Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

ClarisWorks Companion: A Review

By Grace Gallagher

Washington Apple Pi Journal, September/October 1998, pp. 81-82, reprint information

ClarisWorks Companion
An official ClarisWorks 5 book
authored by Jan L. Harrington
published by Claris Press

If you buy only one additional book to supplement the official manual in your learning to master ClarisWorks 5, ClarisWorks Companion should be that book.

Although written for first time users, it will provide a valuable in-depth coverage of the basics of ClarisWorks and general computer application concepts for people who have used ClarisWorks 4 and prior versions at a only a cursory level. This book not only gives detailed instructions for specific ClarisWorks functions but also discusses customization of ClarisWorks for the individual user. The Button Bar, the main operating and on screen visual difference between ClarisWorks 5 and previous versions, is explained simply and completely and just that initial explanation will make the version switch much easier and more intuitive for current users.

And it provides the background for understanding the "why" of how the operating system and program work, not merely the "how". As someone who trains both teachers and students to use integrated computer applications, I have found that the knowledge of the logic on which a program is based in central to the complete and efficient learning and using of a program. ClarisWorks Companion provides that logic knowledge base is small bytes throughout the book. At each point where a new concept is introduced (for example the draw and paint modules and their different strengths and functions) a succinct paragraph or two explains the underlying logic so the operation of the program immediately becomes much clearer for efficient mastery.

ClarisWorks Companion is a totally cross platform book. If you and/or your employer are looking for an integrated program which is truly cross-platform without convoluted translation procedures, this book will demonstrate how totally seamless is the transition from Macintosh to Windows operating systems and return for the files created within it. For Word users who must remember tricks to translate even from different versions of that program within the same platform, ClarisWorks 5 will appear as a godsend! At every function or instruction, both the Macintosh and Windows instructions are shown in a mini-chart format in ClarisWorks Companion. These charts provide very clear specific instructions in two - four lines for every instruction. Use of the F keys as shortcuts for both Mac and Windows are listed with each set of directions. The one anomaly that I could not understand or make work was the set of 1-x directions used as keyboard shortcuts in the Macintosh directions. Substituting the CMD-Apple (command) key for the numeral 1 in each shortcut works very well.

Dr. Harrington introduces ClarisWorks by illustrating the working Claris environment including managing documents, basic formatting, button bar use, online help access, and all of the necessary conventions for functioning in every module. Getting that out of the away at the beginning is another use of the programs internal logic to make each additional "how to" more intuitive.

Word Processing basics of formatting text includes an explanation of documents versus frames which makes the insertion of word frames, tables, or charts so simple. The simple trick of double clicking on a tool so that it does not instantly revert to the document’s default after a single use will make anyone’s life easier. Several succinct paragraphs on understanding typography and fonts proceed the setting of type characteristics, again making the whole process more intuitive.

All of the word processing extras - outlining, headers, footers, footnotes, dates, style sheets - and many more are demonstrated. An explanation of why some dates and times don’t update, even though set to do so, will eliminate the frustration of trying to do something that is not logically possible. A chapter on word processing tools which includes an explanation/illustration of tailoring find’s behavior and the efficient use of both thesaurus and dictionary will speed up the mastery of all 3 tasks.

The Drawing chapter begins with a five paragraph illustrated explanation of the differences between drawing and painting on a computer. That clear explanation, in itself, will make the selection of appropriate features of the integrated program much easier. Even the use of straight or curved lines with the bezier tool is handled simply. Object organizing, aligning, distributing, layering, rotating, grouping, locking, flipping, and much more is covered. A section on modifying clip art using the drawing tools is a boon for the artistically challenged among us.

The one area which I missed in this book is a definitive one on the Slide Show feature of the Drawing module. This is the ClarisWorks alternative to Office’s PowerPoint. It completes the set of presentation tools which are least publicized strength of ClarisWorks 5. These are extraordinarily useful for both teachers and business world exhibitions.

The Painting chapter, in addition to clearly explaining the use of the standard painting tools, has a section showing "how to" use tools to edit a painting. Given the almost "can’t change" nature of items created with that module, the editing tips and directions are invaluable. Explanation of the shear, distort, perspective, invert, blend, rotation and resolution capabilities are clear, illustrated, and sometimes even imaginative enough to suggest previously unimagined treatments of rather prosaic art.

The first six pages of the Spreadsheet module should be must reading for anyone new to the concept of spreadsheets. (Or even those of us who use only the most basic of its capabilities) Again, this concise explanation of the logic behind such a program makes understanding and using the tools, commands, and formulas explained in the chapter so much easier. After the instructions on creating a basic spreadsheet, creation and customizing charts from the data is explained simply so that the results will appear professional. Adding labels and frames to a chart is made simple and certainly extends the value of the chart. A 56 page appendix which spells out all of the esoteric function alphabet soup is a great help to anyone who wants to use all of those neat math formulas that come with the ClarisWorks spreadsheet but can’t figure out which does what or how to substitute real numbers within the function formula.

Database instructions fill the longest single module sections of the book, over 200 pages. But this is the first set of instructions that has enabled me to use the ClarisWorks database to easily do all of sorting, calculating, and reporting tasks I used to do simply in AppleWorks 3.0.

Beginning with the customary "understanding" section, ClarisWorks Companion proceeds to illustrate creation and manipulation of the myriad of useful data fields. The sections on sorting data for reports and creation of layouts using customized parts and layering enable one to change the ordinary report into a more effective and professional looking document. The explanations of logical queries find versus match, and simple illustrations of searches make further sophisticated uses of this database much more user friendly. A Data Management Extras section expands the use of a database in sophisticated mail-merge custom documents while also giving added instruction in layout configuration techniques.

The final chapter, Customizing ClarisWorks, walks the user through setting up the button bars to the most efficient placement depending on individual needs and usage. Creating, recording, playing and modifying macros are explained simply and illustrated concretely. Even the setting the preferences (which I though I had mastered) gave me some new ideas to make my ClarisWorks easier for my often used or repetitive tasks.

ClarisWorks Companion contains 4 appendices. For me, using the equation editor was the most helpful. For others, creating HTML for the web or simply internal document linkage might be more useful. Using ClarisWorks assistants is short, simple and quick to cover. The ClarisWorks Functions explanations are invaluable. And for any teacher or simply novice computer user, the glossary at the back gives simple English one or two line explanations for all of that confusing jargon which is used throughout all computer manuals.

For computer newbys or even intermediate users, this book is a MUST companion for ClarisWorks 5. It will enable you to master the program’s capabilities quickly and with much less frustration than any other "how to" guide I’ve found on the market.

If your interest in ClarisWorks 5 is not in lerning more about the 5 most used modules, but rather aabout the Internet, New Media and Paperless Documents, look for next issue’s feature on the ClarisWorks 5 book dedicated only to those specific topics.

Grace Gallager is a trainer for teachers and students in the usage of Macintosh computer applications in the Prince William County (Virginia) school system.


Return to electric pi

Revised Saturday, August 28, 1998 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/