14
Oct
14

Works for DOS

Goughlui has recently had an interesting look at some old versions of common productivity software, namely Power Point and Lotus 1-2-3. I thought I might contribute by documenting some of the old DOS productivity software that I have, and today I’ll be looking back at MS Works 2.0. There’s a lot to look at so this might take a while!

This version of works was developed back in 1987-89, but my Dad didn’t buy it until some time later in the early 1990’s. We used it for pretty much everything. Me and my brothers wrote much of our homework on it, and Dad used the spreadsheet to manage the farms finances.

It wasn’t the first office suite we had, but it was used for most of the life of the old DOS PC.

You’ll notice from the screen shots that works primarily uses ASCII characters in place of graphics. It does however have a graphics mode to display the text allowing bold, underlined, strikethrough, and italicized text to appear on screen. Most other word processors used colours or special characters to indicate these features and were consequently much harder to read.

I have had to capture most screenshots in a basic text mode as dosbox doesn’t emulate the graphics mode works uses very well. This results in some parts of the screen not updating correctly when using the graphics mode in dosbox.

This version of works includes 4 major functions. A word processor, spreadsheet, database and communications package. I’ll try to talk about each in turn.

Graphics mode

Graphics mode

Text mode

Text mode

Firstly the word processor. It would be considered fairly basic by today’s standards but had a very good feature set for the day. It does most things modern word processors do with a few exceptions. Whilst there are formatting options such as bold and double spacing, there are only a limited set of fonts and text sizes available. Fonts and sizes depended on the printer support installed and didn’t change the appearance on screen.

Also inserting any kind of graphics is limited to charts created with the spreadsheet. Like Goughlui I’ve constructed an animated GIF with the menus to give you an idea what the word processor can do.

The spreadsheet is similarly limited. You can’t add graphics and formatting text is limited. It is however very usable for most basic tasks. Something that would frustrate many users is the lack of easy to find help when typing in formulae. It also lacks the feature of having multiple work sheets in each spreadsheet file.

You can create a chart based on data in your spreadsheet, but again the features available are limited in comparison to modern software. It does however manage to offer a number of different chart types such as the normal bar, pie and x-y charts.

Again another GIF of the menus available.

Works includes a very basic flat-file style database, but it is of very limited use because most things could be done much easier in a spreadsheet. The main reason you may use the database would be if you intended to use the mail-merge feature as using a spreadsheet file is not supported.

Database software like this hasn’t really survived today, as software like MS Access seems to be absent from current office suites.

Works includes a basic communication package which is basically a VT52 or ANSI terminal emulator. It does support sending and receiving files, but it seems that it doesn’t tell you which transfer protocol it uses. It probably would have been adequate to connect and upload/download files to or from a mainframe or mini computer, then still a common part of corporate infrastructure.

Finally something I remember playing with and enjoying as a child is the tutorial program. It is a whimsical introduction to the software for absolute beginners which actually does a pretty good job of teaching the basics of using the computer and works itself. The program shows you how to do something and then guides you through doing it yourself.

It reminds me of the IBM PC demonstration disk that Terry Stewart showed on youtube for his machine. You don’t see tutorial programs like these any more!

Compared to modern software Works lacks much of the features we take for granted today. However I have found that it is still quite usable today, as long as you don’t need graphics of any kind. I wrote today’s post using its word processor and found that the basic editing is as good as modern software. Mostly it’s missing features that DOS machines of the late 80’s and early 90’s weren’t capable of without a GUI like windows to support the application.

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