Netbooks might be primarily about connecting to the Internet, but, for most users, a basic productivity suite for creating and editing documents on the go is also essential. Though many netbooks come preloaded with Microsoft Works or a free 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, Corel is hoping to get onto 8.9 or 10-inch screens with its $69.99 Home Office productivity suite, which lets you create and edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and even read Microsoft Office 2007 files and create PDF documents. This easy-to-use suite is a slightly more affordable alternative to Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 ($149, or as little as $79 online) and even borrows a good deal of its interface; its price tag, however, may have some users opting to download a free open-source alternative, such as OpenOffice 3.0, for their secondary PC.
Easy, Netbook-Friendly Installation
If you purchase Corel's Home Office through a retailer, you'll find the software in the box not on a CD, but rather on a USB key--a nice touch, considering that most netbooks lack an optical drive (or you can download the software from the company's Web site). Plugging the stick into an Acer Aspire One AOD250 opened a quick launcher, and we were up and running in less than four minutes.
Although most netbooks come with at least 160GB of hard drive space, at 256MB Corel's Home Office is the smallest productivity suite in terms of file size; Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 take up 1.5GB, and OpenOffice takes 650MB. Nevertheless, we didn't notice Corel's offering as being any speedier than OpenOffice or Microsoft Office 2007 on our Acer Aspire One. All of them took up close to 45MB of memory when running the word processing application. In addition to English, Corel Home Office comes in 12 different languages.
Upon opening any of the three Corel Home Office applications--Write, Calculate, and Show--you'll immediately notice the similarity to Microsoft Office 2007's ribbon interface. Replacing the traditional menu bar are context-friendly tabs with relevant buttons and commands. As we have found with Microsoft's offering, it takes time to learn the locations of commonly used features, including commands such as Save and Open.
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If you don't like having to switch frequently between ribbons to locate commands, you can enable the toolbar mode, which provides a more traditional layout and doesn't take up as much screen real estate. Corel has also added a netbook-friendly feature: hitting F11 makes all the toolbars disappear and lets you enter a full-screen mode. You can also cascade all of the open windows in the application to see them all on the screen. Though the windows on a small screen are awfully small and hard to read, it is helpful for seeing which documents you have open at any given time.
Again taking a cue from Microsoft, Corel has also incorporated a Quick Access-like toolbar (called Office Access) into the title bar. This bar contains a circular button similar to the Office button, and lets you perform any action with one mouse click; the default commands are New, Open, Save, Undo, and Redo, and adding other commands is easy.
For anyone who has ever used Microsoft Office 2007, Corel's document creation interface is a no-brainer. The application has all the standard features and includes options for adjusting the text and workspace background colors. Adjusting the size of icons and fonts is also a option located off the main toolbar. While the majority of the standard Microsoft Word and OpenOffice tools are included, we noticed the highlighting tool was missing. Similarly, you also can't add trackable edits to documents. Nevertheless, the program supports Office 2007 files, so if a contact sends you .docx files, you can open and edit them. Corel Home Office also lets you easily convert any document into a PDF with the Save As a PDF option (as you can with OpenOffice and Microsoft Word).
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Corel's Calculate, which looks similar to Microsoft's Excel 2007, can handle loads of formulas, build charts, and can create professional-looking reports. We particularly like the Formulas tab on the interface, which gives you easy access to commonly used formulas, including the date and average. Creating nice, clean charts and reports is also a cinch, because the Home tab contains the formatting tools we frequently use for including cell shading and borders. However, Corel Home Office doesn't contain a tool such as OpenOffice's Database for building full forms and reports.
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Corel's Show functions in the same way as Microsoft's PowerPoint. Although it lacks the templates found in PowerPoint or OpenOffice, you can create a simple presentation using the various tools on the Home tab. A left-hand panel lets you see all your slides, and a toolbar across the top of the work area lets you organize and run the slideshow. As with PowerPoint, users can also insert pictures, movies, and sounds.
Up to Three PCs, But No Sync Option
You can install Corel Home Office on as many as three computers, which means you can install it on your home PC, netbook, and work computer without a problem. Because most netbooks are being used as secondary PCs, however, it would have made sense for Corel to incorporate sharing capabilities to transfer documents from one's netbook to a primary PC or share them with other users. While you can send documents as e-mail, there's no online storage or sync component to the application, similar to Microsoft Live Office or Google Documents.
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Within each application, the Tools tab contains a help section, where you can check for updates to the entire software stack and view messages that Corel sends to software owners. Corel Home Office's $69 price tag includes technical service, which open-source applications such as OpenOffice don't offer. When you click on the Online Support button in any part ofthe program, it brings you to a page to contact a live service technician at any time. In North America, telephone support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EST).
For $69.99, Corel provides users with a leaner alternative to Microsoft Office 2007. While the interface is easy to use, it provides much the same functionality as free programs such as OpenOffice and StarOffice. Nevertheless, those who value support for productivity software will find Corel's solution attractive.