Office Rant

I’ll warn you in advance: this is going to sound like a rant.

But it’s not. It’s in praise of good software.

I normally use Numbers for spreadsheets. It’s a great tool, though I find spreadsheets generally cryptic creatures. But I really had no idea what cryptic really was until I used Excel to graph a semi-log filter response plot this week. Part of the requirements included axis labels and a chart title. It took me two days, in all, to figure out how to put axis labels and a chart title on my graph. In Numbers, you just select the graph and pick the options you want (Title? Check. Axis labels? Check.) in a single pane in the Inspector. No fiddling around – it’s all in one spot.

It’s a similar case with Word. The interface is cluttered, making it difficult to find things. While Word is a capable word processor, don’t ask it to work with images or other objects. It chokes on media other than text. Pages, on the other hand, has a clean interface with a tidy and well-organized Inspector. It handles images with ease and has picture frames and other cool effects to spruce up your photos.

Comparing PowerPoint to Keynote isn’t even comparing apples to apples. There is simply no comparison. Keynote has way better transitions, well-designed templates, and again, is well organized. I’ve never quite figured out how PowerPoint became the de-facto standard for presentations. After using Keynote, I have always felt that I’m only making do with PowerPoint and never getting the most out of my presentation.

iCloud

iCloud

Hey, did I mention that you can do basic edits in all three of these documents and keep them with you wherever you go with iWork for iCloud? It’s reliable, fast even on slower Internet connections, and works on PCs too. Just go to www.icloud.com and enter your Apple ID. You can create, for example, a Pages document and share it with other people via a link. Whether your collaborators are sitting across from you or somewhere on the other side of the world, you can add and format text and images and see changes appear on your computers as you type.

Now that there’s Microsoft Office for iPad, I should probably mention it at least once. I complement the layout; from the screenshots I’ve seen, it looks organized (some thought was – gasp!– actually put into its design!). But while the apps themselves are free, they’re only good for looking at Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, not editing them, unless one pays about $6 each month for the privilege.

At this point, I’ll just say that Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for both iPad and iPhone (Office is only available for iPad) are available for $10 apiece, or free with new Apple hardware (the details are at the bottom of this page). They remain yours – there’s no fee for using them. I will let you decide which will end up costing more. All the iWork apps can read the Microsoft equivalents to their own documents, and can export a variety of file formats, including PDF, ePub, and CSV, depending on the app.

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