AppleWorks Lament: In A Vacuum, No One Can Hear You Type...
June 20th, 2003

AppleWorks sucks!

Let me qualify that statement before you storm my home -- pitchforks, clubs, and torches in hand -- and demand my head on a platter: AppleWorks is a competent suite of office tools that has essentially remained unchanged for several years now. It has not been made to take full advantage of OS X, and has largely been relegated to obscurity by Apple for some unknown reason (wink!). Because of this, I believe that AppleWorks creates the same vacuum affect found in any decent Hoover upright.

Yes, AppleWorks works; it handles minor to medium writing jobs with relative ease, its spreadsheet is OK for late night ciphering and the draw and presentation packages are adequate for casual use. Yes, AppleWorks works, but so did a Yugo. Times have changed, the OS has changed and unless Apple wants it to be the office equivalent of the Yugo, AppleWorks needs to change.

...Or Whine

I've whined about AppleWorks before (No cheese for me, thanks. It gives me gas.), but recently, I took a look at the state of word processing apps for OS X, and was delighted to find so many options available, and dismayed to see that AppleWorks has not had a major overhaul since version 6 was introduced in January of 2000. To put that in perspective, Microsoft Office has had 2 major update since 2000 for the Mac. Two! And both Office Upgrades were better Mac apps than AppleWorks.

I don't know about you, but I think three-plus years is an awfully long time between upgrades: We've voted in a new president, the economy has gone to Hell in a hand-basket, there was an earthquake in Alabama (of all places), and most people have almost stopped caring who shot J.R. OS X has had several decent upgrades, iTools was replaced by .Mac, and the iApps have all gone through at least two major revisions. AppleWorks? I think there was a minor update a few weeks ago. Yeah, I'm almost sure there was.

Conspiracy Theory

So, what gives? Is Apple purposefully hobbling AppleWorks to honor some back-room deal with Microsoft? Microsoft has indeed delivered Office for OS X, and it is a great suite of tools, but you will pay dearly for them, my friends; and, truth be told, Apple really did need a cornerstone app to attract users. Microsoft just happened to be around.

That's cool. Big Redmond actually did a good thing in supporting OS X. Both Apple and Microsoft got something out of that arrangement, but that was then, and this is now. Though the price for Office v.X has been reduced through deals and incentives, it is still a pricey sucker, but that's OK. I believe you get what you pay for, and Office v.X is good stuff. In fact, it's OK if Microsoft wants to be the best darn office app maker on the planet, more power to them! AppleWorks doesn't have to compete with Office that way; Apple just needs a reasonably priced app that handles what AppleWorks handles now, but does it better.

As I have laid out in another article, there are other less expensive, but arguably less capable choices for word processing available for OS X, but none of what's available really took on life like the iApps seem to have. And that's what I want for AppleWorks. To paraphrase Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein, "I WANT APPLEWORKS TO LIVE! LIVE, DAMN YOU! LLLLLIIIIIIVVVVVVE!"

I'm not talking about some grandiose conglomeration of code that does everything but wipe you nose and type the words for you. All I'm suggesting is that Apple revamp AppleWorks so that it uses OS X to work better.

Fer' Instance...

When I take pictures with my camera, I simply plug the USB cable from my camera into my Cube, and soon iPhoto is up and asking me if I want to transfer my pix. I didn't have to find the iPhoto icon, then click it, then click on an option to download, then plug in my camera, then wait 'til iPhoto sees my pictures, and so on. iPhoto is not in my way, it helps me enjoy my pictures. That's what a revamped AppleWorks should do. If I want to write a little note to myself, I shouldn't have to find Stickies or TextEdit, I should be able to click an ever-present icon, click another icon that selects what I want to do, then start typing.

In fact, Jobs should direct his AppleWorks-making minions to take TextEdit, Stickies, and AppleWorks and combine them, make the resulting app accessible through Services, and give it an interface like iPhoto. The resulting app would be an Über-AppleWorks, one that is clean, simple, and very Mac-like, yet it shouldn't cause Big Redmond any worries.

Text files should be handled the same way pictures are in iPhoto. Most of my text files wind up in my Documents folder, and if I'm looking for stuff I have to figure out what's what; is it a stickie, or and idea for a book? I've got no nice way to organize and preview my documents and other office miscellany. So, give the new Uber-AppleWorks a brain, make it smart enough to know where to put what and display it so I can easily find and understand what's in the file.

The revamped AppleWorks I'd like to see does not have to be the absolute best word processor/spreadsheet/presentation app around, it just needs to be adequate and adaptable, and it needs to get the heck outta my way so I can write.

And it should not suck.