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A Week With WordPerfect 5.1

Editor’s Note: For this assignment, one of the writers for the oldversion.com blog was given a daunting assignment – to use WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS for some of his writing assignments for a week.

Below are his thoughts of the experience. Do you still use WordPerfect 5.1? Feel free to discuss this in the comments below.

The first problem was installation.

Frustrated woman

Initially I attempted to run the application downloaded from this very site in a virtual machine installation of Windows Advanced Server 2000. The DOS window here seemed to run the application without any problems until the actual point of tapping Enter to install the software post-setup. Creating a large-size disk image for the application didn’t work either.

While dropping down to Windows 95/98 was an option, it was one that would require a trip into the attic. With this in mind, I opted for a sidestep – I would try installing WordPerfect in DOSbox!

Running through the installation, I was presented with a lot of screens that in a modern day application would be dealt with via a single check-box or radio button. At the end of the installation with mention of printers and restarts, the application gave the impression of needing to be reinstalled; indeed, I attempted this at the first run, realizing when I reached the end the second time that this was either the beginning of a trip into the box room or I would have to try something else.

Typing WP at the prompt got the software running, however. So, how would I use it for the rest of the week?

Help!

The first thing was to track down the help function (F1) and try and work out what keys did what. As a keyboard-driven application, the most important thing to appreciate is that all of the functions were on the keyboard – the mouse is almost completely useless.

WordPerfect 5.1

Pleasingly, the array of keys to the right of Enter and Backspace come in very useful – as an “old school” user these have always been a part of my keyboard use, and it is good to be able to rely on these 30 year old legacy options.

The various options and functions available in WordPerfect can be found via the Function keys, presented via Shift, Ctrl, Alt or with no modification.

So with everything ready, I was set to go. My first task would be to introduce this challenge, the results of which you can see above. But would I be able to use the application daily?

I certainly wouldn’t be able to get away with outputting all of my work using WordPerfect – the majority of material that I am involved with requires a pretty quick turnaround, which usually means writing directly into the browser window and submitting.

However there are enough suitable features in WordPerfect to be able to use this application daily…

Day 1

I left WordPerfect running in the DOSBox window overnight, and found that I was unable to restore the document! The whole scenario of saving and closing is a confusing one at best, and discovering that my most recent save file wasn’t being displayed in the “Retrieve” screen was jarring. Fortunately closing the app and restarting “rediscovered” the file.

I have also noticed that the lack of an auto-spellcheck (used in Microsoft Word to resolve common typos) is slightly annoying. Indeed, I’m noticing a lot of errors that I really shouldn’t be making!

Day 2

Something else I have noticed with the application is the difficulty in applying formatting to text.

Via Help (Shift+F1) I discovered that this done by selecting text using the block command, placing the cursor at the start of a word, activating Block (Alt+F4) and then taking the cursor to the end of the word. Once the word or passage is selected, the appropriate formatting can be applied, using the corresponding keyboard shortcut. For instance these bolded words were originally achieved using F6 after selecting the text as a block.

Day 3

Remarkably I found myself up and running with WordPerfect without mistyping DOS commands today. As someone with experience of DOS going back to 1990, installation and running of the application had been somewhat frustrating until now, but it all seems to be coming back to me!

If you’re planning on using WordPerfect – and if you are limited by hardware and budget it is worth considering – then printing out the keymappings for the Function keys is a good idea. In the absence of an on-screen menu system, having a reference for what key does what is going to prove useful. As it is, remember that F7 is for saving documents and F5 for opening!

Day 4

As I approach the end of the week, I’ve found myself wondering just how to transfer this journal into something I can publish at OldVersion.com.

The obvious option is to open it in Microsoft Word and then paste it into the site – but if I already have Word, why am I using WordPerfect?

Saving options are limited in WordPerfect, so what is the best way of converting the document into a format I can use online?

The WPS format can be opened in apps such as WordPad and Notepad, but sadly there are odd artifacts within the text which need to be edited out. As WordPad and Notepad are built into Windows, you shouldn’t have any problem running them.

Day 5

So what have I learned about using WordPerfect as a word processor?

Well, it certainly wasn’t as easy as I expected. For some reason, even though my writing career has taken place almost exclusively on GUI word processors (with the small exception of an old Amstrad PCW device in the late 1980s) I had expected to find WordPerfect more usable than I did.

However, as the days progressed I found more and more features and I believe that if you need a good, no-frills word processor that doesn’t blind you with formatting options, this is a good way to go.

Running in DOSBox allows you to ALT+Enter to view full screen, presenting you with a pure page of text. Sometimes Microsoft Word and OpenOffice give you too much to look at, which is why the full screen options on those applications are so good to use.

In fact, if you’re the type of writer who prefers more page and less icons, using WordPerfect in full screen mode might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s an ideal way to get your thoughts onto the screen quickly without worrying about formatting, something which could, for the zen writer, enable and inspire better writing.

Once you’ve got the words down, you can then use other applications to deal with the formatting and redrafting…

Editor Note: Do you still use WordPerfect 5.1? If so, why? Let us know in the comments!

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