Bargain hunters and anyone wanting productivity apps at home will love Microsoft Works Suite 2004. It delivers two highly regarded home productivity apps--Word 2002 and Works 7.0, a personal manager complete with spreadsheets and calendars--for less than a C-note. Microsoft sweetens the deal by tossing in its newest versions of Encarta (an encyclopedia), Money (a personal finance package), Streets & Trips (mapping software), and Picture It Photo Premium (a photo editor)--all for just $84, after the $15 mail-in rebate. Unfortunately, with no upgrade of Works 7.0 or Word 2002, Works Suite 2004 isn't such a hot deal for those who already own the 2003 version.
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Works Suite 2004 features personal productivity software Works 7.0, with a handy Task Launcher that accesses Web content and other programs and templates within Works Suite.
Like , version 2004's centerpiece is Works 7.0, a slick, home-oriented productivity program with integrated modules for spreadsheets, calendars, and more. (Word 2002 handles word-processing chores.) Works' strength is its graphical interface. The Task Launcher makes it easy to launch one of six Works programs by selecting it from a right-hand column. The My Projects screen features dozens of templates for vacation planning, party preparation, and other home-oriented endeavors. If you select Plan A Vacation, for instance, Works loads the spreadsheet module with a ready-made travel budget template.
We'd like to see better integration among Works Suite 2004 programs, however. For instance, when you click the Address Finder tool in Task Launcher, Works launches the Web browser and goes to the MSN Maps Web site--even though you have a copy of Streets & Trips right there on your hard drive. Despite this quibble, however, Works' interface is a winner.
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Works Suite 2004 includes the Encarta Standard encyclopedia, a useful research tool for younger students.
Encarta Standard is an excellent homework tool for younger students. Version 2004 includes thousands of updated articles, more than 19,000 photos and illustrations, and links to about 29,000 Web sites hand-selected by Encarta's editorial staff. However, the Standard edition lacks advanced features that high-school and college scholars may need, such as a dictionary, a thesaurus, and additional articles and images. For those tools, you must purchase the Encarta Reference Library, which costs about $70 (before the $20 mail-in rebate).
Money Standard is a well-designed personal finance package that's handy for home-oriented tasks, including balancing your checkbook, paying bills online, and downloading financial statements. It lacks the sophisticated financial and tax-planning tools of Microsoft Money Deluxe and , however, such as the ability to track investments and automatically calculate capital gains and losses.
Streets & Trips 2004 provides door-to-door driving directions and maps for 6.7 million miles of U.S. and Canadian roads. Big deal, you say? Web sites such as Yahoo and MSN Maps do the same thing--free. However, what sets Streets & Trips apart is its Global Positioning System (GPS) support (new to version 2004), which allows you to find your exact location while traveling with your GPS device. And you can download maps from Streets & Trips to Microsoft Pocket Streets, which runs on a Pocket PC.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade in Works Suite 2004 is its photo editor. Picture It Photo Premium 9.0 replaces the bare-bones Picture It Photo 7.0, which does the basics: it removes red-eye, rotates and crops images, and so on. Premium 9.0, however, does a lot more. Its new image acquisition wizard, for instance, lets you easily transfer photos from a digital camera, a scanner, a hard drive, or other sources. The program also comes with 1,500 templates for photo cards, frames, calendars, and other image-oriented home projects.
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Works Suite 2004 includes a series of step-by-step guides called Quick Tours that introduce you to each module's salient features.
Another plus is that Works Suite 2004 comes with one year of free phone support. (The number isn't toll-free, however.) Hours are Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT. In addition, online support is available during the first year at no charge. Works Suite provides an overall tour, which walks you through the basic features, including the Task Launcher and My Projects interfaces, as well as one for each of the six major programs. Frankly, Works Suite is so easy to use that much of the hand-holding is unnecessary.