Computers are great, we love them, as they make like easier - whether it’s getting the family budget in order, or mapping out your route to the coast. But you need to have the right software installed. What’s that you say? Microsoft’s latest update of Works Suite 2006 has these bundled together with a bunch of other stuff?

For a long time, bundling a number of applications together has been a popular pastime. It means you get a host of programs in one package, some good, some not so useful, but the main thing is - they’re cheaper than if bought individually.

Despite its title, not all software in this latest version of Works Suite has been updated. While the package provides up to date versions of four of its six applications, its word processing and home organisation programs remain the same older versions as seen in Works Suite 2005.

Microsoft’s AutoRoute Essentials thankfully has been updated with new maps that now comprise all of mainland Europe as well as the UK. The interface has been streamlined and planning feels less of a chore. If you regularly need to plan trips, this is as easy as it gets. Money has also been updated, so if you need to keep track of the family cash flow, here’s your one-stop shop.

The final update is Encarta, the encyclopaedia for families. With 50,000 updated and new entries, its great for homework but is less academic in themes than Brittanica, for instance.

As if reflecting the growing interest in digital photography, Works Suite now also comes with an editing suite, in the form of Digital Image 2006, which allows for basic manipulation and logging of images. It’s a fine but limited addition to the range.

There’s no getting away from the fact that when it comes to office software, Microsoft is in charge but for the home user, why would they want to go the MS route when there is a host of alternatives out there? It has to be down to familiarity and compatibility. If you have to work at home, then take it into work it just makes life easier.

To this end, you’ll find that Works 8 comes in the package, which is an odd option considering you can buy it as a standard alone package (£40 inc. VAT). There is a separate Word Processing package, which isn’t Word but is compatible. It’s like a glorified version of Wordpad but it comes with spell checker and enough features to make writing a letter or even a report easy to do.

Works 8 comes with spreadsheet, dictionary, database, and calendar functionality along with easy-to-use templates for all applications. The point to remember here is; ease of use. They lack the full functionality of MS Office and you’ll find they’re not compatible with the more expensive versions but if you’re just doing stuff for the home this isn’t a problem as sharing data with an outside source won’t be an issue.

Price when reviewed:

If you're looking for your first software package, this is a great one-stop solution. It covers all the main bases without to much fluff and is ideal for the family, better still you may even be lucky enough to get it bundled with your computer.