Computers: Program that turns novices into wizards: Bill Raines sings the praises of the latest version of the 'Works' integrated package

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The Independent Online
MY WIFE KEEPS telling me I am a computer junkie, but now I have documentary evidence of my true status. Microsoft assures us that its Works for Windows 3.0 is designed for the 'casual or novice Windows user'.

I have had the older version 2.0 installed for almost a year and was happy to test the upgrade. Works 3.0 now includes a communications package as well as the standard word processor, spreadsheet and database.

Of course, you need a modem to link the computer to the telephone system to use this extra feature. Computer communications - 'comms' to the initiate - delight me. It is fun to post electronic mail (E-mail) to my brother in the US or to visit Australia electronically via Internet, the gloabl information network. But there is nothing exciting about comms programs. They either operate sensibly or they do not. Works is sensible and competent.

The word processor has undergone a substantial - and successful - facelift. Nearly all the frustrating limitations of previous versions have disappeared. You may now print in multiple columns and 'wrap' text around pictures, charts and tables. It is much easier than before to define paragraph styles and create footnotes or bulleted lists. And instead of clicking on the 'cut and paste' icons, you can simply 'drag' text around the screen with your mouse.

In addition to the traditional spell checker and thesaurus, there are several clever new accessories. A feature called WordArt allows you to produce fancy font effects, such as sloping, shadowed, variable height or even circular text. Gimmicky, I know, but occasionally just the ticket: my children loved the title pages I designed for their photograph albums.

And there is the Clip Art Gallery which you can use to classify all your stored computer images thematically. Once you have done that, choosing a particular theme, such as 'Christmas', will bring up for viewing little thumbnail sketches of all the artwork in that category. Works also includes a fairly basic Draw program for creating or editing images.

The Works spreadsheet - the program you use for manipulating rows and columns of numerical or financial data - was already quite commendable. The improvements in version 3.0 are more visual than functional. You can now adjust the heights of rows, wrap text any way you want to, mix different fonts and emphasise selected arrays of cells by adding patterns or shading. When you need to prepare a chart or graph from your data, there are more than 60 types to choose from and the results look highly professional.

The Works database - the electronic equivalent of an indexed card file - is still the weakest part of the package. Many changes included in the new release are cosmetic: multiple font support, varieties of borders, patterns and shading. It is now possible to incorporate images into database files, which might be useful for estate agents, but hardly for vicars.

This database is fine for maintaining and sorting simple lists - stock details, purchase orders, membership or employee records, or whatever - if that is all you need to do. But Works lacks both flexibility and the advanced capabilities of more expensive 'relational' databases. Also, you still cannot protect files with passwords, so you may run foul of the Data Protection Act if you store sensitive personal information.

Using the various parts of Works in combination is a doddle. It is easy to personalise multiple copies of a form letter by adding names and addresses from a database file, or to include a spreadsheet chart in a word processor report.

When you want to revise an 'embedded object' - say, a table produced in the spreadsheet program added into a word processor document - you just click on it with the mouse and the spreadsheet editing toolbar springs up and you edit it as though you were working directly in the spreadsheet program. It is quite striking the first time you see it happen.

The different programs that make up Works will share information happily among themselves and with other Windows software packages. This means, for example, that if you were an estate agent, you could embed a sound effect into your pictures, perhaps of birds chirping in the garden.

Works is among the easiest programs to learn and use that I have ever encountered. You can, for example, customise the toolbar to display the tasks you perform most frequently. Pointing to a toolbar icon brings up a tiny description of what it does, in case you have forgotten. And many of the dialogue boxes pop up in a row like file cards, so can switch between related topics easily.

If you get stuck, help comes in several varieties. There are well-designed on- screen tutorial lessons to start you off and the obligatory User's Guide which feels like a telephone book. The usual fairly comprehensive Windows help screens are present, but for genuine duffers, Works also provides a system of pop-up 'Cue Cards' which take you through all the basic operations, such as saving a file or setting up your modem.

Additionally, Works contains a good collection of predesigned 'templates' - everything from sales invoices to cataloguing your CD collection - while other tasks, such as printing address labels can be virtually automated using little routines called 'Works Wizards'. Works 2.0 included only four Works Wizards, while Works 3.0 has 12. The Works Wizards and templates do not always produce exactly what you want, but they always produce something usable. A full installation of Works 3.0 occupies 14 megabytes of hard disk space. If that sounds a lot, remember that Microsoft's high-end business software, Office, eats up nearly 80 megabytes of disk - which is still the standard hard disk size on many systems.

Apart from my continuing reservations about the database, I was impressed with Works 3.0. It is not too daunting for the beginner, but experienced users will not outgrow it quickly. Highly recommended - it works.

Bill Raines is Priest-in- Charge of Holy Innocents, Fallowfield, Manchester.

Works for Windows 3.0

System: PC-compatible.

Requirements:

Hardware: 386/486 processor, 4 megbytes of

memory; 14 megabytes of free hard disk space.

Software: Windows 3.1.

Publisher: Microsoft; 0734 270000.

Street price:

New: pounds 103 (inc VAT); Upgrade: pounds 65 (inc VAT).

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