AppleWorks 6.0.3

It might appear as if AppleWorks 6.0.3 is an upgrade to AppleWorks 5, but that's not quite true - the latter was just a name change for ClarisWorks 5. In effect, this is the first major upgrade to Apple's integrated suite of SoHo programs since 1997. The Mac OS has changed a lot in the last three years, and AppleWorks 6.0.3 supports many of the latest key technologies - including the dialogue box Navigation Services, contextual menus and AppleScript. Perhaps the biggest change is its preparation for Mac OS X - it's a Carbon-based application, and has Aqua's look and feel. The only casualty is the antiquated communications module. This has been replaced by a nifty presentation creator that can be used to create basic on-screen multimedia presentations, or printouts for overhead projectors. There's also a new table tool, something ClarisWorks should have had from year dot. You can create tables and use them within almost any module, which is a lot better than creating spreadsheet frames as in the past. In terms of AppleScript, most modules are scriptable. And, AppleWorks finally has some decent clip-art and the ability to download templates and clippings from Apple's Web site. However, the presentation module, is a let down. For a start, presentations are limited to 640-x-480 pixels, a serious restriction for some uses - for instance high-resolution projectors. Additionally, you can't use buttons or control QuickTime movies, import or export PowerPoint files, or even save in QuickTime format for playback outside of AppleWorks - a shame. Even though it sports an intuitive interface, it barely gives PowerPoint a run for its money. Problem
Talking of import and export, the biggest problem is just that - generally, you can't. Claris' XTND System, which previously provided a host of translators, has been binned and not replaced. All you get are AppleWorks' own file formats and a limited choice of graphic ones. Admittedly, the Claris technology is old and incompatible with Mac OS X. But, Apple should have replaced it with an alternative - such as MacLinkPlus - or at least offered a discount. Without some decent translators, you can't open common files such as those from Microsoft Word. And it can't even save a graphic in GIF format - this most Internet-savvy of applications refuses to save a graphic in one of the two standard Web formats. Fortunately, Apple added an RTF (Rich Text Format) translator in the version 6.0.3 update, which offers some hope for word processor file-translation. Why did Apple decide to make the buttons in the button bar so big? There are more customization options than before, but the buttons are so big that a full set of a module's useful tools can't be accessed without using the scroll bars. Not only that, but you can't see whether a button is on or off as you could with version 5. The point of a button bar is to access tools at the click of a button, saving the hassle of a repetitive movement - such as accessing menu items, or scrolling a button bar. The only saving grace is that some common items are now in the contextual menu, but that doesn't make up for being unable to see such information at a glance. Another example of a lack of foresight is its positioning of the drawing tools. The basic drawing tools have been moved out of the left-hand toolbar. And, even worse, the fill and line tools have been split between two palettes in the floating Accent menu. Many users will find this a real bind. Also, the Sort Paragraphs, a useful new feature, has no undo facility.

OUR VERDICT

Had this review been written a few weeks ago, there would have been numerous comments about crashes, freezes, terminally slow dialogue boxes and general in-use mayhem. Apple’s release of the 6.0.3 updater with CarbonLib 6.0.4 has made the product far more stable and, at least, useable. It’s difficult to see who would want AppleWorks. That it comes installed as standard on all new iMacs – and many of these are being purchased by new users – suggests that it’s aimed at novices. But there’s no printed manual. The two flimsy documents covering installation and getting started, along with the online help system are insufficient for beginners. While the user interface is generally good, there are quite a few powerful features hidden beneath the surface that are never going to be found without a decent guide. Looks like AppleWorks 6 for Dummies could be a bestseller. Also, there’s no on-disk examples, tutorials and templates. Not everyone wants to download MBs of data, especially in the UK where there’s no free local phone calls. I doubt experienced users will like it either. Anyone who has spent years getting used to the quirks of ClarisWorks is going to find this awkward. The lack of translators is a real pain. Anyone needing to move files between different applications will have to invest in MacLinkPlus, as there’s no upgrade available from the previous version. Apple has some work to do before AppleWorks receives the kind of accolades showered on ClarisWorks. It may be cheaper than Microsoft Office, but price isn’t everything. Features are.

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