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ISSUE 593: Zisman- March 6 2001


The high-tech office

ALAN ZISMAN

Microsoft Works 2001 offers all the power most of us need

It seems like the whole world uses one version or another of Microsoft Office for word processing, spreadsheets and more. In fact, sometimes it seems that the biggest competitors to MS Office 2000 are older versions of Office and pirated copies of Office.

Nevertheless, I find myself continually checking out alternatives. For instance, there's Corel Word Perfect. And IBM/Lotus's Smartsuite. Or free downloads, such as Sun Staroffice or the new 602Pro PC Suite (www.software602.com).

An often-overlooked alternative to the big Office suites, surprisingly, comes from Microsoft. And Microsoft Works now has a new version, Works 2001, aka Works 6.0.

Like the previous version, there are two packages, the basic MS Works (about $60) and a Works Suite (about $150). Like Appleworks, which ships with new iMacs, you'll most often find one or the other bundled with new PCs aimed at home users.

There's a lot to like. Most of us use just a small fraction of the capabilities of a full-blown Office suite; the Works word processor and spreadsheet may prove to be a better fit. And these new versions can read and save in standard Office formats. I've always been partial to the Works database. Most of us never use databases because products such as Office's Access, while powerful, are daunting for mere mortals. The Works 2001 database remains an easy way to organize information and makes it easy to use in reports, labels and mail merges ("You, Alan Zisman, could be the next big winner..."). There's no scaled-down version of Powerpoint, however. If you do presentations, this isn't for you.

Like the previous version, Works uses an HTML page to create new documents and to link to a range of premade templates. Unlike that version, the new edition of this feature runs at a reasonable speed.

As with the previous version, though, there are some things I dislike. Even the basic version is pretty hefty, requiring 120-140 MB of drive space, about as much as the full-blown Office package. And like the previous version, there's not much you can do to customize the programs. While earlier versions of Works let me rearrange the toolbar icons and set the program to work the way I wanted, this version ties my hands; it's Microsoft's way or nothing.

For instance, new to Works 2001 is a Portfolio feature, a potentially handy way to collect and organize photos and information from Web sites and other sources for use in your documents. But it loads itself on startup, staying onscreen at all times with no obvious way to turn it off. While I might sometimes want to use it, I'd like to be able to decide when, thank you! Similarly, installation offers few choices and upgrades your browser to Internet Explorer 5.5, want it or not.

Microsoft seems to assume that users don't want to be overwhelmed by too many choices; I would prefer something like an "advanced" button, allowing me to be the one to decide.

The full-blown Works Suite ships on six CDs or a DVD disk and includes versions of virtually all of Microsoft's home applications, requiring as much as 850 MB of drive space. In addition to the core Works package, it includes Word 2000, which replaces Works' own word processor. Money 2001 provides personal financial management tools. Picture It Publishing includes basic photo-editing and publishing capabilities, along with thousands of templates and images. Streets and Trips includes street maps, trip planning and lists of hotels, restaurants, campgrounds and more. The new edition adds Canada to the territory covered and syncs with handheld Pocket Windows devices. Encarta 2001 is the newest edition of perhaps the most widely used CD-ROM encyclopedia. And it's all for about the same cost as simply buying a copy of Microsoft Word.

An affordable alternative to Microsoft Office, I just wish it wasn't so single-minded about forcing me to work its way.



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan