Improving AppleWorks

2002 – AppleWorks is a fine Office suite. As it is, I like how well integrated the suite is and the fact that it runs smoothly in Mac OS 9 and OS X. Additional features, such as the slide presentation module (added since version 5), have been most welcome. However, I still feel the need to retreat to Microsoft Office from time to time or use some third party solution such as Graphic Analysis. If there were some minor improvements to AppleWorks, I could abandon Microsoft Office altogether.

As an educator, I represent a prime target audience for Apple’s products. The improvements I am talking about are key to science educators, one of Apple’s stated focus areas.


As implemented, the spreadsheet functions do pretty much anything I need with one exception. When graphing X-Y scatterplots, it would be nice to be able to specify that the grid shows both x and y gridlines as a permanent preference; it must be some sort of old financial graphing tradition holdover that it doesn’t.

I’d like to be able to specify the standard deviation for a data point and have it displayed over the data point, sort of combining the hi-lo function and x-y scatterplots at the same time. (I know you can overlap two graphs and make one transparent, but that seems clumsy to me.)

Finally, there’s no simple way to display a regression line on a data set. I’m not talking about sophisticated curve-fitting here, just some linear regression analysis with a correlation coefficient. There are scripting functions for computing such things, but they ought to be built-in out of the box. This function alone is something that drives some of my students into Microsoft’s arms.

Word Processor

Whenever I bring a document to school from home, I can never print it directly because the default page size is somehow set to US-letter small. This is probably due to my printer at home being an inkjet and my printer at school being a Postscript compatible laser printer, but I’d like to know how to set it so it stays set.

Tool Bar Response

Is it just me, or does it sometimes take the toolbar (the one with the drawing tools on it) an unusually long time to open? Sometimes I click on the little toolbox, and it takes 4 or 5 seconds to respond. Why? It’s just enough for me to forget what I was going to do.

Slide Show

The addition of the slide show function has tremendously improved AppleWorks and made the slide functions much more intuitive and accessible than they were in versions 5 and earlier. If you use AppleWorks’ slide functions, this improvement alone is reason enough to upgrade. The addition of transitions and a slide controller is welcome. Only one thing is needed to improve the package: A way to enter the slide contents via outline, which has been a staple of slide show programs since the early 1990s.

Translation Packages

I don’t have a problem with AppleWorks’ file translators; what I want is a translation package for Microsoft Office so it will read AppleWorks files directly. If Microsoft can’t or won’t offer such a function, then Apple should include an installer for it much like Web browsers get plugins – some tiny application that brings up an option to download the translator whenever a Windows user clicks on an AppleWorks document.

Let them take the burden of translation for a while.

Revive HyperCard

Yes, yes, we all know HyperCard is not planned for Mac OS X, and while the package is still offered, it still refers to QuickTime 3 (that’s t-h-r-e-e, two less than the current version and four less than the about-to-be-released version). If that doesn’t tell you HyperCard is dead, nothing will.

Apple has established a tradition now of sticking their noses in their third-party vendor’s market just to shake things up. Look at AppleWorks and Microsoft Office; iPhoto and Adobe; CD Burn and Toast; and so on. Each time they carefully avoided a direct confrontation by keeping the applications simple. Appetite whetted by a taste of the software often drives hobbyists to the waiting arms of higher end third-party developers.

So to motivate our friends in Cupertino, let’s just point out there is no built-in function equivalent to Flash for creating simple animations on a Mac out of the box. Give Macromedia a nudge by bringing back HyperCard – or at least build a stripped down version into AppleWorks.


Some time ago, I wrote a note to Apple saying that AppleWorks 5 needed an integrated slide show to organize the haphazard functions built in for slide shows. I received a polite reply stating that my suggestion was interesting but that Apple doesn’t comment on upcoming software revisions. Shortly thereafter (too quickly for me to delude myself into thinking I had some influence there), AppleWorks 6 came out. Nevertheless, I hope history repeats itself.

This collection of haphazard observations lacks the integrated vision that Apple has been striving for with its recent Digital Hub initiative. Then again, AppleWorks doesn’t yet start with the letter i, does it?

Maybe it’s time that the software engineers and designers at Apple refocus their gaze on Apple’s oldest surviving software product.

Keywords: #appleworks

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