Microsoft Works Suite 2006 review
Encarta’s incorporation of the AutoRoute engine is also a masterstroke, allowing you to pan around the world, clicking towns and reading the associated articles. There’s no denying that Encarta remains the best installable (not to mention reliable) encyclopedia we’ve tested for many years, and it kept us entertained clicking from entry to entry for a good two hours.
AutoRoute has garnered an Essentials suffix to indicate its trimmed-down nature, yet still covers 27 countries. It remains highly competent and far more flexible than an online route planner, but some of the more advanced functions, such as spoken GPS directions, are missing. Despite this, the button to switch on the voice is still present. Pressing it suggests you might like to upgrade. The same goes for the driving guidance pane.
However, it does have an excellent database of neighbourhood information. We checked out our surrounding area and were impressed by the accuracy with which it placed local garages and museums, and the fact that supplementary information like phone numbers was included on the record for each. It did miss out our closest pub, though, and got confused by the cash machine at the post office, which dispenses cash for branchless Internet banks. Each one was listed individually, making it look like we had 22 branches within half a mile.
Route planning itself is fast and flexible, and it’s easy to incorporate a last-minute detour. The turn list and map are dynamically linked, so clicking entries on the list highlights them on the map, while entering your preferred driving style, including average speeds and fuel consumption, lets you predict more accurate arrival times and costs.
The directions it gives are easy to follow and, because of the way it collapses down helpful but not essential entries – such as ‘At Exit 10 stay on M20’ – also concise and suited to solo driving.
Digital Image 2006, the suite’s photography application, comprises two distinct parts – a library tool and an editor – and both feel like well-established, mature additions. Library organises your photos, arranging them according to editable metadata variables. A handy parameter painter lets you apply common variables to batches of pictures with a single click, while a rating system allows you to group them by personal preference, as well as the time and place they were taken. This is clearly a play for Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition, a free download from www.adobe.co.uk
Microsoft’s professional photo-printing service is picky, though: clicking the link threw up our default browser, but as this was Firefox and not IE we couldn’t go further. Manually pasting the link into IE got us one stage further, but it too fell over because it doesn’t include the necessary ActiveX controller for picking photos. Once installed, we moved onto the next step, but it again collapsed because of another missing component: ‘ActiveX federated upload control from MCL Software Service Inc’. Only after installing that could we add our pictures to a basket, where they were priced up in euros, not pounds. All things considered, we recommend using www.photobox.co.uk instead. It isn’t integrated into Digital Image, but we prefer being able to upload pictures without installing browser control, and we appreciate prices in pounds and pence too.
Fortunately, the separate photo editor is very good. Its extensive range of one-click fixes really does improve your images with the minimum of fuss, and there’s even a camera phone auto-fix to brighten and enhance low-resolution images. Each tool drops you into a new task pane, isolating the sliders and dialogs required for the job in hand, saving you the chore of hunting through myriad palettes.
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