Will The `Works' Do The Job?

When was the last time you used your word processor to create an index? Or programmed a macro for calculations in your spreadsheet?

More than likely, the answer to both questions is, "Never." And you're probably using software that's more complicated, and demands more computer resources, than necessary. As an alternative, you might consider slimmed-down but capable "works" packages from Microsoft, Claris, and, most recently, WordPerfect. Such packages combine a word processor, spreadsheet, and graphics into a single program.

OFFICE WARE. Such "integrated" programs have been around for years. In fact, Claris Works, a product of Apple Computer's software subsidiary, traces its lineage to the Apple II. These packages haven't been taken seriously as business tools, in part because software publishers don't want to compete with their own heavyweight "office" programs. Microsoft, for example, markets Works under the Microsoft Home label and sells it installed on many retail computers. At $100 or less, vs. $450 for Microsoft Office, Works is a remarkable bargain--especially since the CD-ROM version for the Mac includes the Bookshelf reference collection.

Over the years, these programs have grown from minimal tools to feature-packed powerhouses. I found the word processors in the WordPerfect and Microsoft packages surprisingly powerful, closely resembling WordPerfect for Windows and Word. The Claris editor, derived from Mac Write, is adequate but less feature-rich than the others.

Of course, you give up something using a program like Microsoft Works. The biggest missing piece is a programming language, which lets you automate tasks or customize the program, say by creating fill-in forms linked to a database. This feature might be essential at work, but few individual users would miss it. And since Works takes up about 7 megabytes on your hard disk (vs. 20 for Word), that leaves a lot more room for other software.

All three packages offer spreadsheets that look like stripped-down versions of Microsoft Excel. I wouldn't want to use these "lite" spreadsheets to build a complicated financial model, but they would do fine for simple calculations or charts. Claris Works, however, is at a disadvantage because it, unlike the other two, can't read or save files in popular spreadsheet formats, such as Lotus 1-2-3 or Excel. All three programs also have simple database modules, useful for such chores as maintaining mailing lists.

ICON STRAIN. Claris and WordPerfect have an edge in graphics. They offer drawing programs that resemble Claris Draw and Mac Paint.

Claris Works features such sophisticated effects as color gradients and could easily be used to produce a slide show of considerable complexity. Microsoft Works has only the bare-bones Draw program that comes with Word.

Who should use these works programs? They are ideal for the home or small office and are well suited for often-underpowered laptops. And which to choose? As a Word user on both Windows and the Mac, I found the Microsoft word processor more comfortable, while someone comfortable with WordPerfect for Windows might be drawn to the company's just-released Works product. I was bothered by Claris' inscrutable icons and the lack of automatic help to explain their functions. On balance, WordPerfect is probably the strongest, though its 13-megabyte disk footprint is the biggest, and Mac users will have to look elsewhere. But if you don't need full-featured setups, you won't go wrong with any of these packages.

      PROGRAM         SYSTEM          PRICE
      CLARIS          Macintosh       $129
      WORKS           Windows           99
      MICROSOFT       Macintosh         99
      WORKS           Windows           99
      WORDPERFECT     Windows           79
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