Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 142 / JULY 1992 / PAGE 68

Microsoft Works for Windows. (integrated software) (Evaluation)
by Peter Scisco

You might never get your hands on a free lunch, but your business can still feast on Microsoft Works. Of all the integrated software packages available for IBM and compatible computers, Works is superior in its blend of critical home office and small business applications. Easy to learn, it boasts a consistent interface and is affordable. The word processor, database, spreadsheet, and telecommunications modules offer solid if not breathtaking performance. If you're running a home office or a small business, Works might be the only software you need.

Several subtle changes make the Windows version of Works different from the DOS version. For example, there's no telecommunications module because you can use Windows' Terminal. This illustrates the major advantage of the Windows' version: instant access to the Windows accessories.

Differences are immediately apparent when you launch Works from the Program Manager. The opening screen offers a selection of five buttons: Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database, WorksWizards, and Open Existing File. A single click on one of these buttons propels you to almost instant productivity.

Each application module shares common functions with the others. For example, no matter which of the applications you're using, you can always open an existing file, regardless of the native format. If you're writing a letter, you can open a spreadsheet. If your spreadsheet and word processor are open, you can open a database. Each module is fully operational within its application and within its own window. Windows can be cascaded or tiled for easy task switching and viewing, and cutting and pasting between the applications is a snap.

Veteran Works users who've recently moved to Windows will be surprised to find that the DOS command structure works side by side with the Windows commands. For example, you can cut a block of text using keyboard commands from Windows (Shift-Delete) or DOS (Ctrl-X). This may confuse some Windows users, as the Edit menu lists only the DOS commands.

Each application has a row of icons across the top of its window, a familiar sight to veteran Windows users. These buttons put the most common editing tasks right at your fingertips and are easily related to the functions they perform. Generally, the icon buttons from the upper left to the center of the screen govern common functions such as font selection, type size, typefaces, and alignment. A group of buttons to the right of center features functions specific to each application. In the database, for example, this group switches between list and form view, launches a query, and creates a report.

This general overview of Works hints at the program's greatest strength--its interactive sharing of information and data between applications. This sort of sharing is general to all well-designed Windows applications, but not all software developers exploit the benefits of DDE and DLL. In Works, however, the solid interactive design doesn't come at the expense of any particular application.

The Works word processor is much more robust than Windows Write. It will import Write files and documents produced in WordPerfect (5.0 and 5.1) and Word for Windows (1.x) as well as those saved in ASCII, RTF, or dBASE formats. This translation capability makes it well suited for use as an extended-office application. When you take work home, you won't have to spend hundreds of dollars buying the high-powered applications you use at the office; just save your files to disk in the right format and import them into Works for editing.

You won't confuse Works' word processor with high-end programs like Ami Pro, but any small business worker will be able to create smart-looking documents right away. Want to include a sketch? Open up the integrated Draw program, create a picture, and place it in your document. Want to create a form letter? Select the database fields you want from any available Works database file, create objects in any of the other applications, and then paste them into your document. Commands and tasks are especially intuitive.

The word processor also has a Note-It function that you can use to place a predesigned icon in your text, accompanied by captions. Place the icon and the associated text note in your document. Then, when you double-click on the icon, the note is displayed. Unfortunately, Note-It is severely underdocumented and is available only in the word processor. You can append a note to a spreadsheet or database file, however, by bringing those files into the word processor and then appending a note near the placed object.

Weaker than the word processor, Works' spreadsheet is good enough for most small business tasks and for home budgeting. As in Excel, an "instant sum" key allows you to add columns or rows of numbers quickly without having to enter a formula. If the range of cells you want isn't selected, you can modify the selection with your mouse.

You can use buttons for setting cell-number attributes such as currency, percentage, or general. Chart making is also easy.

Microsoft has succeeded in keeping the Works spreadsheet from stealing away potential Excel customers. But the company omits functions that would've made this a stronger home office application. For example, the spreadsheet won't import Excel files directly. You have to save your Excel worksheet as a WKS file or as a Lotus-compatible WK1 file and then open it as a spreadsheet in Works.

The spreadsheet is also light on text formatting. If, for instance, you try to change the point size of the text within a cell, the change is made to the entire spreadsheet. Again, you can paste the worksheet into the word processor to make these changes.

Works' free-form, flat-file database is its strongest element. The database plays host to WorksWizards, predesigned interactive "macrotemplates" that guide users through various database functions and reports, such as creating mailing labels, address books, and form letters. In this version of Works, the Wizards are linked closely to the database functions. Wizards are different from standard templates (also provided) in that they prompt you for information and then create the document that matches your input--the program compiles the forms and imports the necessary data.

If you have a computerized contact list (an address book, for example) at work, you can export it as a text file and then import it into the Works database. Works will also directly import and export dBASE III and IV files, retaining field names during translation.

Anyone using Works as a small business application will be able to produce reports for inventory, accounts receivable, and sales tracking. Works' database reports can also be copied to the other modules; database fields are separated by tabs when you send them to the word processor and by rows and columns in the spreadsheet.

This kind of ease and automation prompts Microsoft to put the slogan "Software for people" on the Works for Windows box. Along with many other companies, Microsoft realizes that exploiting the power of the PC means making that power readily accessible. Combine Works with Windows, and you have just about all of the productivity software you'll ever need.