If you don't want to shell out the money for the purchase of a new version of Microsoft Office, but you're also concerned about compatibility-issues, Microsoft Works may be just the low-cost alternative you've been looking for.
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As alternatives to Microsoft Office go, this is is about as close to Office as you are ever going to get. Works and it's companion programs are actually made by Microsoft, and, therefore, all of the developers have access to the proprietary Microsoft code. This allows for a high level of integration with the operating system. What that means for you, as the end user, is that if you were hesitating to switch over because of concerns about the compatibility of your documents with Microsoft Office, your troubles are over. Office and Works are cross-compatible so sharing documents won't be a problem.
The Works Suite comes with three pieces of software: a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a calendar application.
The Works word processor is relatively basic, and you won't find a lot of the more advanced features that are in Word 2007. However, mail merge, table insertions, and other basic formatting are available. One distinct advantage to Works is that the interface is the same as Word so there is almost no learning curve when using Works. In addition, you still have access to a variety of templates for the Works word processor to simplify your formatting. The one thing to be aware of with the Works word processor is that it can have trouble with large copy and paste jobs. If you go over the limit, the application will simply close.
The Works spreadsheet can do just about anything that Excel can with one big exception - you can forget about multiple worksheets. This may be a deal breaker for people who work in the financial fields.
The calendar is a great feature in this suite. The views are simple and making new entries and changes is as intuitive as using a paper day-planner.
This suite also comes with a PowerPoint viewer that allows you to see a presentation, but you can't make changes to it. However, this isn't a Works-only item as you can download it as a stand-alone piece of software.
Works has a "Works Portfolio" piece of software, but it also leaves you wanting. It is no more than a file organizer that let's you make brief comments on the file. Few people will find this feature useful.
Overall, the software in the Works Suite will get the job done for the average home user as well as anyone who does not need to do advanced work with spreadsheets. Some of the features that you may never use will just take up hard drive space, but if having a system that is Office-compatible without any extra steps or doubt is important to you, this still may be the way to go.
This is a software-based suite so you will have to buy the disk and install it on your computer. You won't be able to use it on the go like you can with a web-based choice, but this also means you can use the suite when offline.