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View the documentClarisWorks Review
View the documentBasic Facts
View the documentIntegration
View the documentPage Layout Capabilities
View the documentImport/Export Features
View the documentMacros
View the documentWord Processing
View the documentGraphics
View the documentSpreadsheet and Charting
View the documentDatabase and Mail Merge
View the documentCommunications
View the documentLearning ClarisWorks
View the documentWhat's Not There
View the documentThe Bottom Line
View the documentClarisWorks Details
View the documentFoot Notes

If you're a power user and won't use anything but high-end software tools or ResEdit, don't read this review. If you have more modest needs and you're interested in being able to use a number of different types of software packages, read on for an excellent discussion of ClarisWorks, perhaps the best of the new breed of integrated packages.

Topics:

  • ClarisWorks Review
  • Basic Facts
  • Integration
  • Page Layout Capabilities
  • Import/Export Features
  • Macros
  • Word Processing
  • Graphics
  • Spreadsheet and Charting
  • Database and Mail Merge
  • Communications
  • Learning ClarisWorks
  • What's Not There
  • The Bottom Line
  • ClarisWorks Details

Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


ClarisWorks Review

by Matthew Wall -- wall@cc.swarthmore.edu

This review does not compare different works programs, but it will give you a good understanding of how ClarisWorks integrates different types of software into one functional package. In my opinion, ClarisWorks is the best overall of the three new works programs (BeagleWorks and GreatWorks being the others). Whether ClarisWorks is right for you depends on three factors:

  • The importance of easy integration and consistency of interface between different modules/applications.

  • The relative need for certain features in each module.

  • The cost and efficacy of ClarisWorks compared to shareware and commercial alternatives.


Basic Facts

ClarisWorks requires at least System 6.0.5 and 1 MB of RAM. Under System 7, like everything else, it requires 2 MB of RAM.

The manuals include installation instructions appropriate for floppy-based Macs and hard drive systems. The application itself occupies 562K on disk. The application memory partition defaults to 900K, but it can be set as low as 768K. ClarisWorks can work easily on a Mac with two 800K floppies, and it's possible with some finagling to place the application on a single 800K floppy disk along with a bootable System 6 or a bootable high-density System 7 disk. One must do without the spelling, file translator, and thesaurus functions under these configurations, but these can be kept on separate floppy disks. I would still recommend a Plus-level machine with at least 2.5 MB of RAM and a hard drive as the preferred entry point for using ClarisWorks, but if you're stuck with something less, it's a usable and attractive option. The communications documents require a hard drive, however, since they require installation of the Mac Communications toolbox under System 6.


Integration

Works programs typically divide their functions into modules traditionally corresponding to simplified versions of high-end applications. ClarisWorks eschews the whole module idea for the concept of "document type." ClarisWorks has five basic document types: Word Processing, Graphics, Spreadsheet, Database, and Communications. ClarisWorks also uses tools, frames, views, and windows (including split windows) as different means of performing different operations.

As an experienced Mac user, I found this plethora of methods for creating documents initially confusing. However, when I approached it from a fresh perspective and bothered to read a few pages of the manual, these many methods began to make logical sense. To a less-experienced Mac user, ClarisWorks should be an intuitive and extremely easy way of integrating different computing tasks - much more so than the minefield of differing file import and export formats. It's important to understand the philosophy of integration underlying ClarisWorks, and the documentation presents the basic concepts very well.

To be frank, none of the basic document types offer anything significantly new or innovative. Although Claris wrote the code from scratch, they tried to emulate its existing programs, notably MacWrite II and FileMaker Plus. If you desire full-featured, high-end programs, look elsewhere.

It may be better to consider ClarisWorks in terms of functionality. From this perspective, ClarisWorks is also a powerful low-end page layout program, an acceptable charting program, an excellent, easy mail-merge system, and a good tool for note taking and later export to high-end applications. The traditional buyers of works programs, students and low-end office users, are extremely well served by ClarisWorks and should be joined by legions of PowerBook users.

The integration of the various tools - the text, spreadsheet, and graphics tools in particular - is quite well done. The same menus and tools are available for the same tasks no matter what document type you're in. You can word process in a database, drop database fields into a spreadsheet, and drop a spreadsheet into a word processing document. The document type might be better considered as a framework for organizing a document rather than a fundamental unit of a ClarisWorks document.

ClarisWorks employs the concept of a "frame," an object of a certain document type. Frames are "windows" into another data and tool type that can be arranged and edited within a document type. A ClarisWorks document could have a word processing frame and a spreadsheet frame and graphics objects, which aren't technically frames, but can be moved around as in a normal draw-type program. ClarisWorks has the initially-strange characteristic that a certain document type can have one or more frames of the same type, so a word processing document can also have a word processing frame. This feature enables the powerful page layout capabilities described below. Spreadsheet frames can include charts generated from spreadsheet data. A tools palette can be displayed in every document, which allows a quick switch between different tools. Frames can be picked up and re-arranged with the arrow tool and those that rely on common data update one another, so changing the data in a spreadsheet automatically alters a chart based on those figures. The glaring exception is the database document type, which requires cutting and pasting of data into the other document types. The Communications document type works differently, as described below.

Once you understand the basic mechanics of frames vs. windows vs. document types, the power of ClarisWorks lies in its document design capabilities. I initially made the mistake of trying to use ClarisWorks like I would use separate applications under MultiFinder - copying and pasting data between different documents as I composed. When one pastes data directly in this manner, it becomes "dead" - an update of the original document won't update the target document. If instead a given document type is viewed as the base document, then other data can be imported in whatever manner is the most convenient - as a live linked frame, as a movable but unlinked frame, or as plain text.


Page Layout Capabilities

The most amazing feature of ClarisWorks is the least touted in the advertising and packaging: page layout. The combination of three elements makes ClarisWorks one of the better low-end page layout buys to date on the Mac: flexible and editable views, the frames concept, and the object-oriented graphics document type.

All document types and frames allow completely flexible and editable views of the document from 3.13% all the way up to 3200%. The surprising thing is how quickly ClarisWorks rescales the view. Only with a complicated set of graphics, spreadsheet, and word processing frames in a single longish document is any significant delay during rescaling noticeable. TrueType makes scaling over 100% extremely legible, and 12-point type is legible down to about 50% reduction.

Another innovative viewing feature is the ability to change how the pages scroll across the screen. They can be re-arranged to not only go side by side but also across pages horizontally up to a nine page-wide grid - in other words, nine pages across as you click the horizontal scroll bar.

Combine the live editing, excellent legibility, and multiple page layout views, and you have an amazing page layout tool. Layout tasks that are normally a struggle in Word and Word Perfect are truly a pleasure in ClarisWorks. I've even reduced a document view down to 3.13% and effectively used this view to rearrange paragraphs and charts.

The page layout power doesn't stop there, though. Because any frame or graphic can be rearranged with the arrow tool, you can achieve fairly professional effects with a little work. This can be done in the word processing, database, and spreadsheet document types, but is best accomplished via a graphics document, which provides grouping and ungrouping, the ability to lock objects and/or anchor them to other objects, a lockable grid, and full access to frame and view features. Further, ClarisWorks has an innovative feature in that frames and graphical objects can actually be broken over page breaks, if you wanted to do that for some bizarre reason.

The results are fantastically useful. You can flow graphics, text, and charts around one another simply by rearranging things with the arrow tool. While the linked text frames can take a bit of getting used to, once understood they make a variety of otherwise-difficult tasks easy, such as adjusting text to flow around a diagram. Text and graphics can rotate in 90 degree increments (although rotating a resized or linked object or frame breaks the links). Objects can be moved backwards and forwards in layers, so that one can get any combination of overlays. Sure, you don't have all the bells and whistles of real page layout programs, but you do get one of the snappiest document formatters around.


Import/Export Features

ClarisWorks really suffers in file import and export. Using numerous translators and the XTND system, ClarisWorks can import and export a fairly impressive range of word processing and graphics documents for a low-end program. However, it can't directly import most spreadsheet and database formats, and disappointingly it cannot even import or export to Claris's own products, FileMaker Pro, Resolve, or MacDraw II. Claris says that improving import/export, along with System 7-savvy features, would have significantly delayed release, so they decided to leave those features for the future.

The Standard File dialogs do have the nice feature of being able to look at known imports of only certain types (e.g. only word processing, only graphics, etc.) or all ClarisWorks or all possible imports at once. Text-only documents are readable as any document type and are treated appropriately - tabbed data is put in the appropriate column when read into a spreadsheet, put into fields in a database, etc.

Here's a complete list of import and export options currently available, as shown in the SFDialog box:

Word Processing:

Import: Acta 3.0, AppleWorks, AppleWorks GS, MacWrite, MacWrite II, Word 3.0, Word 4.0, Word PC, Microsoft Works 1.1 and 2.0, Microsoft Write, RTF, Text, WordPerfect Mac 1.0, WordPerfect PC 4.2, WordPerfect PC 5.0, WriteNow, WriteNow NeXT

Export: all the above with the exception of Acta, plain AppleWorks, oldest MacWrite, and WordPerfect PC 5.0, and with the addition of WriteNow 1.1-2.0, MacWrite 5.0, and AppleWorks 2.0.

Graphics:

Import: EPSF, MacPaint, MacPaint 2.0, TIFF, PICT

Export: PICT only.

Spreadsheet:

Import: ASCII, DIF, SYLK, AppleWorks SS, Microsoft Works 2.0 SS

Export: ASCII, DIF, SYLK

Database:

Import: ASCII, DIF, SYLK, AppleWorks DB, Microsoft Works 2.0 DB

Export: ASCII, DIF, SYLK

Communications: Export terminal session as a text-only or ClarisWorks word processing document.


Macros

Another plus for ClarisWorks is its simple macro feature, available in every document type. These are record-only macros; there are no scripts to save or edit via a command language. Macros can be saved in separate ClarisWorks files and used, when appropriate, in different document types than the one they were created in. You have to assign every macro an command-option-key keystroke or a function key, a feature which allows the creation of keyboard equivalents for virtually any menu item, tool, or operation. (I quickly found this particularly appropriate for switching between custom scaled views.) One nice feature of the macro implementation is the ability to record pauses for communications sequences, and to make macros wait for certain tasks to finish before proceeding.


Word Processing

The word processing tool/document type/frame is essentially a slight reworking of MacWrite II, with a few features missing and a few added. If you're unfamiliar with MacWrite II, it's a capable entry-level word processor with enough features for most people. The ruler, format, font, size, and style systems are basically unchanged from MacWrite II. ClarisWorks also includes sub and superscripts, user-definable point sizes, a WYSIWYG font menu, and copy-able and apply-able rulers. Other features parallel MacWrite II but are arranged in a more intelligent manner with hierarchical menus. The hoary Microlytics thesaurus is available via the Spelling menu. Any graphics file (MacPaint, PICT, or TIFF) or compatible word processing file can be inserted directly into a ClarisWorks document with the Insert... command.

What's missing: the most annoying thing I found by far was the lack of a "Show Invisibles" feature. The ability to see the space, tab, and paragraph markers would have been welcome. There's no hyphenation capability, nor can one make footnotes anywhere except at the bottom of the page. The "spell word" and auto-spell features are gone. Custom rulers have been excised, although the macro functions can provide the equivalent with a little more futzing. I also noticed a slight performance hit in scrolling text once a document got to be a certain length, but this seemed intermittent and was not serious.

Such missing items are mostly quibbles. The addition of the page layout capabilities described above make the word processing tools more than the equivalent of MacWrite II, and for the novice user probably simplify the task of learning word processing. [One additional feature missing from the ClarisWorks that some people might bemoan is the lack of any user definable styles. -Adam]


Graphics

The graphics layer is the only part of ClarisWorks that can be described as truly disappointing. Although it supports color fills and lines, it's otherwise a generic draw program. Other than the text and spreadsheet frames, it has only straight line (with or without arrows), rectangle, oblong, circle, arc, polygon, irregular polygon, and fill tools. The oblong tool does have a nice corner smoothing algorithm, as does the irregular polygon. The graphics document layer has the sophistication of the original MacDraw.

It's a mystery to me why the company that publishes MacPaint couldn't come up with just a few painting tools. ClarisWorks has no painting capabilities, despite the misleading use of clip art in the tutorials and manuals. Given that draw/paint and word processing are the most heavily used modules in most works environments, it's a serious design mistake. If you rely on paint-level graphics, you'll have to buy another program to supplement ClarisWorks. However, the draw graphics should suffice for many student compositions or general lab reports.


Spreadsheet and Charting

In many ways, the spreadsheet document type/tool is the best part of the ClarisWorks package.

The spreadsheet is a fully functional - and fairly friendly - number crunching and presentation tool. It's at about the Excel 2.0-2.1 level without any of Microsoft's funky interface weirdness. Although the macro feature does not allow true scripting, the recordable macros combined with the 101 built-in functions will more than suffice for most office work and student work in the social sciences or in introductory natural science classes. It's not quite as powerful as the shareware BiPlane spreadsheet, but its linking features and smooth interface make it a better bet.

ClarisWorks smoothly integrates spreadsheet frames throughout the whole application. Frames can be linked to one another like text frames, and ClarisWorks automatically links them to any included charts. Creating a chart is simply a matter of selecting the data and choosing from one of seven chart types (pie, bar/histogram, stacked bar/histogram, line with multiple graphs, scatter, x-y scatter, and x-y line). All charts can be done in color and several in 3D. The charting dialog is simple and easy to use - almost too simple for those accustomed to describing graphing options by name. Limited legend and axis options can be accessed for each graph from a single dialog box. ClarisWorks displays all chart types graphically rather than via menus. Changing linked spreadsheet data quickly updates dependent charts, and charts automatically turn into graphics objects, ready for annotation. The charting features resemble those of CricketGraph without the lousy Cricket interface.


Database and Mail Merge

The database document type/tool, although not fully integrated into the other modules, is a real treat. It's another seeming retread - basically FileMaker Plus. But what a retread! FileMaker Plus was a terrific flat file database that went through several generations to become FileMaker Pro. It had easy field design and flexible layouts, allowed inclusion of graphics, and was easily modifiable at any point. ClarisWorks updates only a few menus and incorporates the common ClarisWorks features - text and spreadsheet frames - within the overall graphical-object ClarisWorks framework. You'd be hard-pressed to find a much better low-end database.

There's not much integration of the database to the other document types, however. Data copied from the database pastes directly into spreadsheet and word processing frames as tab delimited text, but fields and layouts can't be integrated with charting and graphics.

Claris did integrate the database into the word processing document type in the most important way, or at least in the way in which most people will use it: the mail merge. When a database document is opened, any word processing document or frame can be used as a "model" letter for a mail merge. Selecting Mail Merge from the File menu automatically brings up a dialog box with all possible databases listed. Double-clicking a database brings up all the fields in the database. Double-clicking a field name inserts the field marker at the insertion point. The whole database can then be merged with a click of the OK button. I have yet to see a less painful way of doing a mail merge.


Communications

The communications document type is only barely integrated with the rest of ClarisWorks, but it's also the closest to a state of the art application. Based on the Communications Toolbox, the communications module provides basic terminal connections and file transfer. There are some catches, though.

First the good news: this is about the easiest communications program you could imagine. Even abstruse items such as the communications settings, terminal and keyboard layout, and local echo are easy to configure. Balloon help and use of graphical cues and icons to explain the set-ups should make using the program itself a snap. Pop-up menus provide graphical numeric keypads and cursor keys to users without these options on their keyboards. A saved communications document can be configured to automatically connect via a modem or a direct serial line as soon as it's opened, so distribution of connection information can be very simple. File transfer is almost entirely automated, with only the steps on the host computer left out - and those can be automated with a macro. Well-executed file and screen capture routines should make downloading data to the Mac a breeze. One really nice feature is the ability to copy data from a host computer terminal session as if it were a table and paste it directly into word processing and spreadsheet documents as a tab-delimited grid.

Now the bad news. Claris, in its infinite wisdom, saw fit to provide only TTY and VT102 terminals, only serial and modem connection tools, and only XMODEM and TEXT file transfer methods. Claris perhaps thought ClarisWorks users would be able to get other connection, terminal, and file transfer tools from other sources, but I find their lack of inclusion of at least a VT240 and MacTCP tools quite puzzling. Apple has stated over and over its commitment to MacTCP, and an obvious target for ClarisWorks users are students and PowerBook-using faculty, yet TCP is not even mentioned in the Communications Handbook. Nor is there any provision for TEK graphics, the cutting and pasting of which from a mainframe host would be a boon to any student or office worker forced to use behemoths like SPSS and Minitab.

Still, I rate the communications module an overall winner - its ease of use is unsurpassed, the errors Claris made are not insurmountable, and correcting the problems won't require rewriting the program.


Learning ClarisWorks

ClarisWorks has a fantastic and easy-to-use overall feel. However, the basic frames and links concepts and a number of details require study before you can use them effectively. Here's an overview of ClarisWorks's help tools.

The online help can be found by typing command-?, looking under the Apple menu, or in balloon help under System 7. The online help is OK, and emphasizes examples over exhaustive reference. Its context-guessing feature is nicely implemented. I found myself referring to it far more frequently than any other source of help.

HyperTour - this stack is a good starting point, and allows limited trials of some features. It's far too simple-minded to be of serious help to anyone but a novice user.

Documentation - There are three manuals - but no reference manual. "Getting Started" is an excellent tutorial linked to sample documents included in the ClarisWorks distribution disks. The "ClarisWorks Handbook" is a user's guide to each tool, with task-oriented directions about integrating the tools. The "Communications Handbook" is a separate user's guide for the communications tool and the Apple Comm Toolbox.


What's Not There

ClarisWorks has a most disappointing lack of System 7-savvy features - no Publish & Subscribe, no use of AppleEvents, no nothing that's not in System 6 except for balloon help. Claris also missed an excellent opportunity to exploit the "linked frames" feature. This could easily have been made into a simple outline tool or even a basic hypertext system. I'm disappointed that ClarisWorks has absolutely no integration with HyperCard. Given the obvious slant of ClarisWorks towards the educational market, it's baffling why Claris ignored any mention, hook, or other use of HyperCard. I see it as further proof that the HyperCard group at Claris is in a different time and space warp than the other developers.

In its manuals and promotions, Claris conveys the message that they see ClarisWorks as a gateway to "specialized" high-end products such as FileMaker Pro and Resolve. This makes it almost bizarre that ClarisWorks won't read or write to these file formats.

In these days of integrated applications, Claris has deferred integrating electronic mail - perhaps in anticipation of Apple's OCE project bearing fruit later in '92. I'm not sure they should have. Even a simple Mac-to-Mac mail utility would have significantly increased the gee-whiz quality of ClarisWorks, and would have helped integrate the Communications module into the rest of the application.


The Bottom Line

The line between different types of applications has begun to gray. Word processors such as Nisus, WordPerfect, and Word now have graphics layers or modules, spreadsheets have presentation and text tools, and databases have object-oriented layouts - in the next five years we'll see more and more features added to programs so they effectively become integrated high-end works programs.

In the meantime, ClarisWorks isn't a perfect product, but it comes pretty close for a first effort. Given Claris's excellent history of upgrades and support during its short history, going in at the beginning should be worth the potential hazards of using a brand-new product.

For those in the education market, ClarisWorks is an excellent candidate for a first piece of software to go on a Macintosh. It will suffice for most K-12 uses by students and teachers. In higher education, most users will want to supplement it with other tools, but it makes an excellent choice for bundling with new computers or as a basic laboratory tool. With the introduction of QuickTime, live linked documents in ClarisWorks have intriguing possibilities for "live" reports and papers containing graphical demonstrations of the text.

In the office environment, ClarisWorks should satisfy most users who wish to produce simple memos and letters, and who need to share data between spreadsheets and databases. It's a good pick for a smallish department or one looking for lots of different functions at a small cost. ClarisWorks especially shines at mail merges. If you often create mail merges from databases of a few thousand records or less, I can't recommend ClarisWorks highly enough - it's a peach.

For home use, it's a good pick if you don't want to pay a bundle for unnecessarily high-powered software and don't trust shareware alternatives.

For PowerBook owners - especially PowerBook 100 users - it's a must. ClarisWorks does 90% of even high-end-user's work in a lean and mean disk and RAM budget.

All in all, if you're in one of the situations mentioned above, take a serious look at ClarisWorks before you buy a more expensive - and maybe unnecessarily complicated - alternative.


ClarisWorks Details

ClarisWorks 1.0v2
Claris Corporation
5201 Patrick Henry Drive
Santa Clara CA 95052-8168
408/987-7000
CLARIS.TECH@applelink.apple.com

Price and Availability: -- ClarisWorks lists for $299, and is available for under $200 from mail order companies. Education users should get an even cheaper price, around $120. (Note that some educational resellers may still offer MacWrite II, MacPaint 2.0, and Resolve, with a free upgrade to MacWrite Pro, at a special bundle price of $99: if you only need word processing, graphics, and a spreadsheet and you have a Mac with at least 4 MB of RAM, this is a better deal.) Sidegrades for $99 are available if you already own another integrated package. Contact Claris or a dealer for more information.


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