Microsoft updates Works

First there were throwback jerseys, then throwback car designs. Now there's throwback software: Microsoft has announced Version 8 of its Works application suite will become available later in August.

What's new in Works

Works 8 harkens back to the days of non-graphical DOS and 16-bit processors, providing a basic applications suite. Along with the standard word processor, spreadsheet, and flat-file database, the updated Works provides an address book, a shareable calendar, and a task scheduler with a new look.

The new version gives the word processor a new dictionary, and it integrates Microsoft's free PowerPoint Viewer (which previously had to be downloaded separately). But more important than any new features in the package are the functions and tools it does very well without.

The word processor supports both .doc and .rtf files, as well as other standard formats. Likewise, the suite's spreadsheet lets you save worksheets in Excel's .xls format.

You wouldn't use a sledgehammer to hang a picture on your living room wall (well, you wouldn't use one twice). So why open a multi-megabyte Microsoft Office application just to write a letter or create a simple mailing list? The Works applications are scaled to home users with simple productivity needs, not the local alpha geek.

Just add Microsoft's free Outlook Express e-mail client and Internet Explorer Web browser (both included), and you have all the applications most of us will ever need -- for a grand total of US$50.

Other enhancements

Here's a rundown on what's new in Works 8:

Calendar sharing: Up to four family members can create their own color-coded calendars and merge them so everybody knows about everybody else's appointments. The program now supports the iCalendar format, so you can post your calendars on the iCalShare site.

Automatic document backup: Works backs up automatically every ten minutes, or you can set your own backup intervals.

Faster access to contacts: The Works Task Launcher now lets you open a calendar with a single click. Also added is a Contacts tab that gives you one-click access to your address book. Click an entry and your e-mail client opens with that address in the To: field.

In all, Works 8 maintains the small suite's reputation as a collection of useful productivity applications, for not a lot of money.

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