Is ClarisWorks the right thing to be doing at the moment?

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 08/91 item 01 - scanned

I've heard there's nothing more flattering than to have members of the opposite sex, or the same sex if that's your preference, fighting each other for your attentions. You might not like the spectacle and you might spurn the winner, but the very idea that people find you that desirable must be good for the ego. I wouldn't know from personal experience because it's never happened to me.

I'm beginning to feel that we computer users are in much the same situation. Hardware and software manufacturers are slogging it out for our devotion. They are prepared to make potentially suicidal business decisions to stave off the competition.

Apple finally did it, and we know the short-term effect of that. It's a good job Apple has an ample supply of cash reserve balm to tend its wounds. Now, it seems, daughter company Claris is about to go into a battle which has a very uncertain outcome. It's to launch a sub-£200 package which threatens not only the competition but some of its own most popular products.

The product is ClarisWorks, an integrated package which allows a number of applications to work directly on a single compound document. Although software developers like to divide the application world up into separate categories, Claris figured it would be nice to have the tools for the job on tap at all times. You can go into the word processor and halfway through a document create a drawing, a spreadsheet table or a pie chart right there on the page. You can even go into the database via the File Open option while keeping the word processor/graphics/spreadsheet document open. You could select records in the database and output them as a text file. It's like having MultiFinder but without the overhead. The program will also have a communications component.

At £195, many first-time users, and some experienced ones too, might want to take a look at this when it comes out towards the end of the year. Take me, for example. I run off the odd invoice in FileMaker Pro, I write columns and articles in MacWrite II, I rarely use a spreadsheet because I find the documentation so fearsome. All I really want is a simple life and I could easily forego so many of the features that software publishers feel compelled to provide.

So, at the level I operate (low), the facilities offered by ClarisWorks are perfectly adequate. And, if they're adequate for me, then I suspect they'll be adequate for a lot of other people who would otherwise have been considering the purchase of a full-function database, word processor and spreadsheet. The cost saving is huge, and any users of competing products (Microsoft Works, GreatWorks, Ragtime and AppleWorks) will be able to buy ClarisWorks for just £80.

Apple has just shown us what can happen if you bomb your prices. You can get a dramatic increase in volume shipments and lose a fortune in the process. I feel we could be about to witness a re-run with Claris. Everyone might stop buying the high-end stuff but low-end business zooms. The result? A fat company (you should see their opulent Santa Clara premises) suddenly having to go on a diet.

Claris will point out that Microsoft didn't suffer when it introduced its Works product. But, unlike Claris, Microsoft was well established at different levels in the market. More importantly, the corporates were already committed to its high-end stuff and Microsoft Works wouldn't have interested them. The situation must be different for Claris, whose sales are totally dependent on the Mac at present and, in the UK at least, that machine simply hasn't made a big enough impact in the corporates.

Most new Mac sales are at the low end, so Claris has a potentially large market there. It will, no doubt, pick up as much replacement business as there is to be had. But I doubt, at £80, that this would be very profitable. People who have already bought individual applications won't be in the market and many of those who haven't bought yet might prefer ClarisWorks to the fuller implementation of the individual modules. The key to Claris' profitability in its present form is the corporate buyer of full-specification products.

Perhaps corporates will start to take the Mac more seriously. But this will take time. It will take more than the joint Apple/ IBM announcement to get MIS managers buying Macs. At the moment, many of them think that the Mac and DOS with Windows are equivalent systems.

Poor old Claris can't wait for the corporates to start buying. But it has to fight off the competition for our attention now, even though it knows it might get wounded in the process. And the biggest wound, ironically, could be the one it inflicts on itself with ClarisWorks.