Company: Microsoft (www.microsoft.com)
System Requirements: Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional SP4 or Windows XP; Microsoft Office 2003 or XP
Price: Free to schools enrolled in the Microsoft Academic Volume Licensing program for Microsoft Office; available as part of Microsoft Student 2006 ($99)
Pros: Provides access to many helpful new templates, toolbars, and tutorials for Microsoft Office applications
Cons: Inconsistent interfaces; templates must be opened in Learning Essentials rather than in Office
Learning Essentials for Microsoft Office offers new toolbars for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in addition to two versions of a customizable template and tutorial organizer: one for students and one for teachers. The toolbars are especially convenient for creating documents with equations or foreign language characters or for special formatting like quizzes and reports.
The educator version of the organizer is easy to use and well suited to teachers new to integrating Office into lessons. The student version's interface and content mirror the educator version's, but the resources are grouped quite differently. This creates a hurdle for educators incorporating the student version into assignments or classes.
The templates in the organizer are numerous, attractive, and useful, but experienced Office users may find launching templates from an external program cumbersome in comparison to applying them from within Office.
Overall, the breadth of resources in Learning Essentials outweighs the few small usability flaws, positioning it to become a classroom staple.
Kimberly Zern is the Technology Coordinator at the Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts.