The communications document type is only barely integrated with the rest of ClarisWorks, but it’s also the closest to a state of the art application. Based on the Communications Toolbox, the communications module provides basic terminal connections and file transfer. There are some catches, though.
First the good news: this is about the easiest communications program you could imagine. Even abstruse items such as the communications settings, terminal and keyboard layout, and local echo are easy to configure. Balloon help and use of graphical cues and icons to explain the set-ups should make using the program itself a snap. Pop-up menus provide graphical numeric keypads and cursor keys to users without these options on their keyboards. A saved communications document can be configured to automatically connect via a modem or a direct serial line as soon as it’s opened, so distribution of connection information can be very simple. File transfer is almost entirely automated, with only the steps on the host computer left out – and those can be automated with a macro. Well-executed file and screen capture routines should make downloading data to the Mac a breeze. One really nice feature is the ability to copy data from a host computer terminal session as if it were a table and paste it directly into word processing and spreadsheet documents as a tab-delimited grid.
Now the bad news. Claris, in its infinite wisdom, saw fit to provide only TTY and VT102 terminals, only serial and modem connection tools, and only XMODEM and TEXT file transfer methods. Claris perhaps thought ClarisWorks users would be able to get other connection, terminal, and file transfer tools from other sources, but I find their lack of inclusion of at least a VT240 and MacTCP tools quite puzzling. Apple has stated over and over its commitment to MacTCP, and an obvious target for ClarisWorks users are students and PowerBook-using faculty, yet TCP is not even mentioned in the Communications Handbook. Nor is there any provision for TEK graphics, the cutting and pasting of which from a mainframe host would be a boon to any student or office worker forced to use behemoths like SPSS and Minitab.
Still, I rate the communications module an overall winner – its ease of use is unsurpassed, the errors Claris made are not insurmountable, and correcting the problems won’t require rewriting the program.