I'll leave it to the federal courts to judge whether Microsoft is too big. But when it comes to building bloated software, my verdict is already in: Microsoft is out of control.
Microsoft Office is bad enough. Its "suite" of programs, which are designed mostly for business users, includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database management program, personal organizer and other functions. It comes on four CDs and takes up at least 216 megabytes of disk space. The previous version of Office came on a single CD and took up about 100 megabytes.
But if you want to see really big software, check out the newest version of Microsoft Works Suite.
This software, which is aimed at home users, comes on six CD-ROMs and takes up between 785 megabytes and 1.4 gigabytes of disk space. The Works 99 Suite, by contrast, took up 90 megabytes.
What's amazing about the Works Suite is that Works has traditionally been one of the leanest and most efficient productivity programs around. I used to be a big fan of the product because--compared with the industrial-strength programs--it typically offered less complicated software at a substantially lower price with more than enough features for most people.
Microsoft Works is an integrated program that provides consumers with a variety of functions similar to what Office provides to business users. The main difference is Works is a single program with multiple built-in functions rather than a set of stand-alone applications that are bundled in a set of CD-ROMs.
Microsoft makes several flavors of Works 2000 starting with a basic $54.95 version, which is pretty straightforward. It comes with a built-in word processor, spreadsheet and database management tool, an address book and a calendar. It's exactly the type of software many consumers need.
But the Works Suite 2000, priced at $109, is far from basic. In addition to Works, it comes with Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Money, the Encarta Encyclopedia, Home Publishing 2000 (for creating newsletters and fliers) and Expedia Streets and Trips, which provides maps and door-to-door driving directions. And just in case you don't already have it, Works Suite also comes with Internet Explorer with Outlook Express.
The components built into the basic Works program are pretty good. I actually prefer its spreadsheet to Microsoft Excel because it's smaller and less complicated. I even like Works' address book and calendar program because they are straightforward and easy to learn. I also like the word-processing program that is built into the basic version of Works. It's easy to use and has all the features most people need. But if you get the Suite, you don't get to use Works' built-in word-processing program.
I agree that it's a good idea to bundle Word with Works Suite, but it strikes me as odd that Microsoft disabled the built-in word processor. True, users get Microsoft Word, which is a standard in many offices and a desirable program for folks who take documents home. But for a lot of users, Works' old word-processing feature was just fine.
Be careful how you install Works. If you opt for a full installation of the Suite, you'll wind up spending an hour installing all the software in the box, assuming you have enough hard drive space. Whatever you do, don't lose those CDs. Some of the programs that come with Works, including Streets and Trips and Encarta, won't work without inserting a CD-ROM.
Like any Windows software, you can always uninstall Works or any of its components. But be warned. It may be a one-way street.
After I finished a draft of this review, I decided to uninstall Works by using the standard Uninstall program that comes with Windows. Later, I decided to take a second look and reinstalled the program.
The Works setup program said "welcome back" but wouldn't let me reinstall the program. I then went back to the Windows Uninstaller and noticed that a program called "Works 2000 Setup Launcher" was still installed so I tried to uninstall it. That wound up running the Setup Launcher, which in turn, invited me to uninstall Word, which had been on my computer before I ever installed Works. I never got that Setup Launcher off my machine.
I was able to reinstall Works but only because I spent a lot of time discovering some special tricks that few people would probably find.
The extra programs that come with the Works Suite are a mixed bag. Encarta is an impressive CD-based encyclopedia, but if you have access to the Internet, you can use several encyclopedias--including the complete online Encyclopedia Britannica--for free.
And from what I understand, much of the information in Streets and Trips can also be found for free on the Internet. But my knowledge of that program is secondhand because every time I tried to run the program, my computer crashed.
All of these problems, I'm sure, can be resolved with a phone call or two to Microsoft's technical support. But if I--with 20 years of computing experience--have trouble with Works Suite, I can only imagine what it must be like for novices.
Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 1:48 p.m. weekdays on KNX-AM (1070). He can be reached at email@example.com. His Web site is at http://wwwlarrysworld.com.