Two biggies came out this month. Of course, practically everything comes out this month, because about one-third of all retail sales take place in the five weeks before Christmas.

But these biggies really are big — as in large. They’re the new version of Microsoft’s Works Suite 2005 and

Corel’s WordPerfect Office 12, Home Edition.

Microsoft Works Suite 2005 is a collection of six programs, one of which, Works 8, is itself a collection of programs. The six main programs of the package are Microsoft Word, Money, Streets & Trips, Works 8, Encarta and Picture It! Encarta is an encyclopedia. Picture It! (the exclamation point is part of the title) is for photo editing. Streets & Trips tells you where you’re going and how to get there (in a geographical sense, that is). Word is Word, Money is Money, and Works 8 has several programs, at least one of which seems not to be there.

The main sections of the overall suite are well-known, and buying them this way for $100 (all figures US) is an outstanding bargain. Some dealers list a $20 rebate, though Microsoft’s own site, www.microsoft.com, does not.

What’s sure to cause some confusion among buyers is that the programs in this suite automatically default to larger Microsoft programs. So, for example, the word processor that comes with Microsoft Works, a program used by millions, and comes already installed on many new computers, seems to disappear. That’s because installing Works Suite 2005 also installs Microsoft Word, and the system now defaults to that. This can create a big problem.

For instance, Joy’s new cookbook was composed using templates from Microsoft Works. These now automatically defaulted to Word documents and came out as a complete mess. Unfortunately, we could not find any reference to the word processor that was supposed to come with the Works part of the new suite. It’s there, but it’s not in the index or the contents list. Fortunately, all those cookbook pages had been saved to a thumb drive, or months of work might have been lost.

To get those cookbook pages back, we had to change the defaults. You can do the same with your Works documents. Open one of the pages and right-click it. Choose “”properties.”” Now change the default program for opening that document from Microsoft Word, which is the one that’s shown, to Microsoft Works, the one you want. Works Suite 2005 will now find the old Microsoft Works word processor, which according to the index it doesn’t have. Sound confusing? Hey, it only took four hours to “”work”” it out.

As we learned the hard way, Works Suite will default to whatever more powerful Microsoft program you have on your computer. Sometimes this is a good thing. When attempting to use Picture It!, for example, the program that came up on the screen was actually Microsoft Digital Image Suite Pro, which we had installed earlier. This is far more powerful than Picture It! and a great program, which we enthusiastically recommended in earlier columns.

The new Encarta is much easier to use. A toolbar can be set at the bottom of your screen. Type in a term, and the computer will search the encyclopedia and display the information. This is obviously designed to help students with their homework, but it seems handy for anyone.

A search at www.froogle.com turned up Works Suite 2005 for as little as $40 in an OEM version.

We totally love WordPerfect Office 12, Home Edition. I mean, picture us jumping up and down and making a general nuisance of ourselves. The cost of this happy party is $70 after a $20 rebate. They also throw in a free T-shirt if you order from the Corel Web site, www.corel.com.

This software is meant to be the only working application you need. It takes up 1.4 gigabytes of hard disk space and, in theory at least, all the rest can be used for games, music and pictures of cats. You have the really great WordPerfect word processor, Quatro Pro spreadsheet, personal finance, photo editing, photo album, Pinnacle CD- and DVD-burning software, and an encyclopedia. In this case it happens to be a concise version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, with maps. The CD-burning software puts an icon on your desktop, and you can simply drag and drop anything you want burned to disk.

As you can see, the collection of programs in WordPerfect Office 12 closely approximates those offered in Microsoft’s Works Suite. But there are some nice extras:

They throw in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus. (What’s another word for thesaurus?) Another freebie is Norton Internet Security 2005, which includes virus protection and a firewall. This would cost $70 if you bought it separately. Virus updates are also free for 90 days, and after that you can subscribe for further updates or not, as you wish.

In searching for bargains, as we often do, we found the more powerful WordPerfect Office 12 (professional, not home) for $35 at www.softwareoutlet.com. This adds presentation software but lacks many of the Home Edition features, such as Norton Security, the Britannica and CD burning.

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