ClarisWorks vs Office,
Which Program is Right for You?

by Deborah Shadovitz

As co-author of ClarisWorks Office For Dummies and the Macworld Office 98 Bible (with Bob, Dr. Macintosh, LeVitus), I’ve been asked if, with the advent of Office 98, I still use ClarisWorks. In response to that, I thought a comparison of the two might be helpful. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so for the most part, this focuses on word-processing.

First, some clarification. ClarisWorks Office is actually ClarisWorks 5. The Office part of its name was to identify ClarisWorks as a serious business application (which it is). To use the name Office, Claris bundled ClarisWorks with HomePage Lite and two ISP installers. ClarisWorks is one application that seamlessly integrates full word-processing, spreadsheet, drawing, and painting ability, and also includes a database module. Microsoft Office is actually three programs—Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—which are not really integrated, but work together in some ways.

The Overall Picture

As with the prior versions, each has its place. Sometimes one is the clear choice over the other, but often it’s a matter of preference. For the average user, including many businesses, ClarisWorks, leaner at 2.7MB, provides everything needed. It’s less costly and is simpler to use. It handles correspondence, fliers, newsletters, mail merge, spreadsheets, presentations (slide shows), simple databases, and more. In this incarnation it looks and feels a bit more like Word, perhaps making it more employable comfort-wise in an office. However, ClarisWorks lacks some very powerful high-end word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation features, as well as collaboration ability. When you need those powers, Office (about 5MB per application) becomes the choice.

RAM-wise, ClarisWorks requires 3MB, while Word uses 9, Excel uses 6, and PowerPoint takes 10. When adding graphics to a document, count on raising RAM allocation: for Word, try 12MB. Office requires a PowerMac and 7.5.5+, while ClarisWorks can run on an ‘020 with 7.0.1.

Both are cross-platform, and can be used in a Mac and Windows situation without any special saves or translation. Unfortunately, this means both use a Windows-level help system, rather than AppleGuide.

The Interface

While Office 4.2 was current, ClarisWorks was stronger in any Mac-user’s interface comparison. (Office 4.2 used Windows’ commands and command-nesting.) With Office 98 back to Mac standards, both are equal menu-wise.

As I recall, Microsoft was the first application (ever) to introduce buttons. ClarisWorks meanwhile, called its buttons "shortcuts," placing them on a floating palette. Not visible by default, shortcuts often went undiscovered so ClarisWorks 5 uses button bars (palettes are an alternative). With both programs you can now discover any button’s function by resting your mouse over it. Although Office provides more customization, both let you can edit and create toolbars, and turn toolbars on/off. ClarisWorks’ buttons work dynamically, appearing only when applicable, making command choices easier and saving space. (Be careful though. It’s button bar’s height doesn’t resize dynamically, so reducing its height when few buttons are visible causes buttons on the next row fail to show when needed.)

Although not new to Word 98, another Word-only strength is ability to edit keyboard shortcuts. Another Word-only strength is that menu/toolbar customization is stored within templates. Therefore, you can have a custom set of menus/buttons for each document and use that document as a template—an excellent advantage in an office. In ClarisWorks you can set custom toolbars for users to select but it’s a bit less foolproof. Actually,

Newsletter/Flier Creation

Prior to Office 98, ClarisWorks won hands-down for flier or newsletter creation. With Word 98 such documents are now viable. Today, Word 98 surpasses ClarisWorks for ease creating multiple text columns, inserting the necessary sections automatically when you select the text and choose the number of columns from a pop-up button. (In ClarisWorks you use the Insert->Section command twice.) Both programs can create separate text boxes and link them together, flowing text among them. This is new to Word. However, Word’s is less intuitive, differing from page layout programs.

In the past Word only allowed inline graphics, treating them as part of the line of text, making use of graphics difficult. Now graphics can be free-floating, allowing flexible placement. ClarisWorks has long (or always) had this ability (in its word-processing and drawing environments) and is still ahead on the mechanics. It not only has the superior (my opinion) clip art storage interface, but also supports dragging art from your desktop or folders.

After placing a graphic it’s nice text wrap around it. Word has gained some of this ability, letting you wrap text around objects, but not when the text is flowed between text blocks, as in ClarisWorks. However, for blocks of text within text, Word’s text frames let you control the space between the text inside the block and its border—not possible in ClarisWorks. With both programs you can adjust the space between the graphic and the text around it.

Another aspect of newsletter/flier creation is adding lines, arrows, callouts or such, and even graphic creation. As ClarisWorks is contains drawing and painting programs, it has long been rich in these abilities. New to Office is a wealth of drawing ability: select from shape libraries or draw your own basic shapes, then select a shadow and/or 3-D effect. Both programs group objects, let graphics move in front of or behind text or other graphics, and provide free object rotation. Each has strengths: ClarisWorks has more graphic creation ability, while Office provides AutoShapes and WordArt, (fancy text).


Even die-hard ClarisWorks fans hoped v5 would introduce proper tables, rather than use spreadsheets. Unfortunately, this remains a wish. For tables, Word was always the choice and it’s even better now, having added pencil and eraser tools to create and edit tables visually. Word’s tables also calculate, so remember that when weighing spreadsheet integration ease. You may not need a spreadsheet where you think you do.

Spreadsheets, Charts, and Databases

Ironically, most people only use spreadsheets for columns and rows, ignoring their true power. Excel definitely has more power than ClarisWorks. However, few need that much power and ClarisWorks provides everything most people need (and more). One benefit of ClarisWorks is that the spreadsheet can be in the middle of a word-processing or drawing document, yet be a fully functioning spreadsheet. Using Office you have several options for getting data into a word-processing document—pasting, linking, or embedding—each with its own level of ease and/or flexibility.

As a side note, spreadsheets used to be fairly intimidating. These days they’re much friendlier, especially with Excel. It might be time for you to discover their power.

Excel provides a database function, allowing easy addition and filtering of data—much easier in Excel 98. For data, ClarisWorks provides an entire database module. ClarisWorks and Office (PowerPoint and Excel) both have excellent charting ability, making chart creation easy. If you’re serious about charting, compare each in detail.

Spelling, Grammar, and Synonyms

Both programs have spell-checkers. Don’t all applications? But is this an advantage? Personally, rather than maintain several dictionaries, I use Casady & Greene’s SpellCatcher. However, I enjoy Office’s new interactive spelling and grammar checkers which use red underlines to show misspellings and green for grammar. Simply control-click an error to view and select a correction. Even non grammar-checker fans appreciate the spacing and comma feedback. Both programs include a thesaurus, however Word wins here as control-clicking any word reveals a list of synonyms (if applicable) and clicking one in the list replaces your original word.

Text Automation

Office 98 provides several text automation features not available in ClarisWorks. AutoCorrect corrects misspellings and expands sets of characters, automatically typing an entire phrase. Unfortunately, AutoCorrect is limited to Office, while typos and constant phrase-typing aren’t, therefore limiting its benefits. (I use SpellCatcher instead.) However, AutoCorrect inserts graphics, too, which is helpful.

AutoFormat creates numbered lists, bullets, and other formatting as you type or after you select the text and tell Office to format. AutoComplete guesses what you’re typing as you type, showing you in a pop-up ScreenTip. You can press Return to have Office type that guess, or ignore it.

Text Formatting

The rulers on both are now similar in look and function, again, each with strengths and weaknesses. If you like clicking on a tab (as in Word 5) to change it’s alignment and leader, you’ll be disappointed that Word 98 makes you select the tab from a tab list (as in Word 6). I find this inconvenient, giving ClarisWorks the advantage here. Both create bullets/numbering with a click. For bullets, I prefer Word, which actually splits the indents and uses tabs, providing more control. With numbers Word also provides a bit more control by placing a tab. (That is harder for beginners, though.) For some reason, Word 98 leaves line spacing buttons off the toolbar. They’re missed, but can be added via customization (under Format).

For large or repetitive documents, styles are a great time-saver and standardization tool. Again, both provide excellent style support, providing styles at both the paragraph and character level, and for spreadsheets and tables.

Other Common Features

One benefit of computers is the ability to merge data or addresses into text, creating "personalized" letters. Both programs have long-contained this ability. Likewise, both provide Design Science’s Equation Editor. Both also provide easy, effective outlining. (You can even begin with an outline and turn it into a document.) New to both is ability to save as HTML and create hyperlinks. Both also provide plenty of interactive templates and stationery.

Power Features

If you’re passing a document around and want to notice people’s changes or let everyone add comments, you’ll enjoy Office’s Track Changes (formerly Revisions) and Comments commands. ClarisWorks doesn’t provide for collaboration. Office (Word) is also the choice if you require tables of contents, indexes, or tables of authorities. (ClarisWorks doesn’t offer them.) Also nice, is that from Office applications, File->Send To Office automatically opens your email program of choice, creates a new message and attaches your current document.


I’m sure I haven’t mentioned every benefit of each program, but hope I’ve helped you to make a decision about which is best for you. Since programs are cross-platform you can share this information with Windows users, too. And, by the way, yes, I still use ClarisWorks, but now I also use Office.

©Deborah Shadovitz 5-1-1998