Microsoft's new package of software for home use is a mixed bag

Personal Computers

March 17, 1997|By L.R. Shannon

SOFTWARE suites, collections of major programs sold together, have been the rage for the past few years.

For less than the total price of the components purchased separately, you get a top-of-the-line word processor, spreadsheet, database and other programs.

The collections make sense for large offices, although it is difficult to imagine one person mastering Microsoft Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint, to pick examples from the Microsoft Office suite.

For small offices, home offices or just plain homes, integrated programs such as Microsoft Works or Clarisworks make more sense.

Microsoft has now put together a kind of suite, or potpourri, called Home Essentials 97.

It is not meant for the home office, although it could be used in one.

There are a very elaborate word processor, an excellent encyclopedia, a leading integrated program, a greeting-cards maker, an Internet browser and challenging, if primitive, games.

The word processor is Microsoft Word 97. To call Word full-featured is not enough.

It is rather too much for writing letters to the children at college or notes to Mom.

I will not pretend that I have more than tasted it; I had not even gone beyond a few sips of Word 95, its predecessor.

The encyclopedia is Encarta 97, which sets the standard in the general encyclopedia field. It is invaluable for homework, and adults need to look up things, too.

The integrated program is Works 4.0, which combines a word-processing program that is more suitable for home use than Microsoft Word, with spreadsheet, database and communications programs.

I admit a bias toward Clarisworks, a similar but fuller integrated program, but there is no reason to complain about Microsoft's entry.

The Greetings Workshop lets you design greeting cards, invitations and similar documents, either from scratch or by adapting about 7,000 Hallmark designs and messages.

The browser is, of course, Microsoft Internet Explorer and, not surprisingly, the three Home Essentials CD-ROMs include the software to join the Microsoft Network.

Finally, we have arrived at the games: Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command and Tempest.

These are old-timers, with simple graphics. Some use the mouse, but others, betraying their age, use the arrow keys on the regular keyboard or even on the number keypad.

I have not played them for years, and I am no better at them now than I was then.

Microsoft Home Essentials 97 is widely available for $109 or less. Microsoft Windows 95 and a CD-ROM drive are required.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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