Try the patience of angels

Laurence Alster

TRAINING ON CD (CD-Roms for Apple Macintosh) Clarisworks 3 Pounds 75, Microsoft Office Pounds 149, Quark Xpress 3.3 Pounds 99. Other titles available,VAT and delivery extra.

Which of us, after spending long hours grappling with a new and incomprehensible computer program, hasn't longed for a friend who, smiling, would sit beside us and calmly explain all? Who, with never a word of complaint, would repeat points? Who would wait patiently while we practised? Who would explain those strange words in the manual?

Such paragons are few, alas. All the more reason, then, to welcome Training on CD. Designed to guide Mac users through popular applications, these CD-Roms are infinitely more user-friendly than hefty manuals, nor are they as expensive as some one-off training courses. Teachers and students of a range of subjects - most obviously graphic design, word processing and desk-top publishing - will soon think of them as indispensable.

The main section in each disc, Masterclass, contains movie lessons that describe procedures specific to the chosen application. In Clarisworks 3, for instance, users who choose "Painting" (one of 14 such topics) are then presented with 14 movie lessons with titles such as "Editing brush shapes", "Selecting" or "Rotating and resizing".

Click on one, and the appropriate window appears, just as in the actual application. A voice guides users through the recommended procedure, cross- referring to other lessons where relevant. There is a "Jargon" button to explain just that, while a search facility enables users to go straight to the relevant section of a program without having to scroll through dozens of titles.

The beauty of all this lies not only in the number of movie lessons (140 in Clarisworks 3, for example, and 131 in Microsoft Office), but in the clarity of explanation and the ease with which one can practise any task. This is done by simply switching between the movie lesson and the corresponding window in the application itself. To replay or skip part of a lesson, users just move a slide along a control bar.

Simple to use, then, and easy to learn from, not least because of some very patient guidance. While the instructor for Quark Xpress 3.3 is perhaps a little brisk (though not unfriendly), those for Clarisworks 3 and Microsoft Office are authoritative but never intimidating.

Younger students especially will take to the gent on Clarisworks 3 as much because of his occasional typing errors as his ultra-cool delivery, while the cheery female guide on Microsoft Office can't help but leave one feeling pleased with even the slightest progress.

The perfect tutor, therefore? Not entirely: a search for "Picture box" in Quark Xpress 3.3 turned up an error message, nor were all possible options covered. And some rather small and fuzzy dialogue boxes don't do the eyes any favours. But these are minor blemishes. The overall excellence of these discs is what most people will focus upon.

Available from Quay 2 Multimedia Ltd, Cannon Wharf, 35 Evelyn Street, London SE8 5RT. Tel: 0171 2520252.

0171 2313630.

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Laurence Alster

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