There is no such thing as the final word in word processing software. The three leading programs for Windows computers -- Microsoft Word, Wordperfect and Ami Pro -- regularly leapfrog one another with new and better features.
This month, after two years of development, both Microsoft Word and Wordperfect hopped up with new versions.
It is always difficult to choose a winner in word processing software, simply because all three of the leading programs are so good. In this latest round, the good get better.
Microsoft Word 6.0 has been given 171 new features, byMicrosoft's count, including some impressive advances in ease of use.
The Wordperfect Corp.'s greatly improved Wordperfect 6.0 fixes the shortcomings of earlier versions and includes a wealth of features that are normally associated with integrated office "suites."
Adding more features to a program is a mixed blessing, however.
The downside is that both Word and Wordperfect now demand more system memory in order to jump quickly -- 6 megabytes for Wordperfect and at least 4 for Word, although 6 megabytes is more practical -- and lots of hard disk space.
Customers who use older machines, or who rely on laptop and notebook computers, may balk at having to upgrade their hardwarealong with their software.
Meanwhile, the Lotus Development Corp.'s Ami Pro, which was first to leap into the Windows market and which has won the bullfrog's share of top awards in comparative reviews, is not scheduled for an upgrade until sometime next year.
While the upgrade cycle puts Ami Pro at a temporary disadvantage, it also means that Lotus is in a good strategic position to leapfrog both of its rivals once again.
Microsoft Word 6.0 is an upgrade from Word 2.0, which makes oneglad that it is a word processor instead of a number processor. Actually, Microsoft says it skipped 3, 4 and 5 in an effort to synchronize its numbering scheme for both the Windows and Macintosh programs, which now contain the same "core" code.
The current Microsoft Word for Macintosh 5.1 is expected to be upgraded to 6.0 early next year, and is expected to share most of the new features of Word for Windows.
Among the more interesting features are several that fall undera broad category that Microsoft calls Intellisense, which includes tools that simplify and automate common tasks and, in a sense, anticipate what the user is trying to do.
Microsoft's implementation of these new commands is not flawless, since each user will have different needs and stylistic quirks that cannot be anticipated. But on balance the Intellisense features elevate Word above all other word processors in ease of use.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau:  328-8258.)