If you think of word processors for OS/2, chances are Clearlook won't be the first one that comes to mind. The latest version of Word Pro will probably be your first thought, followed by Star Division's StarWriter, then perhaps followed by the now-defunct DeScribe. Clearlook, if you think of it at all, is probably thought of in the past tense, rather than as a product that is still available and can be bought anywhere.
The truth is, Clearlook is still an active product, and is still being developed by Sundial Systems. Version 2.0 of the program is due for release, and version 1.71 can be purchased from Sundial Systems or any of the online OS/2 stores.
Clearlook is a fine product, with some excellent, even unmatched features -- and some gaps in its features that can, at times, make it difficult to use. If you're considering buying a new word processor, consider both the strengths and the weaknesses of Clearlook carefully: if you can learn to live with and work around the weaknesses, it will be a powerful and efficient tool.
Clearlook was built with two qualities in mind: size and speed. Clearlook is probably the smallest word processor available on the market today -- it takes up less than 5 mb of your drive -- and definitely one of the fastest. Compare this with Word Pro, an application whose root directory alone takes up more than 32 Mb of space! Clearlook is definitely fast: the application opens faster than most folders will, and there is little if any delay when switching from one tool to another. Clearlook is so fast, in fact, that it will fool you into thinking it's a scaled-down, Microsoft-works like program. It isn't, though; it's a full-sized word processing program with features you wont find anywhere else.
Unlike most word processors, Clearlook uses frames -- which it calls "cells" -- for every aspect of page layout and design. With Clearlook you don't bother defining the margins on your page: you simply resize a text cell until it covers the area you want it to cover, then start typing. Clearlook can support an insane number of cells at the same time (over 2,000), and they can be nested within each other.
This way of working with text gives you a lot of control over your layout, an d for this reason, when Clearlook first arrived on the scene (before it became a Sundial Systems product) it was billed as "OS/2's first desktop publishing program." This wasn't exactly true, since Clearlook is lacking a lot of features a good Desktop Publishing program needs (such as kerning and leading tools, the ability to create color separations) but its cell-centered structure does give it more in common with PageMaker than Microsoft Word.
Clearlook has most of the tools you'd expect a word processor to have: a spell checker, the ability to create styles, the ability to merge data into predefined fields ("mail merges"), as well as tools for creating indexes and tables of contents. Clearlook is a full-featured word processor that can handle just about anything you need a word processor to do.
Unfortunately, there are some things it can't do, and these gaps in Clearlook's feature set can make it unsuitable for some kinds of work.
First, Clearlook doesn't support too many alternate file types, so your cross-platform and cross-application support is limited. It definitely doesn't support the latest Word Pro, Microsoft Word and WordPerfect file types. Conversely, Clearlook's .ctx file format isn't recognized by many other word processors either. This means that if you're thinking of using Clearlook, you're either not concerned about migrating all your old documents into Clearlook format, or you're starting from scratch and have no old documents to migrate. Either way, if you choose Clearlook as your word processor, you're planning on sharing your files only with other Clearlook users. This is a big problem in a world where Microsoft Word and its formats rule supreme. Sundial Systems is planning to include support for more file types in Clearlook's next release, but for now it isn't there.
Second, Clearlook's graphic support is very poor. Currently only bitmaps are supported -- and while having a graphic in bitmap format doesn't necessarily mean the quality of the graphic will be poor, a good bitmap has a much, much larger file size than a good GIF or JPEG, or a graphic in any of the vector file formats. The standard BMP format isn't used much these days, so inserting graphics into your document will probably necessitate converting them into bitmaps first. As a result, this will probably increase the size of your document significantly.
There are many aspects of Clearlook's user interface that aren't "bad features", but are strange when compared to other applications. Clearlook is definitely an unconventional application, and its user interface marches to the beat of a different drummer.
The first major difference, aside from it's nonstandard install routine, is that the first thing you see after starting Clearlook is a folder called the "Clearlook Status Window." (.GIF, 5K) This folder contains, among other things, objects for accessing the Clearlook settings, modifying the thesaurus, the dictionary, and of course actually creating a document. In Clearlook, you don't open up the main program window then specify a new document -- rather you open up a document to start the program. In this fashion, Clearlook operates more like an OS/2 folder than your run-of-the-mill word processor would.
Choosing the "create document" icon will open a list of templates for you choose from. Double-clicking on a template causes the Clearlook main window (.GIF, 12K) to appear and a new document to be created.
Clearlook's main screen consists of a basic document window with a very simple toolbar across the top. Many of the toolbar's buttons don't act the way you'd expect. For example, when you use the zoom control, most word processors will give you some preset zoom levels and a dialog box if you wanted anything different. In Clearlook, however, the zoom control is a slider, so you can choose any option between 0-320%. The same with selecting font sizes: font size is selected via a slider (.GIF, 7.8K), allowing you to choose any size between 0-86 points.
I like both of these features; it gives you a lot more control than the standard "drop down lists" found in other programs. On the other hand, at times it feels awkward to use, and some may think that it's difficult to select exactly the tool you want to use.
Another oddity is that the program always fills the entire space on your screen when it the main window opens. I prefer to be able to decide for myself how large the window will be, so I can use other applications in the same space with less difficulty.
Clearlook is a great program, but it does have its drawbacks. It's limited document filters guarantees that people who don't use Clearlook won't be able to read your files unless you're willing to forego elaborate formats and use of graphics. It's limited graphics support means many of the images you'll want to include in your document will probably have to be converted before you use them, and as a result your documents may become much larger than you'd prefer. On the other hand, Clearlook is blazingly fast, very stable, and its cell-based structure allows you to very easily set up layouts that would take a long, long time with other applications.
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.
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