If you like Microsoft software and have light home-computing needs, you should enjoy Microsoft's Works Suite 2006. Its six bundled programs can help you organize photos, plan trips, inventory household items, and manage your finances, among other things. It's easy to zip between these tasks, though the initial layout of the suite is neither inviting nor intuitive, and you'll need to sacrifice vast chunks of PC memory at installation time. For more advanced tasks, you'll need to upgrade to the premium version of Works or to more recent versions of each app in the suite. Works Suite will fill the bill, though, for many household users who have basic computing needs and want to buy a bunch of tools at once.The family-oriented Microsoft Works Suite 2006 is six programs in one: Digital Image Suite Standard 2006, Word 2002, Streets and Trips Essentials 2006, Money Standard 2006, Works 8, and Encarta 2006 Standard. The recommended Express Full installation took about an hour on our Windows XP test machine; you can also install the program on Windows 98 (Second Edition), Me, 2000 (SP4), or XP (Home or Professional). A typical installation consumes 1,520MB, but the complete installation requires a whopping 3.1GB minimum of disk space.
Once you open Works 2006, the Calendar tab dominates the screen with white space; we'd appreciate if you could import a picture of your own here. Five big buttons (Home, Templates, Programs, Projects, and History) line the top of the page, but these definitions can be fuzzy. For example, why do Birthday Card templates appear under the Programs button in the Word section and under the Templates button in the Card and Crafts section? A handy Quick Launch sidebar displays icons for five of the bundled programs and two Works 8 features: the faux-Excel spreadsheet and the database. To access the suite on the go, you can synchronize Works Suite with your Palm or Windows CE device.
Since Microsoft doesn't offer an upgrade discount, users of Works 2005 will probably want to pass on an upgrade--especially since the versions of Microsoft Works and Word remain the same. Still, the $99.95 Works 2006 is a bargain if you don't already have its programs, and a $20 mail-in rebate sweetens the price. Works Suite users can also receive a discounted upgrade to various flavors of Office--$239, for example, to upgrade to Office Standard.
Microsoft Works Suite 2006 features Digital Image Suite Standard 2006, which replaces last year's Picture It Platinum 10. Works also includes the 2006 versions of Money Standard, Encarta Standard, and Streets and Trips Essentials. Works Suite 2006 also contains the same Works and Word software as last year's suite.
Most of the programs bundled in Works Suite 2006 are solid but lightweight takes on their premium editions. If you wanted to burn images onto a DVD and browse Encarta Kids, for example, you would need to upgrade to the premium versions of Digital Image and Encarta.