As a $50 alternative to full-featured office suites that cost hundreds more, Microsoft Works 8.0 is a nicely integrated productivity package for home users. Its key modules-- word processor, spreadsheet, and database--provide extensive handholding and are best suited for computing neophytes. Works 8.0 also adds an autobackup and recovery feature, an easy-to-use dictionary, and a slightly revamped calendar. That said, Works' talents are limited. For instance, the word processor lacks collaborative editing tools, the spreadsheet doesn't support Excel macros, and although Works can display PowerPoint presentations, it can't create or edit them. While Works 7.0 users should pass on this minor upgrade, budget-conscious families new to Works will benefit from its clean, task-oriented interface and rock-bottom price. Microsoft competitor Corel does not offer an entry-level version of WordPerfect to match the price and features of Works. The full Microsoft Works 8.0 install took only five minutes in our tests. The process was automatic, requiring only that we choose between the complete (recommended) or basic installation. The difference? The basic installation uses 65MB less hard disk space but requires the Works CD for certain tasks, such as retrieving clip art.
Works 8.0's interface is unchanged from version 7.0's, though you'll find a few minor tweaks here and there. The calendar now supports up to four users and can display their appointments on individual schedules or combined on a single schedule. The calendar uses color-coded appointments--blue for Susie and red for Stan, for example--to distinguish one person's meetings from another's.
Works' main interface, the Task Launcher, does as its name implies, allowing you to focus on the task rather than the application needed to complete it. Click the fitness-tracking template, for instance, and the Works spreadsheet launches with its Aerobic Activity Log ready to fill. For more experienced users, the handy Quick Launch column makes it easy to start one of Works' programs directly.
Works detects some (but not all) Microsoft programs already installed on your PC and adds them to its Task Manager program list--with some limitations. For instance, we were able to launch Money 2005 from inside Works, but not Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. All four were installed on our test system.Microsoft Works 8.0's best new feature is its user-friendly dictionary, a feature borrowed from Microsoft Office 11.0. When you're working in a document and need a quick definition, simply select the word in question and click the Dictionary Lookup icon on the Standard toolbar. A pop-up screen provides one or more definitions. There's even a thesaurus for synonyms and antonyms, and optional parental controls that limit definitions to "family-friendly" terms. The dictionary is well designed, but we wish it functioned outside Works too--in Internet Explorer, for instance. A dictionary would be handy for reading complex articles online.
Autobackup and document recovery, another new feature borrowed from Office, is great for crash-prone PCs. Works saves open files every 10 minutes or at a user-specified interval (from five minutes to an hour).