WORKS 2000, Microsoft

What: Home-productivity suite. Details: Works 2000 is enough to make anybody feel like an underachiever. Fire it up and you're presented with a Web-esque view of where you can go today: Did you want to make a party planner? Did you want to put together some lawn and garden worksheets? Weren't you planning to convert your household budget to euros? The options scroll down the screen like so many waiters aggressively pushing their own lists of daily specials. This task-centric portal to the Works suite--word processor, spreadsheet, database, calendar--is supposed to be reassuring, but I found it overwhelming; I'd need to hire some data-entry personnel just to load this program with enough information to make it justify the space it's taking up on my hard drive. (The basic version takes up from 135 to 150 megabytes of disk space, while the full suite version will munch at least 785 megs.) Unfortunately, that Web-browser interface is the big change in this version of Works (it's showing up in a lot of Microsoft programs these days). Screen clutter aside, it does offer a "history" menu of recently opened files, which helps in locating all those half-typed letters. And at least pruning the clutter is quick, needing only a right-click on each unwanted item. Under the skin, the word processor is much more functional than its predecessor, thanks to code borrowed from Microsoft Word; it checks your spelling as you type and can do the same, with less accuracy, for your grammar. The other components of Works offer few detectable changes from previous versions. Bottom line: Plenty of room for improvement for the next release.

-- Mike Musgrove

Win 95-98, $55; Works Suite Basic 2000 (adds Money Standard 2000 and Encarta 2000), $80; Works Suite 2000 (adds Word 2000, Money Standard 2000, Encarta 2000, Home Publishing 2000, Expedia Streets and Trips 2000 and Picture It Express), $109

FINAL FANTASY VIII, SquareSoft

What: Latest sequel in the role-playing game series. Details: Final Fantasy VII sold more than a million copies in the United States and was touted as one of the best role-playing games ever created. Final Fantasy VIII is just as extraordinary: The graphics, the story line and the game play will all drag almost any PlayStation owner in. Spanning four discs, the latest Final Fantasy title tells the story of Squall Leonheart and his band of five cadets, who join a resistance group and eventually become involved in a battle to save time itself. The action, featuring an extensive battle and magic system, takes place across massive landscapes and in outer space; there's also a love story integral to the game, a new element in the Final Fantasy universe. On the other hand, one result of this title's emphasis on story line is that this game is more linear than previous entries in the series; you have to complete particular tasks in a particular sequence or you stay stuck in one chapter. Player animations are vivid and detailed, and the cinematic cut scenes (which are seamlessly intertwined with the game), sound effects and music are better than in many movies. Bottom line: Who needs sleep when you have a game like this? -- Tom Ham

PlayStation, $50

RE-VOLT, Acclaim

What: Radio-controlled racing run amok. Details: Re-Volt cleverly taps into the "Toy Story"-esque appeal of racing miniature dune buggies and stock cars around our full-size world. The game gives players a choice of 28 toy vehicles to race through dozens of challenging real-world tracks, jump building blocks in the toy store, tear down the neighborhood street or scoot across the dinosaur museum's slick floors. There's also an intuitive track editor included, and the PC version allows players to download user-created tracks and car designs. The cars themselves, running at scaled speeds of up to 350 mph, offer great handling, and arcade extras such as water balloons and bottle-rocket power-ups arm them for vehicle-to-vehicle combat. Graphics look sharp on all three platforms, but a 3-D accelerator is listed as required on the PC version. (PC owners should also note that, as per standard industry practice, there's already a bug-release download for the game at http://www.acclaim.net.) Whether you're racing alone or against other opponents, this game offers a brand-new perspective on the tired racing genre. Bottom line: Like taking my "Monster Beetle" car off-roading when I was a kid--and I don't have to worry about slamming my car into a wall. -- John Gaudiosi

Win 95-98, $40; Nintendo 64, $50; PlayStation, $40

SPAMCOP, Julian Haight

What: Web tool for busting junk e-mail. Details: Having a hard time finding your e-mail under dozens of junk messages for "Make Money Fast!" pyramid schemes and porn? SpamCop aims to shortcut the process of tracking down the sender of the latest unsolicited commercial e-mail (a k a spam) to invade your in-box--a tricky thing to do, since many spammers use fraudulent addresses and bounce spam through legitimate sites to hide their tracks. Paste the text of the spam into a form on the SpamCop site and in a few seconds it targets the true identity of the perp and sends an automatic notice to the perp's ISP, which will then, hopefully, yank the offender's account. The site also offers paid subscriptions, starting at $15 for 394 spam reports; signing up allows you to report spam quicker and gets you a SpamCop e-mail account, from which spam is filtered out before it reaches you. (It's possible, but very tricky, to use this filtering option with your existing e-mail account under certain conditions.) After signing up, I found out a lot of my spam was coming from the same source, and now the flood has been reduced to a trickle. This really works; it's like DNA fingerprinting for spam. And it was created by just one person working out of an apartment in his spare time. Bottom line: You've got spam? Call a SpamCop. -- Daniel Greenberg

http://www.spamcop.net