Mac Musings

Apple Kills Another Great App

Daniel Knight - 2007.08.14

Once upon a time there was Microsoft Works for the Mac. It combined a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a database in a single program. When it was introduced in 1986, it took the market by storm. Finally, average users could have the tools they needed in a single program rather than moving back and forth between two or more apps.

Microsoft Works created the "Works" market and owned it. Competitors rose to challenge it - and were quickly struck down. It was the immovable object in its field.

Enter ClarisWorks

In those days, a Works program was more like an Office suite. You did word processing in one part of the program, number crunching in another. Bob Hearn and Scott Holdaway had a different vision. As Hearn tells it:

All "integrated software" to date was effectively several separate programs, loosely stitched together. For multiple reasons we had to do better than this. First, to do something new and interesting. Second, two programmers cannot write a competitive stand-alone word processor, spreadsheet, graphics program, and database program in a year or so. Third, application size was a big deal in those days: Microsoft Works was a big program; we wanted to do better.

They did. Their Works program used "frames" to integrate word processing, graphics, spreadsheets, etc. You could stick a working spreadsheet into a word processing document, drop in graphics from the drawing or paint modules, etc.

ClarisWorks 1.0 was finalized in October 1991, and it required a Mac running System 7. It also faced competition from not only Microsoft Works, but also GreatWorks (originally SmartWorks) and BeagleWorks.

The Mac market was growing thanks to Apple's first "low cost" desktops: the Classic, LC, and IIsi had been introduced in October 1990 and significantly lowered the cost of entry, much as sub-$1,000 iMacs and the Mac mini have done in recent years.

October 1991 also saw the introduction Apple's first PowerBook models (the 100, 140, and 170), all of which shipped with System 7 and had the resources necessary to run ClarisWorks, which had a very low memory footprint compared to Microsoft Works. I picked up my first copy of ClarisWorks around March of 1992, running it comfortably on my upgraded Mac Plus - and quickly retiring my copy of MacWrite.

In no time at all, ClarisWorks became the irresistible force of Macintosh Works programs, eclipsing Microsoft Works and all comers.

ClarisWorks was bundled with all consumer Macs for years and years, so it developed a huge installed base. ClarisWorks was ported to Windows in 1993, and every subsequent version has been available to Windows users.

ClarisWorks evolved, adding features, growing in size, becoming more powerful. After version 5.0, ClarisWorks was renamed AppleWorks,* and version 6.0 (March 2000) was "Carbonized" so it could run with both the Classic Mac OS and the new OS X. Through incremental upgrades, AppleWorks eventually reached version 6.2.9.

I've been using AppleWorks since ClarisWorks 1.0, and I still use it daily. Its word processor has all the features I need, and its spreadsheet does all the number crunching I can come up with.

But AppleWorks' days are numbered, if not already over. There are bugs in the code that haven't been fixed in the seven years since version 6.0 was released, such as one that messes up cut and paste between word processing documents. (Apple figured out how to do that with MacWrite 1.0!)

The Future of Works on the Mac

Apple introduced iWork in 2006, which included both Keynote, a presentation module compatible with Microsoft PowerPoint files, and Pages, a word processor with design tools compatible with Microsoft Word files. In August 2007, Apple expanded iWork by adding Numbers, a spreadsheet program compatible with Microsoft Excel files.

iWork 06 won plaudits, and iWork 08 is receiving rave reviews, especially with the new model Numbers uses that's very different from traditional spreadsheets.

However, iWork isn't AppleWorks. It's not an integrated word processor, database, spreadsheet, paint, and drawing program. It's much more like Microsoft Office, where Word and Excel are separate programs that can work together.

And while iWork can open PowerPoint, Word, and Excel files, for some reason Apple has ignored compatibility with its own AppleWorks program, which is used by millions upon millions of Mac users on both the Classic Mac OS and OS X.

I know Steve Jobs has a general disdain for things not created on his watch, and he's allowed AppleWorks to languish, but if he wants Mac users to migrate to new hardware and iWork, he needs to make it easy to convert .cwk files into iWork documents and spreadsheets.

I may work with a dozen spreadsheets a day, others once a month, and still others only a few times a year. To get them into Numbers, I'd have to export them to Excel format from AppleWorks. And to get my word processing files into Pages, I'd have to save them as Word files in AppleWorks. That's very time consuming; it would be far easier if I could simply drag them to the Pages or Number icon in the Dock....

UPDATE: Pages can import AppleWorks word processing documents, and Numbers can import its spreadsheets.

Good Enough vs. the Best

We all heard Steve Jobs say that Apple won't make junk, as we applaud it. I have a cheap, low-end Windows laptop that's pathetically slow using either Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux, and I don't think the battery last even 45 minutes. It's been that way since I bought it. That's what you get with cheap, junky computers.

Under Jobs, Apple is striving for excellence. It mostly hits the mark. The Mac mini and MacBook could have better graphics, but in general Apple is releasing knockout products. The iPod owns and redefined the MP3 player market, the iTunes Store owns and helped create a viable online music and video market, and the iPhone is already redefining the smartphone market.

But sometimes we don't need the absolute best. The Mac Pro is a powerhouse, but the Mac mini has enough power for most people. Likewise, Microsoft Office and iWork are powerhouse application suites, but Apple's integrated software program has been enough for most users since 1991.

I'd love to see Apple dust off AppleWorks and release a version 7.0 that's OS X native, a universal binary, compatible with the latest Microsoft Office file formats, exports directly to Pages and Numbers, and gives us the simple elegance and power we've known for the past 16 years.

But don't hold your breath. Apple's AppleWorks page no longer exists. If you try to visit <>, you end up on the iWork page.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to continue using AppleWorks until it no longer works. I'm the kind of diehard user who will do it - I used Claris Emailer (last updated in 1998) well after switching to Mac OS X, and I still use Claris Home Page 3.0 (not updated since 1997) in Classic mode on my 2002 Power Mac G4.

Once I find the right tool, I don't like to change.

Apple, how about reviving AppleWorks for those of us who already know and love the program, would love to see it modernized, and don't want to switch to Pages and Numbers.