Not much new
Other than this face-lift, Works 7.0 really shows its age. The spreadsheet and database remain easy to use, but they're no match for Microsoft Excel and Access. The spreadsheet app, called Works Spreadsheet, reads Excel files, although in our tests, it altered some original formatting details, including colors and column widths. The flat-file database, called Works Database (are you seeing a pattern here?), however, can't cope with Access files at all. Thanks to their utter simplicity, these apps are fine for making family budgets or lists. But to create highly functional databases and spreadsheets, small businesses should stick to heavyweights such as Excel and Access. Nor are Works' dinky calendar and address book a match for a juggernaut like Outlook. For the money, we're not surprised, but don't expect a business-level contact manager.
Speaking of simplicity, Works Suite provides you with more templates than before--more than 400 by our count--to create everything from loan-comparison calculations to resumes. To help you design specialty stationery, the Works word processor now lets you apply decorative watermarks to documents. Another plus for you mobile types: Works now syncs with Palm- and PocketPC-compatible handhelds, so you can move calendar and address book data back and forth. And we're glad to see that Portfolio is still around. This separate window on the desktop organizes files, images, and documents. It's a superb assistant for school research.
Word vs. Works
Among the other applications bundled in Works Suite 2003, Word 2002 is the biggest draw. The word processor of record in Office XP, Word by itself costs more than Works Suite 2003. Here's a tip: if you want Word and don't need the rest of Office's applications, go the cheapest route and get Works Suite.
Free phone calls to tech support
Works Suite's tech support options are, surprisingly, better than Office's--presumably because Microsoft considers it a personal program rather than a business one. Microsoft offers free Works Suite support that includes phone access via a toll call to a help desk, available Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT. When we called, we waited less than a minute to talk to a rep, who then answered our question quickly and accurately. The program's built-in help file and its online support are both excellent, as well. The latter is chock-full of solutions and FAQs, and you can e-mail for tech help.
If you don't have the cash for Office XP but crave Microsoft Word, Works Suite 2003 is the way to go. It's the best all-around collection of software for the home. In fact, for the PC market, Works Suite is pretty much the only home-productivity game in town.