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Software to put to work

By DAVE GUSSOW and WILLIAM LAMPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 4, 2000


Here's a look at some popular "productivity" software to handle tasks from building a spreadsheet of numbers to designing a personalized greeting card:

Works Suite 2001

PLATFORM: Windows

MAKER: Microsoft

PRICE: $109

This bundle packs quite a punch for home users, for everything from word processing to spreadsheets. It includes popular Microsoft programs Word, Money, Picture It, Street and Trips and Encarta and packages them into a user-friendly format that even kids should have no problem navigating.

One of the strong points is how seamlessly the various programs work together. The Works Format Gallery lets users create newsletters and other projects, then get photos and art from the Works Portfolio without scrambling between programs. With the History feature, users can quickly and easily find anything created in the program by looking at a list and clicking it (a nice touch for any parent who has had to help a child retrieve a lost report).

New features include FoneSync, which transfers names and numbers from Works to digital cell phones. Users also can synchronize the calendar and address book with Windows CE and Palm 3.0-compatible handheld devices.

A couple of cautions: Money, Picture It and Encarta are stripped-down versions, so they don't offer the full features of their deluxe editions. Nonetheless, installing the entire package takes 850 megabytes of space on the hard drive. If you don't plan to use every application, you can install just the elements you want.

I've seen Works 2001 advertised for about $70 with rebates, which makes it an even better deal for families seeking productivity software.

Picture It Publishing Platinum

PLATFORM: Windows

MAKER: Microsoft

PRICE: $54.95

I did newsletters during my days as a school volunteer. After trial and much error trying numerous desktop publishing programs, I settled on Microsoft Publisher. It came closest to having everything I wanted for an attractive design, and it was fairly easy to navigate.

Publisher is gone, and I miss it. Its replacement, Picture It, is loaded with features, particularly for handling photos, a ton of clip art and thousands of preformatted greeting cards, invitations, newsletters and other projects.

It also has a substantial learning curve. Don't expect to install it and start creating polished projects immediately. While it has a number of help features, including videos, it still doesn't have all the answers one might be seeking.

For example, I tried to create a simple, three-column newsletter from a blank page. Setting up the page was fairly easy. But I couldn't import the text, even from Microsoft Word. I had to open Word, copy the text and paste it into Picture It. That's an absurd setup, particularly for a program with "publishing" in its name.

Picture It's strength is in handling and importing photos, taking advantage of the growing popularity of digital photography. It also has more than 200,000 clip art images and using those was an improvement over Publisher's clunkiness. But be prepared to do the CD shuffle on clip art: The program comes on seven disks.

Print Artist Grand Suite

PLATFORM: Windows

MAKER: Sierra Home

PRICE: $59.95

For a long time, Print Artist was our family's choice for making greeting cards, signs and other projects. It seemed to get a bit stale, so we switched a few years ago (with the kids getting a majority vote) to Print Shop. After playing with Grande Suite, it seems the old spark is back. Print Artist is easy to use and has what is becoming the typical arsenal for publishing programs: more than 200,000 clip art images, 11,000 predesigned layouts for everything from crafts to business projects, Web design features and photo editing. And a tip of the hat to Sierra for including a very straightforward return policy on a separate sheet of paper in the package. If you're not happy for any reason within 90 days of purchase, return it for a refund or exchange.

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[Photo: Sierra Home]
Hallmark Card Studio offers 3,500 predesigned cards from which to choose. The cards can be used as-is or modified to fit the occasion.
Hallmark Card Studio Deluxe 2

PLATFORM: Windows

MAKER: Sierra Home

PRICE: $49.99

Having Hallmark in the home PC makes it easy to scramble when you forget a greeting card. This package includes 3,500 predesigned cards from the Maxine, Shoebox Greetings, Mahogany, Tree of Life and Common Threads lines with striking Hallmark art. If that's not enough, you can change the cards, using 15,000 included images, or make your own from scratch. An event calendar helps you avoid those embarrassing moments of forgetfulness, and sending the cards by e-mail is a nice touch, too.

- DAVE GUSSOW, Times personal technology editor

Office 2001 offers enhanced experiences for Mac users

Office 2001 for Mac

MAKER: Microsoft

PRICE: $499 ($299 upgrade)

The first thing you'll notice about the new Office 2001 for Mac is its very Mac-like appearance. But the improvements go deeper than looks.

Installation is as simple as dragging the Microsoft Office 2001 folder from the installation CD to your hard drive. Clicking to open one of the Office applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the new Entourage -- prompts you for registration information, then takes you directly into the new Project Gallery.

The gallery, one of the new Mac-only features of Office 2001, lets you quickly create a blank document in any of the four applications or select from My Templates or 23 categories of included templates, such as brochures, letterheads, Web pages, checklists and term papers.

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The Project Gallery lets users select a template from the four Office 2001 programs or create a new document.
Word, Excel and PowerPoint retain the major features and functions of their Mac predecessors and Windows counterparts, and add a few features.

First, there's the floating Formatting palette. My wife, who uses Office 97 for Windows extensively at work, found it somewhat annoying, but Mac users should feel quite comfortable with it. It's contextual, so it changes depending on whether you're working with text, image or QuickTime movie. Or you can disable it and use various toolbars. But if you have a 15-inch screen, the toolbars crowd your document window.

One of the toolbars, the Contact menu, adds a quick link to the e-mail address book within Word. And the Data Merge Manager can help you prepare mass mailings by merging addresses -- postal and e-mail -- with your letter.

Microsoft has taken the Clipboard to a new level. When you cut or copy an item, such as text, an image or a movie, it's added to the Office Clipboard. But instead of holding only one item, the Office Clipboard holds many and lets you paste them in any order into documents from any of the Office applications. You can use keyboard commands to copy and paste or simply drag items to and from a Clipboard palette.

Another nifty feature is Office's ability to handle Mac image formats. You can drag and drop PICT files, such as screen captures, from the desktop to a Word or PowerPoint document. Or you can save a PowerPoint presentation as a QuickTime movie to post on the Web or to send as e-mail. The PowerPoint movies play smoothly in the QuickTime player, though PowerPoint animations don't always work as they do in the presentation.

Instead of Outlook for e-mail, Office 2001 for Mac includes a new application, Entourage. If you're familiar with Outlook Express, Entourage should be no trouble to get used to. Importing my e-mail accounts from Outlook Express took 15 to 30 minutes each. Almost everything -- e-mail folders, e-mail and newsgroup rules, address book and newsgroup subscriptions -- transferred smoothly.

Like Outlook for Windows (and unlike the stripped-down Outlook Express), Entourage incorporates a calendar and a task list that are accessible from within the other Office applications. The task list is a cool feature that lets you mark a file with a question, then alerts you at a prespecified time to follow up on it.

Entourage also lets you synchronize the calendar in Office with a Palm handheld organizer.

Office 2001 easily handled files moved between my wife's Windows 98 PC and my Mac, including a large Excel file that maintained its formatting and embedded equations. I had a bit of trouble with a 1-megabyte Word document, a newsletter with plenty of graphics, that was e-mailed to me. After a half-dozen attempts to open it and having Word unexpectedly quit or lock up my system, I gave up. Several days later I tried again, and the document opened with no problem.

Yes, Office 2001 is expensive. You can find it for as little as $420 online (plus there's a $100 mail-in rebate good through year-end for buyers of Apple Computer's iMac, iBook or Power Mac G4 Cube). But with Corel's decision to stop development on WordPerfect for the Mac, there aren't many alternatives out there.

AppleWorks comes with new iMacs and iBooks, but the all-in-one program isn't as powerful or as compatible with Windows as Office 2001. If sharing files with users of other versions of Office -- earlier releases or Windows -- is important, then Office 2001 can't be beat.

- WILLIAM LAMPKIN

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