AppleWorks is dead. Long live AppleWorks?

One of the first integrated office programs has quietly been killed off. Its death marks the end of an era.

Published August 16, 2007 4:55PM (EDT)

Macworld magazine discovered that the Web address for AppleWorks, Apple's long-in-the-tooth office productivity program for the Mac, now redirects to the site for iWork '08, the $79 word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation program that the company launched in 2005. The 23-year-old AppleWorks, one of the first integrated office programs released for personal computers, is dead.

Not a big shock, mind you. Oscar the death-predicting cat had long ago sidled up beside AppleWorks' sickly corpse; Apple did update the program for its OS X operating system, but never ventured to port it to the Intel processors that all Macs now run.

The Wikipedia entry on AppleWorks dishes its venerable history. Programmer Robert Lissner -- who had previously created the database program QuickFile -- released AppleWorks in 1984; it contained a word processor, spreadsheet, and database program. The software took off, becoming "the best-selling software package on any computer, ousting even Lotus 1-2-3 from the top of the industry-wide sales charts."

Over the years, the program saw several incarnations. For a time, Apple's software spinoff Claris took it over, rechristening it ClarisWorks; in the '90s it went back to Apple, but by then the industry had changed. Apple was in a slump, and the reign of Windows -- and of Microsoft's Office, which is now the world standard in office apps, and one of the most popular programs on the Mac -- had begun.

iWork, Apple's latest productivity app, is a puzzling affair. At last week's press event to show off the company's new iMac, CEO Steve Jobs also unveiled Numbers, a smartly designed spreadsheet addition to iWork.

Walt Mossberg reviews the suite this week in the Wall Street Journal. He writes that while "iWork '08 is a nice product, capable of turning out sophisticated and attractive word-processing, presentation and spreadsheet documents," it "simply isn't as powerful or versatile as Microsoft Office, especially when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets."

iWork, Mossberg says, "places far more emphasis on making documents look beautiful than on the nuts and bolts of the actual process of writing and number-crunching."

But iWork's problem is not just that it's "wimpy," as Mossberg labels it -- the app is also, existentially, at the end of the line. With Google Apps, Zoho and other Web programs gaining ground on the likes of Office, it's unclear that desktop operating systems are long for this world anyway.

AppleWorks' birth helped start the craze; its death may also be pregnant with portent.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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