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MS Works

Microsoft Not-Windows

By Jim Bray

A trio of updates to popular Microsoft titles has been released, just in time for the 2001 holiday season.

Encarta, Works, and Links cover the gamut from "info-tainment" to productivity to, er, aimless thrills.

Encarta Reference Library 2002, ($75, available on five CD-ROM's or a single DVD) includes an encyclopedia, dictionary and thesaurus, World Atlas, research tool, fact finder, deluxe online service and "Encarta Africana." It's a pretty sweet suite.

MS EncartaMicrosoft sent me the CD version instead of the DVD, so using it involves quite a bit of disc swapping, but it isn't an onerous task. I'd recommend the DVD version if you have a DVD drive, though.

The suite is nicely integrated, even if you do have to swap CD's, and is packed full of more than 67,000 articles, 26,000 illustrations, 270 videos/animations and a lot more.

While sometimes I've accused Microsoft of focusing too much on form rather than substance with the Encarta Reference Suite, it really does manage to offer a lot of good information in a pleasant and well-organized manner. Cross-referencing abounds, and there's plenty of multimedia stuff that acts as the spoonful of sugar to help the learning go down.

It's well organized, too. Down the left side of the screen is a searchable alphabetic list of Encarta's goodies, while the right side offers Web links to MSN's main news page (for up to date info and an MSN commercial) and direct access to the articles, maps, multimedia goodies etc. When CD users need to change discs they're prompted by Encarta and told which disc is needed next.

Works used to be just "a poor man's Microsoft Office," but the latest version, Microsoft Works Suite 2002, is that and a lot more.

Works is actually a collection of six products: MS Word 2002 word processor (the same one that comes with Office XP), Money 2002, Encarta 2002, Picture It! Photo 2000, Streets and Trips 2002, and the rest of Works (spreadsheet, database, address book, e-mail etc.). It's pretty complete and the inclusion of Word means transferring word processing files to and from Works should be a lot easier than it used to be.

Works really shouldn't be compared to Office; they're aimed at different markets. Office is more, well, office oriented, while Works gives you the most mainstream feature of Office (Word), with a lot more home and home business-related products. Which means the spreadsheet isn't up to Excel's standards, and has some problems opening Excel files unfortunately, but on the other hand you get Money to help you track your finances without having to design a bunch of spreadsheets from scratch.

Likewise, the database is no Access, but it isn't meant to be- and it'll probably be more than adequate for everyday tasks.

The suite is organized as simply as possible, from a single starting point. You choose from a list of tasks or programs, or recently used files, and Works loads the appropriate module from there. You can also take a familiarization trip from the opening screen, which is handy when you're new to Works.

A Works Portfolio lets you collect files and other stuff into a central location (in case you haven't heard of the "My Documents" folder, I guess) and control it from there.

There's also a built-in in program for synchronizing files with a handheld PC or a Palm device, as well as some 250 templates to help get you up and running, or inspired, in the various apps.

In all, it's a straightforward solution for people who don't need the power and cost of the fully fledged Microsoft Office and the other applications that all come bundled with Works.

Works 2002 sells for $109.


Links Championship Edition is the latest and supposedly greatest in this series of golfing simulators aimed at those who like to putter around on the PC. It builds on Links 2001 by adding extra courses, Links Expansion Pack Vol. 1, the Links 2001 Course Converter, and the Arnold Palmer Course Designer.

Now I don't golf, so I wouldn't really know an accurate golf simulator if the ball hit me in the face, but I know something about computer games, and the new Links is up to date technology-wise.

I also tried playing the golf course closest to where I live, and the rendering looked quite accurate.

The four disc Links sells for about $55.

Jim Bray's technology columns are available from the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006