Microsoft Works 8
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).
Works' word processor mimics Word's appearance, though it lacks some popular business tools, such as Track Changes revision marks for collaborative editing. The new PowerPoint viewer is great for watching presentations downloaded from the Net. But don't buy Works for the PowerPoint viewer; Microsoft gives it away for free here. Works can't edit PowerPoint files, either, further limiting its usefulness for weekend workaholics hoping to tweak Monday's sales presentation.
Works opens and saves to most popular formats, including multiple versions of Word, WordPerfect, Excel, and Lotus 1-2-3. We experienced some conversion woes, however. Works' spreadsheet, for instance, didn't retain our macros, charts, images, or pictures when opening an Excel file, and the formatting of some Word documents changed slightly (losing paragraph breaks, for example) when opened with Works.
The database feature can open Works, dBase, and text files, and it comes with various templates for residential projects, such as creating home-inventory lists. It's fine for recipe books and other simple tasks.Considering that it's a software vendor, Microsoft provides a very generous support plan for Works 8.0, including three years of free phone and e-mail help. By comparison, many vendors of consumer software provide just one year of free telephone support. Our e-mail and phone queries were answered promptly and politely. One gripe, however: Microsoft's tech support was unable to determine why Works stripped paragraph breaks from some Word documents and not others.
Microsoft's support site is filled with Works-related information, albeit mostly on older versions of the program. At review time, Works 8.0 was newly released, so there wasn't much troubleshooting advice available online. The program itself includes a brief yet helpful tutorial that explains the key elements of the Works interface.