It's Bill's way or the highway (MS Works 2000)

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Toronto Computes, January 2000

Microsoft Works 2000
Available in three versions: standalone ($89)
Works Suite Basic (adding Money 2000 and Encarta 2000-- $119)
Works Suite 2000 (adding Word 2000, Home Publishing 2000, Picture It Express, and Expedia 2000 to the Basic package?$159).

For over a decade now, various versions of Microsoft Works or ClarisWorks (aka AppleWorks) have offered users a combination of word processor, spreadsheet, database, and more, without either the hardware demands or learning curve of coping with all the features of the big-time office suites?features that most of us don?t use anyway.

Such programs are widely used in schools, and are often included with new Mac and PC hardware?especially computers destined for home use. But the so-called integrated programs have never gotten the respect they deserved from a public enamored of high-powered office suites.

I quite liked the last version from Microsoft?Works 4.5. The word processor and spreadsheet were adequate for most users, and the database was wonderful?unlike the high-test office suite databases, you didn?t need to be a programming professional to use it. But it lacked the ability to read or save Office 97 or 2000 documents, and the word processor was missing the single nicest feature of virtually every word processor since 1995?real time spell checking. (Perhaps that?s why Microsoft also threw Word 97 into the widely distributed Home Essentials package).

So I was hopeful that the latest Microsoft Works 2000 would bring this nice program into the modern era.

Microsoft has designed Works 2000 in sync with its other home-oriented programs?Money, Home Publishing Studio, and so forth. It has concluded that home users are task oriented?they don?t want do learn to use software, but want to get jobs done.

Fair enough.

Works 4.5 started up showing users a list of Wizards and templates, but all it took was a click on the dialogue box tab to open a new or existing file. The new version starts up with a full page Task Launcher, listing the 250 pre-packaged tasks (up from 104 in the previous version). The Task Launcher is built as a web page (and requires the Internet Explorer 5 to work), with tasks as links. You can click on a link to open a blank document?but it?s slow and awkward. Luckily, icons to open a blank word processor (etc) document are installed into the Start Menu.

But unlike the previous version, which was easily customized to start up with the New Document or Open Existing Document tab, you can?t change the default in the new version. You don?t like the default, tough!

In fact, my biggest complaint with this version is that users simply can?t customize it. Microsoft has simplified the toolbar and menus, in keeping with their philosophy for home use?but at the same time, it?s made it impossible for users to shape the program to their own ends. (I should have suspected something was amiss when the Setup program lacked any Custom Installation option).

For instance, when I use Works 4.5 in schools, I like to remove the printer icon from the toolbar?students often get impatient waiting for their files to print, and click the icon repeatedly. And I like to add toolbar buttons for hard-to-find single and double-spacing. With the new version, I?m out of luck.

And that?s too bad. The Works 2000 word processor adds the realtime spell checking I wanted, and throws in grammar checking as well, along with better word-wrap, border, table, and column features. It opens and saves Word and Excel documents. The database remains a joy to work with, and a powerful tool for mail merges and label creation.

But with this version users have a choice of Microsoft?s way or no way at all. And that?s too bad. I?d rather stick with the previous version?s customizability, and forego features like realtime spell checking?especially since I can?t turn it off if I don?t want it.

Works 2000 remains a usable program, and the two Works Suite bundles offer a lot of product for the money. But after a decade of working with Works, this is the first version that I really don?t care to use. Sorry Microsoft.

Search WWW Search

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