layering. The problems are twofold. To begin with, such features are generally far too advanced for the target audience. Far worse is the appallingly complex and obscure interface which even hardened HTML coders would find baffling. In other words the majority of Print Office users shouldn't be using Web Designer in the first place and those that try are virtually doomed to fail.

Corel Print Office 2000 Web Designer

Web Designer throws away ease of use in the hunt for unnecessary power.

Boosting the suite's Web functionality is undoubtedly a good move, but this should have been done by expanding the main Print Office application's existing HTML capabilities, or providing another Photo House-style module, rather than by a return to the bad old days of gratuitous bundling. Sadly the inclusion of the misguided Web Designer isn't just disappointing in its own right, it takes the edge off the suite as a whole. While Print Office and Photo House show just what can be achieved when you work out what your users want to do and how best to enable them to do it, Web Designer shows just what can happen if you don't.

Ease of Use

4

Features

4

Value for Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

Corel PrintOffice
Software / Upgrade
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System Requirements: 486 or higher, 16Mb of RAM, 55Mb of disk space, Windows 95, 98 or NT 4.0, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

Jan 2000


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