Microsoft Works Suite 2002

In the shape of Works, Microsoft has a long pedigree of marketing popular family-friendly products at a budget price - a fact not lost on computer manufacturers, who just love preinstalling it on new systems instead of the pricier Office. We're happy to see that the tradition of good value continues with Works Suite 2002.

There are five components on offer in this release. At the heart is Works 6.0, a slimline office suite comprising a spreadsheet, database, address book and calendar. It should be stressed that Works is much more suited to the home than the workplace. The spreadsheet, for instance, has no support for multiple worksheets or embedded charts; the database is a strictly non-relational, non-programmable affair; and the address book is no great shakes at contact management.

Although such limitations would drive an office-bound bean counter to distraction, Works remains an attractive and affordable domestic alternative to the bloated behemoth of Office XP.

Nice touches

Works is also particularly attractive for computing newcomers. The Task Launcher, for instance, offers a fast track to dozens of common tasks and can help you get quick results even if you wouldn't have the first inkling how to proceed unaided. Just browse through the menus to home in on whatever it is you want to do - track a football team's performance throughout a season, say - and the Task Launcher fires up a customised template in the appropriate application. It's a good way to get started and learn just what your software can do for you. A little template tweaking is often all it takes to customise a task to a unique project.

The Portfolio is another nice touch. Although little more than a floating clip­board onto which you can drag text, sound files or images as you work, it's a useful, logical and effective way to compile a project.

Works itself hasn't changed from the 2001 version, but the other five applications have all been updated. Word 2002, for instance, is the full Office XP version - and, yes, that means that it comes replete with Product Activation security. You can run the word processor 50 times but then you must either register your copy with Microsoft (anonymously, by telephone or online) or cease and desist.

Encarta 2002 Standard is a welcome inclusion. True, it lacks the depth of the Deluxe release - there are no 3D virtual tours - and you don't get the full-blown world atlas or dictionary that come with Reference Suite, but it's still the best multimedia encyclopaedia around.

Elsewhere, we find Money 2002 Standard a useful tool for balancing budgets, tracking investments and monitoring an overdraft.

Not all is perfect

This leaves just Picture It Photo 2002, a disappointing and lacklustre introduction to digital image editing and desktop publishing. It's fine for airbrushing the odd spot of red-eye or making a cheesy greeting card, but that's about it.

In brief: Microsoft Works Suite 2002.

There's no denying it: $229 is exceptional value for this bundle, especially when Word 2002 is part of the bargain.

Price: $229.

Phone: 13 2058.