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Microsoft Works 8 review: Microsoft Works 8

Microsoft Works 8

Jeff Bertolucci
4 min read
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.


Microsoft Works 8

The Good

New dictionary and autobackup/recovery features; viewer for PowerPoint presentations; task-oriented interface is a breeze to navigate.

The Bad

Word processing, spreadsheet, and database modules are too wimpy for many business-related projects.

The Bottom Line

Works 8.0 is ideal for technophobes and Luddites who need an extremely simple interface for their home-computing chores.
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The improved Works 8.0 calendar allows up to four people to create individual schedules, all of which can be displayed on a single screen.

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.

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The new dictionary in Works 8.0 provides fast definitions for any word you select.

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.

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The Works tutorial, accessible via the Task Launcher, provides a clear, concise overview of the program's interface.

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.


Microsoft Works 8

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 7Support 7
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