Aiming to build a bridge between its desktop productivity software and the Web, Corel released a free beta version of its new WordPerfect Lightning today. At less than 20MB, Lightning includes Navigator, Notes, and Viewer tools, which manage basic word processing and note taking. This download also offers a free trial of the solid Corel WordPerfect Office X3 suite. Lightning synchronizes content on your hard drive with online folders at Joyent, which offers a generous 200MB of storage in addition to e-mail, a calendar, bookmarking, and collaboration capabilities.
I've played with Lightning several times. Unfortunately, I've found it awkward initially, although I hope to get the hang of it eventually. Installation took just a couple of minutes on a Windows XP machine. About the size of an instant-messaging application, the Navigator's narrow floating window displays a list of documents and appears in front of whatever other programs are open. I found it a bit awkward to have to click the tiny minimize icon to close the Navigator. The Lightning Notes word processor offers basic formatting that includes bullet points, the ability to italicize text, and so forth. It also lets you add images and grab screen shots from Web pages, embedding metadata in the process. Notes is semitransparent so you can see what's behind it. But I kept losing track of the window and having to re-retrieve Notes work in progress through the Navigator.
On my computer, the Lightning Viewer now opens PDFs as well as DOC files created in Microsoft Word by default when I double-click on them from a Windows folder. The Viewer is speedier than Adobe Acrobat Reader, but I wish Corel's installation process warned me that the Viewer would open my PDFs and DOCS by default. More confusion: the cursor flashes in the Viewer even while you can't edit text there.
Nevertheless, Corel's strategy of creating a nimble set of productivity tools with Internet tie-ins makes sense. By contrast, when Microsoft released Office 2007, I was surprised it lacked a free bridge to the Web from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Microsoft seemed to expect users who wanted to take their work on the road either to e-mail documents to themselves, to upload files to a personal server, or to rely on its Groove or server-based tools found only in the more expensive editions of Office. Online software maker Zoho rose to the occasion by creating a free add-in for Office 2007 that lets you upload Word and Excel documents to Zoho's servers. Yet Lightning has the advantage over Zoho and Google Docs & Spreadsheets because it's a desktop-based program and therefore won't die if your Internet connection shorts out. By midyear, Corel anticipates Lightning will support DOCX and other new file types from Microsoft Office 2007.