Microsoft has offered home users a stripped-down version of its Office software since the early days of MS-DOS and, with the Vista-compatible version 9, has revised the series for 2008. In truth there aren’t a lot of significant additions to the feature set, but a revised interface and improvements to the calendar and contact features, among other tweaks, does offer it a bit of a refresh.
The majority of the tools within the suite can be controlled and accessed via the Task Launcher homepage, the Works startup screen that initially offers access to a calendar and contacts. Here you can view upcoming appointments and access the full calendar application itself, which supports up to 32 individual calendars for different users.
Microsoft has clearly focused on putting accessibility and usability at a premium with the Works suite. Although you can open each of the main applications manually, you’re encouraged to do so by using one of the many templates or projects available for a range of day to day activities. You’ll find categories such as Home & Money, Cards & Crafts and Sports & Fitness, through which you can access a selection of pre-designed templates utilising one or more of the Works applications to get you started.
You can also view templates by application, and in the projects menu you’ll find these collated into sequential steps that you can work through to complete tasks such as coach a sports team, plan a holiday or organise a household. Along with the History menu, which offers quick access to previously opened files or tasks, this rounds off the functionality of the Task Launcher interface.
Of course you can still open each of the applications manually: specifically these include a word processor, spreadsheet and database application, all of which are effectively stripped-down versions of Word, Excel and Access respectively.
Unfortunately we became a little frustrated when delving into the features of each, to discover exactly how much has been removed. The word processor includes its own dictionary, which is a nice touch, but has very little to offer in terms of formatting control, leaving you with basic font and style changes and mail merge.
The spreadsheet application has no support for multiple worksheets and limited formula control, and the database tool offers little more than the ability to store and perform basic management of fields and lists.
The degree of control for those who want to perform tasks any more complex than creating basic documents is therefore pretty limited, and we’d expect all but the least demanding of users to eventually become frustrated by the lack of flexibility.
Although the projects-oriented approach does have genuine appeal, this is little more than a collation of pre-designed templates and shortcuts that act as timesavers rather than revolutionary features. The calendar, along with its appointment and contact management, is a useful alternative to Outlook from a basic standpoint, but this suffers from similar drawbacks and backs up our biggest issue with Microsoft’s basic Office alternative.
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