Microsoft Works Suite 2003
Clean out your hard drive because Works wants a big chunk of space. A typical installation chews up about a gigabyte of room, but at least you get to decide which parts of the suite to install; you can decline any component except for Works itself. Mac owners, as usual, are out of luck, and so is anyone still stuck with Windows 95; neither this suite nor the new, standalone Works 7.0 (available separately for $55) function with the Windows 95 OS.
Lots of goodies
Once you get Works Suite on your drive--installation took us more than half an hour--you'll have plenty of software to choose from. Works 7.0 itself hands over a simple spreadsheet app, an even simpler database, an address book, and more than 400 document and project templates for everything from creating greeting cards to making a family budget. Add to Works the full versions of Microsoft Word 2002, Money 2003, Encarta 2003, Picture It Photo 7.0, and Streets & Trips 2002, and you may feel overwhelmed.
New Task Launcher looks great
But don't worry. This version is easer to navigate than previous Works Suites. The Task Launcher, the main launch page for the entire suite, has undergone a significant overhaul and now displays a cool, tabbed interface. This new home page, which looks a lot like MSN Explorer's bubbly, colorful home page, displays icons that launch Word, Money, Picture It, Encarta, and Streets & Maps. You'll also find several links that open recently worked-on documents. Plus, Works now displays your calendar on its main screen, along with your appointments for the day, so you can view and update your schedule the moment you launch the program.
Also new to 2003, the Works Projects tab takes you to a page of convenient links to big-deal projects, such as family-reunion plans or sports-team coaches' rosters. Click one of the colorful icons, and Works shows a list of subchores to complete the project. Under the "Plan a family reunion" project, for instance, Works includes tasks such as building a family tree, scheduling the events, and finding online directions to the reunion locale--very cool. However, there are only 11 such projects, though you can create new ones yourself using the Blank Project template. We'd prefer more.
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.