Microsoft Works (3.0 for DOS)
by Alan Zisman (c)
1994. First published in Our Computer Player, January 14, 1994
Once upon a time, for many people, a personal computer
meant an Apple II. And software probably meant AppleWorks. This package
defined the category 'integrated software' and with its basic but
affordable word processor, spreadsheet, and database, might be all
Even as personal computers grew more sophisticated,
the idea of the SomethingWorks stuck around. Microsoft did its best to
copy AppleWorks for the budding PC market with Microsoft Works, even
bringing it out in a version for Apple's own MacIntosh.
While Lotus with its Symphony and Ashton-Tate with
Framework might claim more power for an integrated PC package,
Microsoft Works stayed the sales leader by keeping to the idea of a
single, low-cost, and easy to use product that would provide enough
power for home and student use, as well as for many small businesses.
While popular in these markets, as well as in the
growing portable computing market, MS-Works had its detractors.
Recently, PC Magazine's would-be computer-guru, John Dvorak, decried
its presence on many laptops, calling it "downright embarrassing
and awkward". Last updated in 1988 on the Mac and a year later on the
PC, it was looking dated. The MacIntosh version was also facing a
number of newer, more powerful competitors.
After releasing a Windows version last year, Microsoft
finally got around to updating the MacIntosh and DOS versions. I'll
look at the PC version, to see if it still has what it takes. Is there
a role for this product in this era of graphical computing and high
Since version 2.0, PC-Works has sported a nice
interface, for a character-based, DOS product (oops, Alan, your Windows
bias is showing!). It featured mouse support, drop-down menus, dialogue
boxes, and multiple, re-sizable windows (that's small 'w' windows). You
could have a word processor document and a spreadsheet file open and on
screen at the same time, and cut and paste freely between them. Like
Microsoft's other DOS program, MS-Word, you could run in character
mode, or graphics mode. Graphics mode, while slower, gave you an arrow
cursor, and let you see your text formatting on-screen. Boldface looked
bold, italics looked tilted, and underlining was... well, you guessed,
it. You still didn't get true font support, and had to switch to a
preview mode to see how your page would actually print out.
All that remains true about the new version. In fact,
for a DOS program, it looks more like its Windows (that's capital 'w')
cousins than ever. Version 3 sports 3-d shadows and sculpted effects
galore. This trendy, 90's look doesn't add much to its usability, but
the also trendy toolbar found in all modules, does. Now, instead of
having to learn to look in the Format menu to make text bold, or to
change font and size, it's right on top just a single mouse click away.
The toolbar isn't as pretty as in most Windows programs, or in the
recently enhanced DOS dtp program, Publish It, but it's there, and it
works simply and easily. (Keyboard users still are limited to using the
The other trendy enhancement brought over from
Microsoft's Windows line is Wizards. These are a set of glorified
macros, to walk the user through a number of common tasks. The Works
Wizards include an Address Book, Form Letters, and Mailing Labels, as
well as a data finder and a file finder. They're a quick and easy way
for users to accomplish these tasks, and the output can be easily
As well, Works installs with a set of templates...
preformated documents for each module. The word processor templates
includes resumes, a fax cover sheet, a collection letter, and more. The
spreadsheet ships with a loan amortization sheet, a teacher's
gradebook, a personal budget and others, while the database includes
accounts receivable and payable, a home inventory, and a checkbook.
While these won't make the creators of Quicken, the popular personal
finance program lose too much business, they again will let users get
down to work quickly.
The new program imports more file formats and more
printers. In the past, users with WordPerfect documents or Postscript
printers had to send away for supplementary disks. This time, these,
and more, are built in.
You even get a new mini-module. While the older
version included a calculator and alarm clock, version 3 adds an
All the core modules have been enhanced. The word
processor still doesn't include a drawing feature like the versions for
the Mac or Windows, but it does let you import pictures in PCX, TIF, or
EPS formats. To view these pictures, you must use the page preview
feature, and you can't wrap text beside your pictures... only above or
As well, there is new footnote support. Works lets you
choose to place footnotes either at the end of your document, or at the
bottom of each page. You can insert spreadsheet data as a chart or as a
table. Now, the data is hot-linked-- if you update your spreadsheet,
the word processor document is updated as well.
You also get an overtype option, as well as word and
line count. The word processor continues to have a spell check and a
The spreadsheet and database both support larger
files; you can now have over 16,000 spreadsheet rows, and 32,000
database records. The spreadsheet can automatically adjust column width
to fit your data, and like the big guy, Excel, there's an AutoSum tool,
to automatically total a row or column. Both modules let you use
fractions as well as decimals, and can format numbers to include
leading zeros (important for inventory codes, for example).
The database module has a vastly improved report
generator. In the past, creating a report was pretty painful-- now it's
almost a pleasure to use.
Finally, the communications module becomes almost
respectable. I knew a number of people who used the old one to connect
up with BBS's because it was there, and they didn't want to have to buy
and learn how to use a dedicated communications package. But they were
severely limited by its lack of ANSI support, and by being stuck with
X-modem for file transfers. Both of these limitations are gone. Works
now supports ANSI screen emulations (monochrome only, however,), as
well as Y and Z-modem. It also supports modems on COM3 and 4. Now if
they'd add a dialing directory...
Help, by the way, is just a key away, and is
context-sensitive. Open a menu, select an item, and press F1 to get an
explanation of that menu item. Like version 2, there's also an on-disk
tutorial. Unlike that version, the User's Guide IS usable, and not an
alphabetized reference manual.
All this takes almost 5 megs of hard drive space, up
from about 3 for the previous version. It will run on pretty much any
PC with 640k memory. You don't even need a hard drive... you can
install a runnable version of this on a single 720k disk for that old
Should you get Works? While all the modules have been
upgraded, you'll still get more power and more features in almost any
dedicated word processor, spreadsheet, database, and communications
program. On the other hand, many (most?) users don't use anywhere near
all the features of these programs.
Works remains easy to learn and to use. The consistent
interface means that it is far easier for Works word processor users to
learn to use a spreadsheet or database than for Word Perfect users to
pick up 1-2-3 or D-Base. As well, Works users are guaranteed real,
though limited compatibility between modules that would be difficult,
or impossible to attain using separate DOS programs.
If you're a new computer user, especially if you don't
have a computer that will run Windows, take a look at this one. It's as
easy a way to get productive on your new computer as it comes. If
you've got a laptop with limited or no hard drive space, it sure beats
loading three or four separate programs. (And if you're on a tight
budget, it sure beats buying three or four separate programs!)
While less DOS-based software is being sold than
Windows software, it's good to see that Windows giant Microsoft has not
left DOS users out in the cold. This enhanced version of Works has
plenty of life left in it, and shows that you can still get a lot done,
at an affordable price, without switching over to Windows.
If you're using Works, either the old version 2.0 or
the new upgrade, or if you like Word Perfect or MS Word, but miss
access to the wide range of fonts that Windows 3.1 users get, take a
look for TrueType for DOS. This $80 (approx.) add-in for these three
DOS programs lets you (as the name suggests) add support for TrueType
fonts with a wide range of popular printers (no Postscript support,
however). It includes fonts from 19 TrueType families, including both
body text, head line, symbols and dingbat fonts, and lets the user add
other fonts in the increasingly popluar TrueType format. Runs in 640k,
in about 3 meg of hard disk space. From MicroLogic Software, 1351 Ocean
Avenue, Emeryville, CA. 94608 USA. 510-652-5464, fax 510-652-7079.
(Note from the year
2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review.
A decade or so later, I've gotten a series of emails from fans
hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to
a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software
since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone
looking for copies of older software to check at eBay
or at OldSoftware.com.If you
check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly
freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements
for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)