AppleWorks 6: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

SAN FRANCISCO (05/30/2000) - We all know that the number 13 is considered bad luck, but in the world of software publishing, the unlucky digit seems to be 6.

In light of the poor performance of some recent version 6 releases-Microsoft Corp.'s Word 6.0, Now Software's Now Utilities 6.X, and the latest arrival, Apple Computer Inc.'s AppleWorks 6-software publishers may just decide to skip directly from version 5.0 to version 7.0.

AppleWorks 6 is the latest iteration of the entry-level office suite that once bore the ClarisWorks name. Renowned for the level of integration among its word processing, draw, paint, database, and spreadsheet components, ClarisWorks Office also garnered respect for its speed, relatively small RAM and hard-disk requirements, and ease of use. When Apple absorbed its Claris division, ClarisWorks Office became AppleWorks 5. Other than the name change, there was no discernible difference between the two. There is, however, a marked difference between AppleWorks 5 and AppleWorks 6. Regrettably, few of the changes are for the better.

Progress in Works

Before addressing AppleWorks 6's weaknesses, we should note that the program includes some welcome new elements. A new module that allows you to create presentations has replaced the Communications module, which was largely unnecessary unless you needed to access certain bulletin boards or transfer files via serial link. The Presentation module is helpful and easy to use, but it's hindered by its inability to display images at more than 640-by-480-pixel resolution.

Version 6 also includes a Tables tool that lets you place tables within just about any AppleWorks element-word processing, graphics, spreadsheet, and database documents, for example-though you can't place tables within tables.

And for the first time in AppleWorks' history, its Clippings files-clip art you can paste into your documents-are actually attractive enough to be serviceable.

To find additional clippings online, you can use the Search Web Content option within the Clippings window.

Bitter Suite

Although these additions are welcome and AppleWorks 6 remains a reasonably powerful software suite, the changes in this version hobble the program in a number of significant ways.

To begin with, AppleWorks no longer includes translators. Unlike previous versions of the program, AppleWorks 6 can't open the native file format of such ubiquitous programs as Microsoft Word and Excel. Likewise, you can save word processing documents only as AppleWorks, AppleWorks 5.0, ClarisWorks 4.0, ClarisWorks for Kids, HTML, and text files. Reportedly, Apple stripped every bit of 680X0 code from AppleWorks for greater compatibility with the upcoming OS X, and the previously included translators depended on this older architecture.

This explanation offers little balm for the many AppleWorks users who must deal with countless documents created by Microsoft applications. Although you can add translation capabilities to AppleWorks with DataViz Inc.'s $100 MacLink Plus Deluxe (http://www.dataviz.com), you may be able to avoid paying a C note for translators if you have ClarisWorks or a previous version of AppleWorks; their translators work with AppleWorks 6 as well.

Second, AppleWorks 6's interface-though it attractively foreshadows some of what you'll see in OS X's Aqua interface-emphasizes form over function.

AppleWorks' Button Bar, where common commands such as Open and Font once resided, has swelled to include enormous buttons (even the "small" buttons are larger than version 5's) that can appear only in a single row; you can't resize the similarly elephantine Tools window, either. Including such rotund buttons limits the number of buttons that can appear in the Button Bar, which means it's missing such staples as the pop-up Font, Font Size, and Font Styles menus.

Big ButtonsÊÊEven those with poor eyesight can make out AppleWorks 6Õs exceedingly large buttons. The problem isthat the Button Bar can now accommodate only a few buttons.

You can add buttons if you like, but then you'll probably have to use the scrolling arrows at either end of the Button Bar to navigate to the button you desire, which obviates the need for buttons-if you must scroll the Button Bar, why not just use the corresponding menu command instead? Also, unlike those in previous Button Bars, the buttons in AppleWorks 6 give no indication of their state-whether they're on or off.

Finally, AppleWorks 6 just doesn't work as well as it should. The program is terribly slow if you're running it on anything other than a G3 or G4, and even on a fast G3 the Open and Save dialog boxes take far too long to display their contents. Although AppleWorks offers a Web enhancement-allowing you to gather clippings from the Web-you must first connect to the Web and then download the files; unlike most Web-savvy applications, AppleWorks can't initiate a dial-up connection. And AppleWorks is incompatible with some popular applications and utilities, such as IBM's ViaVoice 1.0 and Power On Software's Action Utilities suite.

Macworld's Buying Advice

AppleWorks 6 is a seriously flawed product that deserves a stern overhaul. Once that overhaul is complete-meaning that the program can translate common document types, sports a more streamlined interface, is sprightlier on slower Macs, and has broader compatibility with common utilities and applications-it may approach the elegance and usefulness of its predecessors.

RATING: 2.5 mice

PROS: New Presentation module and Tables tool; can download additional Web content.

CONS: No translators; clunky interface; slow; incompatible with common programs.

COMPANY: Apple Computer (800/692-7753, http://www.apple.com).

LIST PRICE: $79.

(Note: Since this review was written, Apple released a 6.0.3 update thataddressed some of our concerns. Thanks to the inclusion of a new version ofCarbonLib, Open and Save dialog boxes now open more swiftly. The update alsoincludes a translator for Microsoft Word RTF [Rich Text Format] files.

Although not as welcome as a translator that opens and saves files in thenative Word 98 and Word 5.1 file formats, this RTF translator does allow youto transfer some form of Word document between Microsoft Word and AppleWorks6.0. In addition, readers report that AppleWorks is more stable andcompatible with other applications and utilities with the 6.0.3 update.)

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