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Sleek new workhorse

Integrated software programs are the Swiss Army knives of computers. Ian Carter looks at a new version of one of the best ClarisWorks 4.

Integrated software for word processing, graphics, databases, spreadsheets and communications, Pounds 64.50 plus VAT (education templates from Pounds 24.95 plus VAT) TAG Developments, 25 Pelham Road, Gravesend, Kent DA11 0HU. Tel: 01474 357350.

ClarisWorks 3.0 comes "free" with just about every Apple Macintosh deal and it is also gaining popularity on Windows PCs. The arrival in September of version 4.0 for the Macintosh prompted the difficult decision of whether to upgrade.

As more children gain access to machines at home, this is where much of their computer-based work will be done and so the software needs to be compatible. Version 4 uses a different file format from version 3 and Claris omitted to include any translators, so those using version 3 will not be able to read documents created by version 4. You are informed on screen if a document was created on a more recent version of ClarisWorks so hard luck! Microsoft Word 6 had the same problem; a translator is now available from on-line sources but most of the population probably don't know how to acess it.

Those using older Apple machines such as the Mac Plus, Mac SE and Classic (this includes many schools) won't be able to use version 4 anyway.

This summer I downloaded a set of ClarisWorks worksheets from an education Internet site in the United States where version 4 has been available since June. You guessed it; they were version 4 documents and so useless until the UK version arrived in September.

ClarisWorks 4 for Windows won't be available until next year. In the meantime you can save your documents in another format that can be recognised by ClarisWorks 3 and earlier users (such as MacWrite). But who will remember to do this?

Assuming these problems are resolved, what is there in ClarisWorks 4 to tempt you to upgrade and disrupt staff and students who have been developing their skills on version 3? The 100 new features don't exactly smack you in the face but once you uncover them they are irresistible to a seasoned ClarisWorks user.

The word processor and all modules now support full stylesheets for paragraphs, outlines, text, tables and graphic objects. Styles are available from a pop-up menu on the ruler in the word processor or from a floating palette window. Children often have difficulty understanding copying and applying rulers. Now stationery documents can be prepared with stylesheets for formatting pages easily.

Styles can also be applied to graphics in the drawing module for pen widths, fill patterns and colours. When combined with the new "drag-and-drop" picture libraries (you just drag the image you want from the library and drop it on to your page), teachers can design construction sets for maps, stories, body parts and endless other possibilities. This is an enormous time-saver in lessons and children will find it easy to use.

Version 4 allows users to do word counts and produce endnotes as well as footnotes. For the benefit of those who accidentally leave the Caps Lock key on when typing, one command can convert the capitals back to lower case. The word processor understands equations and fractions created in equation editors so they sit properly aligned within the text. Even the most demanding wordsmith will have little to complain about.

The database can display information in a table. There are new field types and frequently-used sorts and finds can be saved and accessed from a floating palette. Most of the new features either simplify procedures or help to remove niggling problems.

The Primary and Secondary ClarisWorks Templates available from TAG have been upgraded to take advantage of version 4's drag-and-drop libraries and new database features. The Primary Templates include the new early-learner font.

New SOHO (Small Office Home Office) templates are now available for the home. They are beautifully produced and include a cheque book, recipe database, loan repayments and address book. Some of these are included in the secondary template pack under business studies and are useful in any information technology course or for business studies. They can be taken apart and adapted and may inspire you to produce your own.

Despite my misgivings about translators, it is well worth upgrading to ClarisWorks 4 which is a step ahead of the pack.

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