Microsoft Works Suite 2006 review
Think ‘productivity’ rather than ‘office’, and you’ll know what Works Suite is for. It’s a bundle of six applications that, while not essential to everyday life, certainly make it easier.
There’s AutoRoute for mapping, Money for planning, Encarta for learning, Digital Image for tweaking your photos, plus a full copy of Word 2002 for letter writing. That’s on top of the basic Works 8 (available for £36 inc VAT), the highlights of which include integrating multiple calendar and contacts folders into Outlook Express, plus a basic database and spreadsheet.
The suite life
It’s all fronted by the Suite launcher, primarily designed to help you navigate the applications on the basis of need rather than function. It then drops you into the most appropriate piece of software for the job at hand. Tell it you want to travel, and it offers you AutoRoute to find places, Word to write a travel journal, the spreadsheet to see what you can afford, or MSN to book a hotel. This last option is where a few doubts creep in as MSN permeates Works Suite, in places feeling like a sales tool. Money is dotted with opportunities to compare credit cards or buy insurance, and AutoRoute tempts you with features that are available only if you pay for an upgrade. Even so, there’s still a tremendous amount here for your cash.
The spreadsheet option foregoes the complexity of Excel in favour of a single-page spreadsheet that understands neither conditional formatting or grouping. It’s also limited to a little over 3.2 million cells, which is sufficient for most, but way short of the 15 million of both Excel and the free OpenOffice 2, (the latter is included on our cover disc this month). Works is, of course, aimed at home use, but the spreadsheet’s inability to open anything more complex than a solitary sheet of numbers and sums is limiting, and means that it shouldn’t be used to edit spreadsheets created at work using Excel – saving them back out could all too easily rob the originals of their most useful features.
In the age of the 830,000-article Wikipedia.org, Encarta’s 36,000 entries sound somewhat pokey. The lush entries of previous releases have also been sobered up for the 2006 Standard Edition, which is now dominated by smart typography and a fading task pane.
There’s plenty of multimedia for the taking, although it could be better integrated into the main body of work to great effect. Even entries that should be swamped with attractive visuals, such as Pixar or the table of the world’s tallest buildings, are tidy, text-only affairs, while in other places the choice of image is poorly thought through. Search for Microsoft and you’ll find the same squinty-eyed shot of Bill Gates that the encyclopedia has used for the past few years. Hunt for Apple, and the picture of its founders is so tightly cropped that Steve Jobs, the current CEO and the man who brought us the iPod (which receives just 29 words before mention of a mysterious iMac GF, which we presume should be G5), is only revealed once you expand the picture.
These complaints aside, if you want to use Encarta as a reliable starting point, it’s second to none. Copy and pasting applies the proper references to the document in which you use the work, while buying this bundle also gives you free access to the Premium online service for use from any browser, as well as regular updates. On installing, we updated immediately, to receive obituaries for Rosa Parks and Ronnie Barker, both of whom had died within the past few weeks. It’s hit-and-miss, though: for instance, we could find no mention of Daniel Craig, who was recently confirmed as the next James Bond.