If you're looking for a word processor, spreadsheet or email and calendar program, here are some of our favourites
Microsoft Word 2010
Love it or hate it, Word is still the gold standard for word processors. Word 2010, reviewed by Computeractive here, continues with the ‘ribbon’ menus introduced in Office 2007, but these are now much less intrusive and there are lots of other user-friendly tweaks.
With its powerful styling and layout options, and the ability to save documents as PDF files, there’s a lot you can do with it. Whether you just want to write a personal letter, post to your blog, make a birthday card or create that long-awaited novel, Word 2010 can handle it with ease.
Bought online it costs £120, although home users can get it cheaper in an office bundle.
The alternative: Open Office Writer
Open Office has had a long and chequered history, but this free office suite (the individual programs aren’t available separately) is now used instead of Microsoft Office by many companies and governments around the world.
The included Writer program can open and save any Word document, and the program is just as competent as Word. There are differences in the way the menus work, but it will be instantly familiar to users of older versions of Microsoft’s tool.
Many free extensions are also available that add new or improved features, and there is a large user community providing free hints, tips and tutorials.
Microsoft Excel 2010
Spreadsheets are amazingly versatile documents, so it’s no wonder most users have at least a couple of them lying around on their computer.
At one time there were dozens of commercial spreadsheet programs, but most of these are no more, leaving Excel to rule the roost. Excel 2010, reviewed by Computeractive here, is probably the best yet, adding some features that have been lacking for years and following the other Office programs in using a much-improved menu system.
In particular, the one-click styles and themes make creating charts and page layouts much less of a hit-and-miss affair. Like Word, it costs £120 alone but can be bought for less in a suite for home use only.
The alternative: Google Docs
Google Docs is unusual in that it needs no software to be installed on your computer, and you can access your spreadsheets from any internet-connected PC. It just needs a free Google account, and you get 1GB of free online storage.
It can import most Excel files, is easy to use and has a full range of tools including charts and formulas. If you would prefer software that runs on the computer, the Calc tool in Open Office (see above) is also impressive.
Total saving: £120
Microsoft Outlook 2010
You would think that with the importance of email these days there would be hundreds of email programs, but with the popularity of webmail services such as Gmail and Hotmail there are surprisingly few.
If you want the biggest and best email software, there really is nothing to match Outlook 2010, reviewed here.
It’s a huge program that can help you organise almost any aspect of your work or personal communications, with a feature-packed calendar, address book, notes, rules and lots more.
It’s too much for many home users – and at £120, it’s not cheap – but for office use or managing a club or society it is superb.
The alternative: Windows Live Mail 2011
When Outlook Express disappeared in Windows Vista, many users were unhappy, especially when the replacement, Windows Mail, turned out to be pretty ropey.
But the new Windows Live Mail 2011 is a completely different beast and gives Microsoft’s own Outlook 2010 a good run for its money. An optional part of the new Windows Live Essentials 2011 suite, Live Mail 2011, now has its own fully featured calendar and address book, and although it looks very similar to Outlook it’s actually much easier to use. You do need a free Windows Live ID to use it, though.
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