Reliable Conversion to WordPerfect

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 13, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003

Donna wrote and asked if there was a way to reliably convert documents from Word to WordPerfect. It seems that Donna works for a pharmaceutical company and they need to have their documents in WordPerfect format for their submission to the Canadian government. Donna was less than pleased with the conversion results using Word's format converter.

Perhaps the perfect solution, Donna, would be to go on a one-person (or one-company) campaign to change the standards expected by the Canadian government. Just because WordPerfect is owned by a Canadian company and the Canadian government has provided huge concessions to that company over the years is no reason to expect them be loyal to WordPerfect, now is it?

Once you are done tilting at windmills, you are still left with the problem of how to get a good conversion from a Word document to a WordPerfect document. There are actually three routes you can go with this, assuming you own copies of both Word and WordPerfect. The first route is to use Word's built-in file converter, as you have been doing. The second is to use Word to save the document in RTF format, which can be understood and imported by WordPerfect. The third is to use WordPerfect's capabilities to read Word documents. You will, of course, get different results with each method. This simply means that one method may work best for one type or complexity of document, and a different method may work better for a different type or complexity of document. You will need to check out each method and determine which is best for your needs.

There are, of course, third-party conversion programs you can try. The suitability of these solutions will depend on the type and complexity of the documents you are converting. This means that you won’t know which solution is best until you try them out.

When all is said and done, however, Microsoft's converter may be the best all-around converter that there is when dealing with WordPerfect documents. One WordTipper, who used to work in Word Support at Microsoft for seven years, provided the following fascinating look at why this is a reasonable claim:

"Sad to say, Microsoft's converter is as good as they get.

"I worked in Word Support at Microsoft and saw the evolution of WinWord from v1.1a through Word97. WordPerfect conversion was one of the biggest challenges/headaches that we faced, the others being envelope printing and print-merge. The latter two we got pretty-well knocked, especially as printer manufacturers improved their media-handling (and I still think the graphical display of the print-merge process in Word2 was the single best thing we did for that). However, WP conversion remained a hugely thorny problem.

"The root of it is in WP's document structure, with its embedded codes. This is a completely different theory of what constitutes a document, at a very basic level. Bro, this isn't 'apples and oranges,' it's more like 'apple' and 'triangle.' WP looks at a document as a stream running from top to bottom; the embedded codes change the behavior of that stream as it passes through a theoretical window, either the view onscreen (and boy, what they had to do to get it WYSIWYG for Windows delayed them getting into the Windows market at least a year) or being processed by the printer driver. Word looks at a document as a structure, the basic building blocks being character, paragraph, and section, with the text being held as pretty-much plain text (with a few oddments of control characters and the occasional field code) and the formatting itself being stored in binary form at the bottom of the disk image of the file. (In memory, it's held as several chunks, stitched together with what are called "piece tables", and here it gets too weird to contemplate.)

"When you try to move between these models, there are inevitable breakdowns. There are things in both products that simply don't have an equivalent in the other. Add to that the fact that a converter must make several passes on the WP document to resolve all the embedded codes, and it becomes a very difficult process to do accurately. Within the industry, WP is considered the most difficult format to convert accurately by far; it's not that WP intended to make it that way; it just is. In conversations with (then) Aldus Corp. technicians over this, we knew they had the same kinds of problems. PageMaker has a pointer-based format similar to Word, and Aldus finally just called it good and lived with a limited converter from WP to PageMaker, citing a lengthy list in a ReadMe about things that wouldn't convert.

"In versions of Word through Word2, MasterSoft wrote the WP converter for Microsoft. It never quite cut the mustard. During the development of Word6, BillG himself declared that we bail on MasterSoft, as accurate WP conversions, especially round-trip conversions (which add a whole 'nother magnitude of complexity to an existing nightmare) had to form one of the cornerstones of stealing marketshare from WP. A huge chunk of money and person-hours was budgeted to making the best-possible WP converter, and it says something that the WP converter binary is something like two-and-a-half times the size of any of the others. Word Support collected something like twenty thousand of users' real-world WP documents and put them through the converter, and there are dozens of concatenations of formattings that were 'special-cased' by the converter.

"This really is as good as it gets. Believe me.

"With WP documents that are skillfully constructed by knowledgeable WP users, the converter is pretty durn good, even in round-trip conversions. It is drastically better than any from third parties and far better than the Word converter used by WP itself. However, WP's embedded-code formatting instructions lend themselves to a degree of convolution in unskillful hands that just makes my head hurt, and there is NOTHING that can be done about this and about the features idiosyncratic to WP (often themselves artifacts of their formatting model) that have no near equivalents in Word, and vice-versa.

"I hope this gives you a better idea of what the issues are. In some cases, this conversion just will not go smoothly."

Thanks—a fascinating look at the inside workings of Microsoft in relation to the conversion issue.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1519) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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