The Web bandwagon has room for most comers, and recently ClarisWorks 4.0 jumped on with its new HTML converter. Despite my typical cynicism regarding press releases, the ClarisWorks press release had me excited. It quoted an Instructional Technology Coordinator as saying: "Many schools are starting their own Web sites and need an easy way to create World Wide Web documents. The ClarisWorks HTML capability is awesome and will be a really big draw for our schools." It’s a great quote, but I wonder if the quotee had any experience with other Mac HTML authoring tools.
Where’s the chemistry? For ClarisWorks and its converter to shine as a couple, they must work in tandem to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Unfortunately, ClarisWorks and its converter come close to creating something less than the sum of their parts.
Claris has positioned ClarisWorks as an HTML authoring tool, something anyone could use to create an HTML document. In fact, ClarisWorks and its converter are only appropriate for someone converting existing ClarisWorks documents into HTML. The problem here is previewing – previewing from ClarisWorks is harder than previewing in any other HTML editor I’ve tried.
The idea is that you don’t need a preview because ClarisWorks provides a WYSIWYG authoring environment – the converter changes topic headings to HTML heads, bold text to strong, and so on. This theory falls down faster than rain in a tropical storm when you realize that the converter only supports a subset of HTML 2.0. Glossary lists, addresses, block quotes, Netscape extensions, links with name attributes, and others must be tagged by hand and formatted with the Literal style. So much for WYSIWYG.
When you create an HTML document in any word processor other than Nisus Writer and manually add tags, you must do a Save As to save the HTML document as text each time before you can preview it in a Web browser. (Some word processors can automatically save existing text documents as text.) This is because HTML is a text format, and Web browsers can’t understand non-text files.
If you instead rely on a converter to insert HTML tags, you must convert the file each time before previewing. ClarisWorks is no exception. When you save into HTML format, the HTML converter examines the document for certain elements and styles, and does an acceptable job at adding the corresponding HTML tags.
Chances are good that after converting a ClarisWorks document into HTML, you will want to open the document with its tags showing and make corrections. This process in other programs usually involves a lot of tweaking, saving, and reloading – each time you wish to see what your tweaks have done, you must save the document as text, switch to a Web browser, and reload the page.
ClarisWorks complicates this process, because if you double-click a converted HTML document, ClarisWorks uses its converter to change the document back into a ClarisWorks format, thus removing the tags the converter added. According to Claris’s HTML Primer, you can open your file and see the tags if you go the File/Open route, but this didn’t work for me; I had to open my document in a different word processor to see the tags.
For easy previewing of documents, a better choice would be an HTML authoring tool such as HTML Web Weaver or Arachnid. HTML Web Weaver comes on the disk with Create Your Own Home Page, (a book by me and Adam that should be available in a few weeks), so I can say for sure that its preview is easy to use. I haven’t tried Arachnid in a while, but every so often I get enthusiastic email about it, so I know some people like it.
The best choices in terms of easy preview are text editors such as BBEdit with its included HTML extensions or Nisus Writer 4.1 with its included HTML macros from Sandra Silcot. My fellow TidBITS editor, Geoff, likes Alpha, a text editor that includes HTML authoring support.
Where’s the mutual support? In most good relationships, both partners support each other. But in this case, it seems nobody thought about making the converter work well with what ClarisWorks has to offer.
ClarisWorks provides an HTML stylesheet you can view as a separate palette and use to easily apply styles to items that later take on HTML tags. Inexplicably, the palette includes list styles (Diamond, Harvard, and Legal) that the converter does not recognize. The ClarisWorks HTML Primer explains that to make lists, you must precede each entry with a tab and then type a bullet or a number. The primer says nothing about the list styles that appear in the HTML stylesheet. (I think they appear by default and cannot be removed, but the converter should recognize and convert them.)
To make the converter insert a new paragraph tag, you just press Return. But, to make it insert a new line tag, you must press Return and then set the Space After for your old paragraph to zero. Why not just have two Returns equate to a new paragraph tag and have one Return equate to a new line tag?
My final complaint regards links. To make an HREF link, you highlight the link text, and then click the Link button. This gives you a footnote in which to type or paste a URL. Unfortunately, the footnote style in the HTML stationery document is preset to 10-point Helvetica blue, with little leading. It should have been preset to something more legible. And of course, if you convert a document already containing footnotes, all hell breaks loose.
Can this relationship be saved? ClarisWorks needs to get its act together. If Claris just wants to have an HTML converter, the current styles and techniques can be improved to the point where existing ClarisWorks documents can be converted into HTML with less bother. What’s puzzling is that Claris positioned the converter as something for people creating new HTML documents.
This is a confusing time for word processors. Most have plenty of features for creating printed documents, but users now want help managing and creating electronic documents. The last thing most word processors need is new features, and I don’t think Claris should try to shoehorn ClarisWorks into the HTML mold. Instead, I think Claris should create a separate HTML editor that elegantly imports and exports ClarisWorks documents.
What about the children? "But, wait," you may be thinking. "Perhaps the advantage of the ClarisWorks HTML converter is that people won’t have to learn HTML." People who don’t want to learn HTML won’t find salvation in ClarisWorks. Although you don’t have to type HTML tags while in ClarisWorks (assuming you wish to be confined to its subset of HTML 2.0), the rules you must memorize for setting up a document so it will convert correctly are as complicated as learning a smattering of HTML.
Further, you will almost certainly want to open converted documents to edit the tagged text. For example, the converter creates the title tag based on the name you give the document when you save it into HTML format, which probably isn’t what you want, especially if you must name your document something dull like "default.html".
The converter also leaves a bit to be desired in terms of graphics. It does convert graphics out of ClarisWorks as PICT files, which you can convert to GIFs using any of a number of utilities. The converter also adds IMG tags to the HTML document in place of the graphics, but you might also want to add attributes to the basic IMG tag. In slight contrast, HTML+ (an HTML converter from Leonard Rosenthol that works with any XTND-savvy word processor), comes and works with clip2gif to automatically create GIFs.
For people who don’t want to learn HTML or much else, of the currently available options (Ceneca’s $195 PageMill isn’t yet out – see TidBITS-290), a good pick is the HomeMaker HyperCard stack. HomeMaker is about as foolproof as it gets. Another easy HyperCard stack is WebDoor, which becomes even easier if you have an Internet account with Open Door Networks, the folks who make WebDoor.
Closing Notes — On the one hand, I want to congratulate Claris for including an HTML converter, and I’m sure some folks worked long, hard hours to make it happen. On the other hand, I’m impatient to see a selection of innovative, well-crafted HTML tools for the Mac, and ClarisWorks doesn’t currently make the grade.
Bare Bones Software — 508/651-3561 — 508/651-7584
Claris — 800/325-2747 — 408/987-7000 — 408/727-9054
Nisus Software — 616/481-1477 — 619/481-6154 (fax)
Open Door Networks — 800/480-DOOR — 503/488-4127
503/488-1708 (fax) — <[email protected]>