Works programs typically divide their functions into modules traditionally corresponding to simplified versions of high-end applications. ClarisWorks eschews the whole module idea for the concept of "document type." ClarisWorks has five basic document types: Word Processing, Graphics, Spreadsheet, Database, and Communications. ClarisWorks also uses tools, frames, views, and windows (including split windows) as different means of performing different operations.
As an experienced Mac user, I found this plethora of methods for creating documents initially confusing. However, when I approached it from a fresh perspective and bothered to read a few pages of the manual, these many methods began to make logical sense. To a less-experienced Mac user, ClarisWorks should be an intuitive and extremely easy way of integrating different computing tasks - much more so than the minefield of differing file import and export formats. It's important to understand the philosophy of integration underlying ClarisWorks, and the documentation presents the basic concepts very well.
To be frank, none of the basic document types offer anything significantly new or innovative. Although Claris wrote the code from scratch, they tried to emulate its existing programs, notably MacWrite II and FileMaker Plus. If you desire full-featured, high-end programs, look elsewhere.
It may be better to consider ClarisWorks in terms of functionality. From this perspective, ClarisWorks is also a powerful low-end page layout program, an acceptable charting program, an excellent, easy mail-merge system, and a good tool for note taking and later export to high-end applications. The traditional buyers of works programs, students and low-end office users, are extremely well served by ClarisWorks and should be joined by legions of PowerBook users.
The integration of the various tools - the text, spreadsheet, and graphics tools in particular - is quite well done. The same menus and tools are available for the same tasks no matter what document type you're in. You can word process in a database, drop database fields into a spreadsheet, and drop a spreadsheet into a word processing document. The document type might be better considered as a framework for organizing a document rather than a fundamental unit of a ClarisWorks document.
ClarisWorks employs the concept of a "frame," an object of a certain document type. Frames are "windows" into another data and tool type that can be arranged and edited within a document type. A ClarisWorks document could have a word processing frame and a spreadsheet frame and graphics objects, which aren't technically frames, but can be moved around as in a normal draw-type program. ClarisWorks has the initially-strange characteristic that a certain document type can have one or more frames of the same type, so a word processing document can also have a word processing frame. This feature enables the powerful page layout capabilities described below. Spreadsheet frames can include charts generated from spreadsheet data. A tools palette can be displayed in every document, which allows a quick switch between different tools. Frames can be picked up and re-arranged with the arrow tool and those that rely on common data update one another, so changing the data in a spreadsheet automatically alters a chart based on those figures. The glaring exception is the database document type, which requires cutting and pasting of data into the other document types. The Communications document type works differently, as described below.
Once you understand the basic mechanics of frames vs. windows vs. document types, the power of ClarisWorks lies in its document design capabilities. I initially made the mistake of trying to use ClarisWorks like I would use separate applications under MultiFinder - copying and pasting data between different documents as I composed. When one pastes data directly in this manner, it becomes "dead" - an update of the original document won't update the target document. If instead a given document type is viewed as the base document, then other data can be imported in whatever manner is the most convenient - as a live linked frame, as a movable but unlinked frame, or as plain text.