Most of the programs bundled in Works Suite 2006 are solid but lightweight takes on their premium editions. If you wanted to burn images onto a DVD and browse Encarta Kids, for example, you would need to upgrade to the premium versions of Digital Image and Encarta.
If you like Microsoft products and services, you'll appreciate the seamless integration of programs and Web sites within Works Suite 2006. However, if you frequent a range of Web sites, and your computer contains a mishmash of programs from different vendors, Works Suite is less efficient. To start, the Templates button covers a wealth of topics, such as Research and Education, but Web links go only to Microsoft sites or partners. The Home Loan Finder button, for example, takes you to the MSN Real Estate page. Finding resources outside Microsoft properties is up to you. You need to use Microsoft Outlook to e-mail people on your contacts list, and you need Outlook Express, Microsoft Hotmail, or AOL to e-mail digital images.
Within the suite, Works 8 is a lightweight home-organization tool. The Works database has a limited number of templates, but you can create your own. The Works spreadsheet doesn't have all of Excel's functionality, but it's fine for simple home tasks, such as adding up numbers in a column of expenses. Works Projects are essentially checklists of what to do when you plan a vacation, organize the household, and so on. Much of the information in Works 8 is available at various Web sites (the PowerPoint Viewer, for example, is free online), but Works 8 conveniently puts it all in one place, encouraging your inner organizer.
While the competingoffers the latest version of Corel's word processing and spreadsheet programs, Microsoft Works Suite 2006 makes you settle for Word 2002. Even if you have a newer version of Word on your computer, you can't link to it from within Works Suite, which can be annoying. Nor does Works Suite 2006 include any security software, unlike Corel Home Edition. Considering Works Suite's reliance on oft-hacked Outlook Express, perhaps it should.
Toll-free technical support for Microsoft Works Suite 2006 is available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which is a good deal. A knowledgeable technician promptly answered our call. Chat, e-mail support, and an online knowledge base are available online. After the first year, most e-mail and phone support costs $35 per request unless you have an existing support contract. For more help with the individual programs in Works Suite, each desktop program comes with a searchable help file. Microsoft also provides a user manual for Digital Image 2006, which would have been handy for the other apps in the suite too.