Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 117 / FEBRUARY 1990 / PAGE 46





For new and intermediate computer users, the value of a good integrated package can't be overestimated. The comfort of a single interface provides uncomplicated access to several companion applications while it shortens the time it takes to learn any one of them. The newest overhaul to Microsoft Works, version 2.0, provides all of these benefits and more. Its seamless integration, powerful applications, detailed help features, and comprehensive online tutorials show once again why, when it comes to low-cost integrated software, this package remains king of the hill.

Works makes use of IBM's Common User Access (CUA) structure, which is a set of rules governing how applications are displayed onscreen. Programs that use CUA can be loosely compared to Macintosh progams (minus icons), which have always incorporated and shared that computer's common interface design. What that means for you is that once you've grown comfortable with one of the Works modules, you'll have an easier time getting up to speed on its other applications.

The Works interface centers around a menu bar at the top of the screen, with pull-down menus that are accessible using a mouse or keyboard commands. When the program loads, the File menu appears automatically—a difference from earlier version in which you had to pull the menu down after you loaded the program. This slight but pleasing improvement saves a couple of keystrokes and implies that Microsoft pays attention to Works owners. After all, what's the use of loading the program if you don't intend to work on a file?

Beyond the interface lies a powerful group of applications that will serve the needs of any home computer user—and small-business user, too, for that matter. For under $150, you can have all the software you'll ever need (except for the latest hit game). The word processor is hardy and boasts a spelling checker and a thesaurus, the spreadsheet is large enough for any but the most complex number-crunching tasks, the database is flexible and easy to use, and the communications module makes getting online easier then ever.

Works doesn't require the latest 386SX computer to run; it's happy chugging away on a PC or XT compatible, which will make a lot of new computer owners happy as well. It will also run off of floppy disks; in fact, the whole set of applications will fit on one 3½-inch 720K disk, making the package ideal for use on a laptop. Works' basic hardware requirements of 512K of RAM and DOS 2.0 or higher are minimal enough to be considered standards today for home computers.

Installation is a simple process of moving through the program's setup procedure. Whether you're installing Works for the first time or upgrading from a previous version, you'll find the clear and concise setup instructions a breeze to fallow.

After you've installed the program, you're ready to go to work. If you're new to Works, you may want to install the online tutorial. This series of lessons will guide you through any program, even from inside an application. Microsoft deserves high marks for this comprehensive and elegant solution to the intimidating learning process that new buyers often face.

The first application that most user will investigate is word processing, and the updated Works sports several welcome advances over version 1.05. Foremost among the improvements is the way the program displays text onscreen. In earlier versions, Works showed different character styles (bold, italic, and so on) in bold typeface. Version 2.0 uses different colors to identify italic, subscript, superscript, and underlined text. Even better is the program's new graphics capability, which allows a WYSIWYG display so that the type style you select is visible on the screen. That makes it a lot easier to see which style you've used on a particular word or phrase.

Running Works in graphics mode is quite a bit slower than running it in text mode, so you'll probably want to use the graphics mode only on a case-by-case basis. Although you can choose the graphics mode during setup, it makes more sense to install the program as a faster text-based application since you can select between text and graphics at any time.

Works now lets you add automatically numbered endnotes to your document. Although the manual refers to them as footnotes, they fall at the end of the document.

To aid navigation through long documents, you can place bookmarks in the text to which you can return. Bookmarks are key words that you attach to specific parts of your document; from the Select menu you can highlight the Go To command, which will display bookmark names. Simply select the bookmark to which you want to return and the program whisks you there.

The spreadsheet in Works retains its serviceable demeanor and adds a few nice touches that make it an even better financial tool. A Fill Series command, which lets you fill a selected group of cells with a series of numbers or dates, has been added to the Fill Down and Fill Right commands. This speeds data entry and eliminates many entry errors.

Manipulating spreadsheet data is easier now with a function that sorts rows on any number of columns or fields. This function was previously available only in the database module. As you arrange spreadsheet figures in ascending or descending order (you can also sort cell labels alphabetically), you gain new perspectives on what the numbers mean—and that's crucial for any home office or home budget. To ease your path into spreadsheets, Microsoft has included two sample files: a home-budget worksheet and an amortization schedule. You can adapt both to suit your needs, or you can study the way they're put together and create your own.

Printing spreadsheets, especially large ones, has always been a pain. Works contributes a little analgesic with its Preview feature. Select Preview from the Print menu to see a miniature version of your document (spreadsheet, word processing file, database, or chart) as it will appear when printed. By changing the dimensions of your paper from portrait to landscape, you can get a view of your document as it would be printed side-ways. (The actual printing depends on whether you've configured your printer correctly; I wish these things were more automatic.)

The Preview feature saves time as well as paper. No more printing several copies of a document until you get it looking just right; just preview the file and press the P key to start the printing job it you're satisfied with the layout.

Works' third module, the database, provides all the sorting, reporting, filing, and tracking that any small-business or home computer user will ever need. Unlike earlier versions, fields can be several lines long—up to 256 characters. Again, Microsoft has gone out of its way to lead you into the sometimes-intimidating world of databases by including several templates, such as a check register, an appointment book, and an address file.

To bolster its attractiveness to business users, the database module adds form-generation capabilities to its list of reporting functions. This feature is invaluable for creating blank forms for home-office or small-business use. Form-making software has developed quite a following in the past couple of years, and with this feature Works again solves the problem of figuring out how many different software packages to buy to get the most out of your computer.

The final Works module, communications, retains the ease of use that made version 1.05 such a pleasure. If you're new to Works, you'll appreciate the Record Sign-On feature. Activating this command records all of the keystrokes necessary for logging on to your favorite online services—no more aggravating charges for time spent keying in your sign-on, and no more complicated scripts to master in order to automate the sign-on process. A scrollable buffer lets you review text that's scrolled offscreen. You can also load the captured text into another application, such as the word processor.

The task of any integrated package is just that—the pulling together of separate applications so that the benefits of each are compounded. Works' integration is graceful, and improvements to this newest version make sharing data between applications even easier. Foremost among these improvements is Workers' ability to display overlapping windows—up to eight at once. In earlier versions, you also could have eight files active at once, but only one window could be displayed on the screen at any one time. With version 2.0, you can size, arrange, zoom, and position windows on the screen to suit your needs.

A number of other software programs have proved the benefit of multiple windows, and it's extremely gratifying to see Works embrace this strategy as well. It's also a nice piece of irony that the company that is bringing us Windows is just now incorporating that technology in one of its premier products.

Pasting one file into another (a spreadsheet or chart into a word processor, for example) is exceptionally easy and requires just a few key-strokes. You can open files from any of the modules and have them visible on the screen—no need to close a spreadsheet to write a letter or to exit the database to chart some figures. Coupled with the Preview function mentioned earlier, the integration of information produced from any of Works' modules becomes a seamless and graceful procedure—the definition of integrated software.

If Works were limited to its four applications and the integration between them, it would still be a top flight package. But Microsoft has gone even farther, taking steps to ensure that this is the only productivity software package many computer owners will ever need to buy.

The Works tutorial eases the learning process and quickly gets you working.

Works will exchange information with other software programs by letting you save spreadsheet, word processing, and database files in ASCII format for importing into other applications. Of course, you lose your format codes when you convert to ASCII. For more direct conversion of word processing files, you can buy a supplemental Word Processing Conversion Program, which offers the choice of DCA and RTF formats so that you can convert files to and from such programs as WordPerfect and Displaywrite. I'll take Microsoft to task on this point. If I have to spend extra money on a conversion program, I should get a more direct path than DCA and RTF. For example, I should be able to convert a Works file to a WordPerfect file without having to convert it to DCA format first. Either that, or Microsoft should include the Coversion program with the Works package at no additional cost.

An online calculator is useful for quick calculations, especially in spreadsheets (although it's available in all of the modules). My only complaint is that after you've made one calculation, the calculator menu drops from the screen and you have to call it up again to make a second calculation. Hopefully, in its next upgrade. Microsoft will provide a calculator that will remain on the screen until the user chooses to close it. Come to think of it, the company should make the calculator window movable as well, so it won't cover up the part of the work area that you need to see.

The new version of Works offers several file-management capabilities. From the File menu, you can copy, delete, and move files and directories. For all those times that you used to drop out of Works to perform everday DOS functions, you can now stay aboard. Even better, you can launch other software applications from within Works by selecting Run Other Programs from the File menu. This is a much smoother way of launching other applications than the old way of going from Works to DOS and from there to your other software program. On a 512K AT compatible, I had no problems running a small calendar program and GrandView from Works, but I didn't have the space to load XyWrite III Plus. If I didn't have to load a laser printer driver or if I had 640K or more of RAM, I might not have experienced any trouble.

Another useful desktop accessory is the alarm clock, which sounds an alarm (you can set more than one) and displays a message on your screen at a time that you specify. For those who spend most of their working hours inside of this program, it's a small addition that adds up to a great benefit.

All in all, Microsoft's revamped Works puts new life into this venerable workhorse. Its simple design, user-friendly interface, graceful presentation, and short learning cycle are all designed for people who demand a lot from their software—including a low price. Works isn't the least expensive integrated package on the market, and it lacks some features (such as an outliner for the word processor) offered by other packages such as Spinnaker's Better Working Eight-in-One. But if you're looking for a powerful set of software that incorporates the best in interface design for the PC. Works remains the best of the lot.

Microsoft Works version 2.0

IBM PC and compatibles with 512K of RAM—$149

Upgrade from version 1.05—$50 (free if version 1.05 was purchased after October 1, 1989)


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