Abort-Retry-Fail: Alternative software

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By Bill Gregory

Most anyone who uses a computer is aware of the two things required: the hardware and the software. Many computer users, however, never give a thought to the types of software or the various titles available.

As to types, there are three: operating system, utilities and applications. Application software is the category we all use the most. These are the word processing, spreadsheet and database programs we use most. Since the definition of "application software" is "any program that allows the user to produce useful work from the computer," don't forget that all of the imaging software and CD/DVD burning software on the market falls in to the application category.

Most of us buy a computer that comes loaded (or "bundled," as the computer people like to say) with enough software to get the user started. So most users will begin using that "bundled" software, get used to it and continue using that product (and its later upgrades) over the years.

This has long been a marketing device used by software companies. They figure that if the customer uses it, they will like it and continue to use it. Many of you may have purchased a new computer in the past few years that came with a "trial" version of Microsoft Office, for example. After the trial period expired you were required to buy the full version of the program at a price of $250 or more because the trial version quit working.

There are alternatives to shelling out that kind of money. Even though Microsoft's Office is the best selling "office productivity" software on the market, its capabilities go far beyond what the typical home user needs. A very fine product that is also from Microsoft and is bundled with most new computers is Microsoft Works.

As the name implies, it has all the "Works" that the home (or even the small business) user would need. Originally Works included word processor, spreadsheet, database and communications components. With the expanding use of the Internet the communications part was dropped. Other functionality has been added over the years but Microsoft has maintained Works as a low-key product, preferring instead to push their more expensive Office suite. Microsoft Works is currently in version 9 and retails for $39.99.

You can do pretty much anything in Works that you can do in Office, for much less money. The documents that you create in the Works word processor can be saved as a Microsoft Word file and Works can open and edit a Word file. You can also create form letters, newsletters, greeting cards and just about anything else with this flexible package. The spreadsheet allows you to create spreadsheets and graphs easily and the database feature is a versatile flat-file database tool.

What if you want more functionality, like you would get with Office, but you can't go the price? Next week I will tell you about a really good "office suite" product with a price that is about as good as it gets.

If you have a computer-related problem or question that you would like answered in this column, please send it to the Cedar Key Beacon by email at editor@cedarkeybeacon or PCTech@islandcity.net.