ISSUE 546: The high tech office- April
Revamped Microsoft Office offers users
you are probably using some version or other of Microsoft
Office for word processing. Ironically for Microsoft, the biggest
competitors of its current version -- Office 2000 -- are older versions
of Office. Many businesses and individual users see little need to
upgrade from previous versions of the software behemoth.
Some of you are using Corel Word
Perfect, while a tiny minority -- including Linux users -- have
switched to something such as Sun's
freely downloadable (and MS Office-compatible) Star Office.
But let's look back to when notebook
users or users of older, slower computers avoided these space-hogging
office suites, trading away high-end features to save drive space by
opting for an integrated application package such as Microsoft Works or
Claris (now Apple) Works.
Apple Works is still bundled with that
company's best-selling iMac hardware, with a new version 6 promised,
but not yet released.
Microsoft has a new version for the
PC/Windows platform, available in two different editions. The basic
version (about $99) offers a revised take on the classic Works
collection -- basic word processing, spreadsheet, database and
calendar. None of the tools are as powerful as their Office equivalents
but, for many of us, this is not necessarily a bad thing. How many
really use all those features of Word or Excel?
The word processor is the most improved
of the bunch. It offers real-time grammar and spell checking and can
display Word 97/2000 files with reasonable accuracy. The spreadsheet
and database are little changed from the previous version, but offer
robust, basic functionality. In fact, where Office's database, Access,
is a powerful tool that only a programmer can love, the Works database
is quick and easy to learn, aimed at mere mortals with modest data
entry and analysis needs. It is a hidden gem of a program.
While the core program isn't much
changed, Microsoft has totally re-
thought the way users approach it. If you insist, you can go straight
to a blank word processor or spreadsheet document, but if you start up
Works, you get a Web-like page offering choices from a large list of
common tasks. Microsoft is suggesting that most users don't really want
to run software, they just want to get a
Nice idea, but I was less impressed
with the implementation. I found the list of tasks slow and difficult
to navigate, even on reasonably modern hardware. And I was saddened
that Microsoft took away virtually all options to customize the
applications. True, only a minority of users ever bother with such
features, but I've always welcomed the ability to make a program work
differently than the way the programmers decide. With Works 2000, I can
no longer do that.
While the new word processor is the
most improved part of the program, the $159 Works Suite 2000 throws it
away, replacing it instead with a full-version of Microsoft Word 2000.
For the price, it offers a lot of stuff of potential value to home and
small business users -- seven CDs worth in all. The collection includes
the basic Works package (with the word processor there but hidden) and
Word 2000, along with the standard version of Microsoft's Encarta
encyclopedia. Money 2000 is a basic personal finance program. Expedia
Streets and Trips 2000 is a U.S.-focused street maps and
vacation-planning program. Picture It Express aims at basic photo
manipulation for scanner and digital camera owners, while Home
Publishing offers a set of tools for taking those photos and producing
cards, calendars and the like. Each features the same Web-like,
task-based opening screen, with lots of wizards to walk users through
projects. Just be prepared to do a lot of CD-disk swapping to make use
of all this stuff.
While not aimed at your typical office,
it offers a lot of value, and will show up bundled with a lot of
computers aimed at home users -- and by including Microsoft Word in the
mix, it's easy to bring work home from the office, for those of us who
relish seven-day, 65-hour work weeks.
Microsoft Works used to be something I
could recommend as a leaner, meaner alternative to the big office
suites. But even the basic version wants 120 - 155 MB of drive space --
more in fact, than a typical install of Office 97.
But most of us have drive space to burn
nowadays. And if you were thinking of getting a copy of Word anyway,
this is a cheap way to get
it, along with Encarta, and a bunch of other stuff thrown into the