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Numbers vs NeoOffice vs Microsoft Office – making a simple chart in a spreadsheet

Here’s the background. I’m a Wordpad/TextEdit kinda guy. I don’t use office suites unless I have to, and the few times I do use them, I just want to get my task done and move on to something else. I’ve got to be able to find what I want quickly which means most of the options have to be easy accessable. At the same time, I hate a cluttered interface, so having every option plastered over the screen makes me less than happy. Yes, I can be both picky and tough to please.

Moving on, for my last blog entry, I had done a small benchmark and wanted to be able to present the numbers in a chart, since it’s easier to visualize differences in nice colorful bars than it is a zoo full of numbers. Before going on, if you’re a professional user who plans to use a spreadsheet every day, this review isn’t for you. I’m really just comparing something relatively basic between 3 programs. I certainly *don’t* recommend you make a multi-thousand dollar corporate purchase decision based on what I say here. If on the other hand you’re a casual home user and are just looking for the opinions/insight of some others when it comes to a spreadsheet program for the Mac, I dare say you’ve come to the right place. Just promise you’ll research what others have said too 🙂

I had 3 programs available to use:

  • NeoOffice – Based on OpenOffice, an office suite tailored specifically for the Mac. Strong points are that it’s free, and apparantly excels at opening files from other office suites.
  • iWork ’08 – Apple’s own set of office apps. From what I’d read, Keynote (the presentation app) is a very impressive program, but Pages and Numbers are a little weak. We’ll see. Not free, but there’s a 30 day free trial. A reasonable $79 otherwise.
  • Microsoft Office 2008 – The king of office suites, and the one used in just about every office, school, and business. Quite powerful, and finally runs natively on Intel Macs. $199.95 for the Home & Student edition. Thankfully most home users won’t need the “full” Microsoft Office edition wihch weighs in at a whopping $549.95. Fortunately, Office was installed on the office machine here, so I was able to try it out too.

So what are we looking for here? Basically a spreadsheet program that let’s me put in some numbers and pump out a nice chart with ease. I’ve used Microsoft Excel every so often in the past, so the little knowledge that remains is all I’ve got to guide me through.

 

First up: NeoOffice Calc

I really can’t complain a lot here. A free program, and it pretty much worked the way I expected. Typing in the info and doing up the equations was easy. When it came time to make the chart, I selected what I wanted, found where to insert a chart, went through the mini “wizard” which was actually nicely laid out, and that was that. I couldn’t find an option to add the original number for each bar in the chart though. The other issue was that to edit a chart, I’d have to right-click then “Edit”, then right-click again and choose Auto-Format or Chart Type. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to have to do it twice. Finally, printing my charts were too wide and it spilled over. Changed the format to landscape in the printer settings and it came out fine. One last thing I wasn’t crazy about at first.. when you select a cell and hit “delete”, a box comes up asking what all you want to delete. I’m sure it’s useful, but when it popped up I was like “what the heck?!”.

 


NeoOffice Calc
Click the thumbnail for a screenshot of my data and charts in Calc

Next up: Numbers

I usually love Apple programs. This one I didn’t love quite as much. On the plus side, it’s really pretty. The interface looks and feels sleek. Typing in the info, I noticed when I started typing equations that it color-codes the cells you’re typing about. Looks good, and might even help you catch it if you type in the wrong cell. Unfortunately when it came time to “Edit/Fill Down”, there was no “Fill down” to be found. Did a quick Google search to see where it is, and the program doesn’t have it. However, there’s a little circle at the bottom right of the cell, and you can drag that down and/or to the right and it works the same way. Great! I later realized that both NeoOffice and MS Office have the same thing. Unfortunately it doesn’t go up or to the left in Numbers (yet does in Neo/MS Office). Had to copy/paste to go up. With that all done, I went to create a chart. The 3-D chart in particular looked pretty sleek, and with some playing around I figured out how to tweak the look even more. The legend for the chart is moved separately from the chart itself. Whether that’s a plus for you or not depends on you. For me it was just extra time spent moving stuff around and formatting, but for those who are making a presentation, more options/abilities is sure to be better. The chart’s name showed up in the far left, which is where I had to go to name it (took me a couple minutes trying to find out how to name the chart before I noticed it on the left). Again, I looked to get my numbers to actually show up with each bar on the chart – couldn’t find out where to do it. With the chart done, I went to print it. Unlike NeoOffice, there’s a preview built into the print screen. Unfortunately, it looked like it wanted to print 4 pages even though there was only content on 1. Regardless, I was pretty sure I knew what it would look like, so I didn’t bother printing.

To be honest, Numbers was the toughest of the 3 programs for me to use, even though it certainly looks incredible and seems to act very Mac-like. To be fair, having used Office in the past, I’m undoubtedly accustomed to doing things a certain way. It’s very possible that a newcomer would have an easier time using Numbers than they would Excel since they’d be starting on a blank slate, but for me that’s not the case so it’s tough to know for sure. I’d really like to play around with it more though and see how it feels after a month of using it.

 

iWork ‘08 Numbers
Click the thumbnail for a screenshot of my data and charts in Numbers

Last but not least: Microsoft Excel

I’ll get my bias out of the way here. I hate most Microsoft apps. For Windows anyway, they’re full of bloat and like to install stuff all over the system. They practically embed themselves in the system. They remind me of Norton Antivirus (don’t ever get me started on that tragic piece of bloat). As far as the Mac goes, Microsoft apps are usually neglected and/or sub-par. For example Microsoft Messenger for the Mac lacks a bunch of features that the Windows version has. Microsoft Office 2004….. was the most recent up until now. It took 4 years to get a new version on the Mac. Regardless, I didn’t have high hopes.

Fortunately, I’ve used Excel in the past, and using it again was pretty easy. It really felt like I was in Windows again – not something that makes me overly happy, but it was a familiar feel at least. Typing in the info was simple – when it came to equations, it put a colored box around the cells you were typing about. Not as nice looking or obvious as iWork Numbers, but still a plus over NeoOffic Calc which doesn’t seem to have that feature. Inserting and configuring a chart was very easy. Excel was the first program where I was able to find a way to show the numbers for the bars in the chart! Actually all the options were easy to find, but there was a *lot* of clutter with all the options. I suppose it’s something of a tradeoff. The other nice thing about Excel was that you can tell if you go to the right enough that your stuff will spill onto another page. It made it easier to set up the charts so that they’d all fit on a page.

All in all, Excel for the Mac reminded me basically of Excel for Windows. Not something I’m fond of, but something I know how to use.

 

Microsoft Excel 2008
Click the thumbnail for a screenshot of my data and charts in Excel

Compatibility (from my own 2 minute testing):

  • NeoOffice Calc and iWork Numbers will not open each other’s default file formats
  • NeoOffice Calc and iWork Numbers will both open MS Office Excel files, complete with the charts in my case.
  • MS Office Excel will not open NeoOffice Calc’s or iWork Numbers’ default file formats
  • NeoOffice Calc does however have the ability to save in an MS Office Excel format which should work when sending to an MS Office User

In short (and this is based ONLY on a 2 minute test), if you want to *open* MS Excel documents, all 3 programs will probably be fine. If you want to *save* something and send it to somebody with Excel, you must use either NeoOffice Calc (using “Save As”), or Excel. I haven’t tried Google’s spreadsheet, although it would be interesting to see what compatibilities lie there.

Conclusion:

NeoOffice Calc is fairly similar in usability to Microsoft Office. If you’ve used MS Office and want something cheaper, a little more Mac-like, or simply something non-Microsoft, you can’t beat this thing at free. It’s not super-pretty, doesn’t have a lot of frills, but is pretty easy to use regardless.

iWork Numbers is very Mac-like. It all really looks great, up to and including the print preview on the print page. If you’re used to Microsoft Office, you’ll probably find Numbers tougher to use than either of the other 2 options. Seeing’s how it’s got a free trial though, it’s certainly worth trying out.

Microsoft Office Excel is… well the standard. It’s the most pricey, but if it’s “what they use at the office”, you may have no choice but to buy it. It doesn’t look fancy, it’s kind of cluttered, but it’s got just about every featured buried in there.

Aside from usability aspects, and the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to get my numbers in those darn bar charts in of the programs, any of these would really be fine for me. If that’s the same situation you’re in, I’d suggest taking a look at some of the other programs included in these Office suites and see how those compare. That’s a topic for another day though.

Finally, keep in mind that this is all based on my own testing. Do some research before burning money on one of these programs only to find out I was wrong somewhere along the line.

Update: Found the place in iWork Numbers to display the values/numbers for each bar on the chart. In the inspector, under Series, then under Data Point Label, click the arrow by Data Point Settings and select “show value”.

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