Home Computer: A program that gives you the works: Bill Raines, chaplain of Imperial College, London, goes a bundle on his integrated software

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The Independent Online
'You're the ideal target user,' the Independent said. I was not sure it was a compliment. This is the type of softwear that new computer buyers might find bundled in with their machine. In computer folklore, people who rely on bundled softwear are the opposite of the dynamic 'power users'.

Nevertheless he had a point. Running a church - or in my case, a student congregation at Imperial College in London - involves a little bit of everything. And vicars have a tight budget.

So here is Microsoft's Works for Windows: a word processor, database, spreadsheet and drawing program, all in one modestly priced box. But what will I use them for?

Word processor has become a misleading term, because most modern ones will handle pictures as well as words. I use one not only for straight text documents, but also for term cards, small posters, worship material and the like.

Most of my database files are lists about people: contacts around college, other chaplains across the country, a distribution list for our chaplaincy magazine, details taken from the cards we send out to freshers each year.

Database lists are easily sorted. I can arrange the magazine list by college department, or pick out just final year students to invite to a leaving party, or separate Anglicans from Methodists. Separating the sheep from the goats is harder.

A spreadsheet - a sort of high-tech replacement for Bob Cratchit for recording and working on vast charts of figures - will let you produce pretty graphs and diagrams as well as manipulating dry columns of figures. Our treasurer gets enthusiastic about spreadsheets, but, frankly, I try to use one as little as possible.

However, a drawing or 'graphics' program is useful even if you cannot draw, because there are plenty of collections of computer pictures - known as 'clip art' - around which you can edit and introduce into your own documents.

Works is an 'integrated package', which means that the different applications will work together, sharing information. For example, you can insert a spreadsheet chart into a report, or use names and addresses from a database for a 'mailmerge' - adding names and addresses to individual copies of a standard letter and printing them out.

Given the number of things it does, Works is amazingly simple to master. Even a relative newcomer to computing would probably feel confident by the end of day one. The manual is well presented and clearly written, apart from a regrettable tendency to split every conceivable infinitive.

The help files are useful too, but still better are the friendly, interactive on-screen tutorials, which make the whole learning process almost painless. Works also includes some little routines called Works Wizards, which automate a few basic tasks, such as printing address labels.

The Works spreadsheet is bog-standard, but it is better than some, because it creates excellent graphs and charts. And it happily 'imported' - picked up and incorporated - our accounts and budget from Lotus 1-2-3. The only restriction I did encounter was that you are only permitted a single type face and size per spreadsheet. Personally, I regard this not as a defect, but as a subtle way of enforcing good layout design.

The Works database is more idiosyncratic. The search and sort facilities are satisfactory and the program is simple to use, but there's a catch. Think of a database as an electronic card file. Each individual card in the file is called a 'record'. Most databases allow the user great flexibility in the way records can be viewed. Works does not. It comes with two pre-defined viewing formats, which you can modify only to a limited extent.

So you can only get about 20 records on-screen at once in an arrangement that looks like a spreadsheet. The consequence is that long records begin to sprawl off the screen and become hard to view, except one at a time. I think that is too high a price to pay for simplicity. This was the Works application I liked least.

Another difficulty is that no password option is included. This probably will not bother the home user, but anyone registered under the Data Protection Act would find it hard to stay legal. I certainly would not keep any sensitive information on a database without password file protection.

The Works word processor has much the same general feel as Microsoft's luxury package, Word for Windows. That means it looks professional, you get a reasonably full range of editing and formatting commands, and a spell-checker, but a rather feeble thesaurus.

However, Works will not cope with multiple columns. For me, this was a severe drawback: service sheets and hymn sheets often look more attractive in double-column format. You can liven up your documents with clip art, but Works will not wrap text around images to give the page that seamless look.

There were also a few minor niggles. Works does not allow you to spell-check just a single word; the display does not tell you what line number you are on; and you cannot print odd or even pages only.

Works also takes up a lot of hard disc space, more than 5.5 megabytes. Once at ease with the package, you could recover about 1.2 megabytes by deleting the tutorial files, but it is still quite a lot if you only have a 40 megabytes of storage capacity on your hard disc.

On balance, Works is rather like the proverbial curate's egg. It is friendly and fun to use. It managed about 80 per cent of what I wanted efficiently and another 10 per cent with some awkwardness. A few things it just could not do at all. If none of the limitations I have mentioned seems particularly serious to you, you will probably love it.

----------------------------------------------------------------- VITAL STATISTICS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Program: Microsoft Works for Windows version 2.0 Requirements: Hardware: PC Software: Windows Supplier: Microsoft Price: List price: pounds 170 incl VAT Street Price: pounds 110 incl VAT -----------------------------------------------------------------

BUYING MAIL ORDER

Mail order often offers the lowest prices and hundreds of thousands of computer purchases have been made that way without a hitch. But problems do happen. Items are out of stock, or companies go bankrupt before goods have been supplied. Rectifying problems can be extremely difficult.

A couple of hints are worth considering. Use the mail order advertisements in the computer magazines to gauge the prices for the product you want, but then look for the lowest price at a dealer within travelling distance, so you can buy in person and check the goods before paying or take them back if faulty.

Second, pay by personal credit card, because that also provides a degree of consumer protection if things go wrong.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing

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