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Claris & Microsoft

I’m still getting used to the wealth of computer events in the Seattle area. Seattle’s dBUG had Claris in to show off ClarisWorks and MacDraw Pro a few weeks ago and last Thursday we went to a talk by Mr. Bill himself, an event cosponsored by dBUG and the Pacific Northwest PC Users Group. Although in both cases Claris and Microsoft stuck to the corporate line, there were some interesting bits and pieces.

As an aside, I hate taking notes on paper in a darkened room, particularly when there’s no desk. I’ve been using InfoGrip’s MiniBAT palmtop computer for this purpose because the chord keyboard allows me to touch type in the dark (soon to be a major rock song from TidBITS Productions, "Typing in the Dark"). I’m getting better all the time, though I doubt I’ll ever be as fast on the MiniBAT’s keyboard as on a normal QWERTY keyboard because the MiniBAT’s keys have almost no travel. I can’t wait to try the BAT, InfoGrip’s full chording keyboard, when it becomes available for the Mac. The only problem is that my multitasking capabilities can’t handle Tonya’s comments while paying attention and typing on the MiniBAT. Serious processing overload…

Interestingly enough, Claris’s best seller is MacDraw II, followed by FileMaker Pro. They didn’t mention where MacWrite II fit into that scheme, but they did claim that it was the most popular word processor (probably Macintosh word processor) in Japan because of the Kanji support. I was slightly surprised to hear of MacDraw’s popularity because I’ve been more impressed with Deneba’s Canvas for much of the limited graphics I’ve done (mostly room layouts and technical illustrations). MacDraw Pro will have some pretty impressive new features, which it will need to compete with Canvas 3.0. I especially liked the custom gradient palette, which allowed you to define a number of custom fills by specifying the light source and a range of colors. MacDraw Pro will also sport most of the ruler features of MacWrite II, which will make text handling far easier than in most graphics programs. Extending MacDraw’s uses still further is the ability to do presentations, I assume in a slide-show type manner, without the menubar showing. Despite that ability, a friend at the presentation said that he was positive that Claris had used Aldus Persuasion for the electronic slide-show we saw. I wonder if MacDraw Pro might still have a few bugs :-)?

Resolve was there too, but let’s face it, Resolve is no longer interesting news. What I did find interesting was ClarisWorks, which combines the primary features of the Claris family of applications in what appeared to be a small (570K) and fast program. The basic concept behind ClarisWorks is that of objects on a page, but unlike Microsoft Works for Windows (I haven’t seen Works on the Mac, but I believe it’s similar or even worse), when you select a graphic object the menus and palettes change to the appropriate tools and you can still see and work with everything on the page. The only application not integrated with the rest is the communications module, which in some ways must be separate, not being production-oriented. It is based on the Comm Toolbox, and although I suspect it is fairly simple, the CTB will provide a good bit of power. ClarisWorks is due in December, and will probably be the next Claris application to appear since MacDraw Pro and MacWrite Pro and the next version of FileMaker Pro certainly won’t be available until sometime next year.

After Bill’s talk, Microsoft showed off Microsoft Works for Windows and Microsoft Publisher for Windows, both of which were announced last week. WinWorks seemed capable, but broke little new ground and wasn’t nearly as smooth as ClarisWorks. The base page looked about the same, but if you double-clicked on a spreadsheet object to work on it, a separate window opened up with all of the spreadsheet tools and menus. Clumsier, but Works works. Sorry.

The hit of the evening wasn’t even Mr. Bill telling a member of the audience that he wouldn’t buy the financially troubled Seattle Mariners baseball team or that he’d never spent more than maybe $22 on a pizza – an answer I didn’t understand. I must have missed a story about how Bill went on a rampage and would spend hundreds of dollars on a black olive, onion, and anchovy pizza, his favorite. No, the best part was when the product manager of Microsoft Publisher for Windows showed off the final Wizard in Publisher. Let me explain Wizards. They are essentially pre-installed macros (I don’t know if you can make your own as well) that step the user through a series of questions en route to a certain type of layout or effect. The interface was excellent, with graphical representations of your choices at every step. First, she showed a greeting card Wizard (which a friend termed "Print Shop on steroids"), a newsletter Wizard, and a Wizard for quickly creating drop caps. The final Wizard, though, was the best because it walked you through the steps needed to create a number of types of paper airplanes. You could choose various effects and decals, and when you were done it would print out a sheet of paper with the folding lines marked along with either printed or on-screen instructions. The one thing you couldn’t add was a radio – the program essentially told you to get real. Apparently an enthusiastic intern created the airplane Wizard, and it wasn’t clear if Mr. Bill knew that the product manager had decided to leave it in the shipping version. I don’t think Publisher had many high-end features (no kerning to the millionth of a point or virtual leading), and they wouldn’t say whether or not they were planning on a Macintosh version, which more or less implies that they’re not at the moment. There was some talk about porting Visual Basic to the Mac, though, and that would be interesting to see.

Since the event was cosponsored by Mac and PC users groups, Bill was careful not to offend either party by making disparaging comments about either Apple or IBM. He also garnered a lot of immediate good will with the giveaway – as you walked in, user group staffers accosted you with the terse question, "Mac? IBM?" and when you responded, they happily shoved a copy of the appropriate Flight Simulator into your hands. I can’t wait to get my copy of HyperCard 2.1 so I can crash a plane into the Golden Gate bridge via Apple Events. Apparently they got the shrink wrapped copies of the Mac version that day – the project manager for Flight Simulator saw his first shrink-wrapped box that night. All in the name of the possibly mythical Big-But-Not-Bad Wolf.

It was the fairly standard song and dance, I gather, and Bill didn’t really break any new ground. But then again, Microsoft is not in business to break new ground, but instead to make lots of money harvesting the crops. There was a hint that Microsoft will be branching out into innovation a bit more at some point, since it has started a new research and development group and is busy hiring as many well-known scientists as it can, including the designer of the Mach operating system used in the NeXT. Still, it was interesting to hear the company line straight from the man himself, and I’ll be curious to hear future versions of the company line at later talks (as was one developer who asked if Windows was really the operating system Microsoft was going to push now, since the last time he’d asked the answer had been OS/2).

Information from:
Claris reps
Bill Gates
Microsoft Program Managers

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