Better living without MS Office

Better living without MS Office

Summary: Ten years ago, Apple called a truce in its market share war with Microsoft. But Apple's new Numbers spreadsheet and the support for Tracking Changes in the updated Pages are huge for those who want to do without MS Office.

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Ten years ago to this very week, Apple called a truce in its market share war with Microsoft. After all, the Mac then had a 5 percent market share or so and the company and its OS plans were in disarray.

But the cold war continues and the new iWork '08 is Cupertino's latest shot at MS Office. The support for Tracking Changes in the updated Pages will make a big difference for pro users and switchers.

Back in the summer of 1997, the Mac market had two big annual shows, a Macworld Expo in January (which we still celebrate) and the other in Boston. Steve Jobs was shaking things up inside the company and outside with its developers and partners.

At the Expo keynote, Jobs told the audience that the "era of competition between Apple and Microsoft is over." He then announced a patent sharing deal between the companies.

"Apple lives in an ecosystem. And it needs help from other partners; it needs to help other partners. Relationships that are destructive don't help anybody in this industry as it is today. During the last several weeks, we've looked at relationships. One [relationship] stood out as one that hasn't been going so well, but has the potential to be great for both companies: Microsoft," Jobs said that day.

Of course, this news was greeted by boos from the crowd of Mac faithful. Really, it was almost a riot in some parts of the armory hall. You can view the moment on YouTube.

While I was (and continue to be) a Mac partisan, I didn't join in the catcalls. Jobs was making sense. Finally, here was an Apple executive who was facing the market facts.

Then Bill Gates appeared on a huge overhead projection and made his own set of promises. First, was an investment of $150 million in Apple stock. For a reason I've never fully understood, this pitiful gesture reassured the Street and caused the stock price to rise from $19 to $26 following the keynote.

But the most important announcement of the hour — the one vital to the millions of users who used the Mac every day to get their work done — was Microsoft's pledge to keep developing Microsoft Office for the Mac.

Worry over MS Office was a concern expressed then by the professional Mac community on the pages of MacWEEK where I worked as a senior editor. MS Word and Excel were used in all professional content workflows and Mac businesses. And in academia and government. And everywhere else. They were critical applications

In addition, Gates said the new version of Office would be real Mac program and not just a port of the Windows version.

Back then, this was all welcome news.

Today, however, this worry about Office seems to be fading. Many users can find acceptable substitutes for Office. Or they can purchase superior programs that still offer enough Office compatibility to get by.

And Microsoft has dropped the ball on its expected upgrade cycle. Office 2008 for the Mac is now expected in January 2008, the Mac Business Unit recently explained.

For example, Keynote continues to be the best presentation tool on the market. It's been that way since its introduction and the update in iWork '08 just continues its progress. I was impressed with a demonstration following the iMac introduction earlier this week. And it reads and writes PowerPoint files.

I use an excellent Mac word processor from RedleX called Mellel. This program is great for long documents, encourages the use of styles (a good thing) and provides excellent support for Unicode right-left word processing, something I do often.

However, its Word compatibility is limited to RTF. And I admit that at times I am forced to go back to Word because documents I receive include tracking history.

So, I was very glad to see support for Tracking Changes in the new Pages. This feature adds a lot of value to iWork.

Looking at the iWork applications, they appear to start conceptually with the rich, finished document and then work backwards toward the data entry and construction. It seems to me that most productivity applications start with the data and data entry and then suddenly discover that we want to print highly formatted documents.

Pages recognizes that customers want to create polished documents with images, 2D graphics and flexible typography; and then it presents the combination of easy templates, tools and content integration that make it easy for the ordinary users to accomplish.

This is also well expressed in Apple's Numbers. The grid and formulas are always present, but the primary goal in this spreadsheet is helping users understand the data they are manipulating and then communicate this data in some kind of output.

At the introduction event, I spoke with Alan Eyzaguirre, iWork product manager, and asked him about the UI. He said the evolution of these tools followed the media-centric focus of iLife and OS X. Even though they are productive apps, they were built "for a media age."

This isn't to say that easy isn't also powerful.

"You launch the app and [the average user] should just be able to use it. But we also have all these pros. For them, a click on the Inspector opens up all these controls they need for their documents," Eyzaguirre said.

This has been the Mac paradigm from the beginning, yet the result still seems fresh. Some things haven't changed in 10 or 20 years.

A Historical Note: Here's a funny sidelight that was told by my late MacWEEK colleague Don Crabb about the infamous Jobs and Gates address. He said the dialog between them was fake and done via a packaged video tape. It fooled me at the time.

"One last note: Bill Gates, whose 25-foot-high video image filled the Castle midway through the Jobs keynote to bless the Apple/Microsoft agreement, was not live, not on satellite. He was, dear friends, on a videotape. It was a good tape, and it was made to look like Bill was just then "calling in." But it was still just a tape, all the 'gee whiz' aside. The lack of a downlink dish ought to have given it away! Still, it was a nice touch ... A nice bit of PR spin," Crabb wrote in MacWEEK back in 1997.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Hardware

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58 comments
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  • All beside the point

    None of the above matters, because Microsoft is well on its way to making MSOffice2K7 file formats (ECMA-376) a [i]de jure[/i] standard required for all interactions with government and by extension just about anything else (quite possibly including filing your taxes.)

    Since ECMA-376 is so tightly bound to MSWindows that MS can't even get it to work on the Mac versions of their own office suite, you're just going to have to bite the bullet and use the only platform that supports it.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Read this:

      [u]http://macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/14556/[/u]
      msalzberg
      • Ok.. Splain Lucy...

        Ok.. I read the article. What I don't get is why it's supposed to be a big embarassment for Microsoft...

        Office 2007 documents are nothing more than freakin' ZIP files. That's right. PK Zip/WinZIP files. With extensions like DOCX, XLSX, etc... instead of DOC, XLS or ZIP.

        How is this an embarassment? How many years have standard ZIP files been useable on the Mac? It'd be embarassing if Mac apps could NOT open it.
        Wolfie2K3
    • Maybe Adobe will have something to say about that?

      I guess we will see how this transition proceeds. From the formats that arrive in my
      mailbox and when I'm onsite, I find that many Windows-based businesses are using
      PDF in their document interchange workflows without problems.

      DaviD m.
      davidmorgenstern
    • what!!!

      I always enjoy reading anti MS consipracy thories.

      a file is a freaking file. it is consisted of file header and then the data follows. and that can be any number of bytes.

      anybody who knows the protocol can just simply start reading the data and parse it.

      how is tied to windows??????

      When I read zdnet and other online publication I am suprized how many people have no clue and they comment on everything.

      I have been developer for last ten years and I refuse to comment on some areas because I lack enough knowledge.

      yet I see hundres of people here commenting whehter C# is better or java, whehter windwos is better or linux.
      Is little endian better or big endian.

      Sometimes It makes feel so dumb after ten years of software development and making good money at it too. I actually need to think about an issue. yet others so freaking smart they can spit out self made facts.
      ericsami
      • Since you ask

        [i]
        a file is a freaking file. it is consisted of file header and then the data follows. and that can be any number of bytes.

        anybody who knows the protocol can just simply start reading the data and parse it.

        how is tied to windows??????[/i]

        Because the file format requires access to Microsoft-specific functions. Think LaunchInternetExplorer or DoThisLikeWord95.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • umm, no . . .

          A file format is just data. It's not an executable - it's doesn't call functions.
          CobraA1
          • But the decoder does.

            And without a proper decoder, the data does not really do you any good. Granted, if one of the codes is "call internet explorer with this data" it could probably be reproduced for another browser.
            Patrick Jones
          • No it doesn't.

            It's just basic word processing stuff that's already implemented into other Office suites. Place text here, make it bold, I want a formula in this cell, I want this transition for this slide, etc. How much are these really tied to Windows?

            Show me in the specs these "Microsoft only" things, don't just imagine and invent them.
            CobraA1
          • You're right.

            [b]It's just basic word processing stuff that's already implemented into other Office suites. Place text here, make it bold, I want a formula in this cell, I want this transition for this slide, etc. How much are these really tied to Windows?

            Show me in the specs these "Microsoft only" things, don't just imagine and invent them. [/b]

            The specs were made available during the Office 2k7 beta. They explained via a flash presentation exactly how Office 2k7 files were stored. It's a plain old ZIP file, with folders that contain various elements - data here, formatting there, XML in the 3rd folder, etc..

            In fact, they showed how you can rename a DOCX or other 2k7 file with a ZIP extension and use Winzip (or whatever ZIP utility) to open and examine the contents.

            Me thinks someone's been spreading the FUD. Thickly even.
            Wolfie2K3
      • The politics of I.T.

        forbid that M$ should do any thing to hold back its percieved rivals. And they have been bit by (ongoing)legal action which depending on your position is justified or an example of the degradation of the American way.
        I do not personally care about the religious fanaticism of either 'side'. I have to know windows and work in a M$ 'shop'.
        I love OSX and think its really good, and I think any I.T. pro who dosn't get his head around basic linux skills is short sighted. What I do not like is the fact that M$ rewrote the networking stack in Vista in such a way that it is now much harder to make it work with mac or linux. Office 2007 similarly does not play nice with the opposition out of the box. And all press releases to the contrary, this is unlikely to be an accident. It occurs to me that a port of office to a nix based OS like OSX is an invitation to the opposition to 'catch up' again. Hence the M$ reluctance to actually do it.
        What do we, the consumers want? We want to be able to easily exchange information with each other regardless of what OS we use. We do not want to get down to data parsing, we just want to open that sucker! click click.
        Any company that focuses on holding back its rivals by 'lock in' ideologies runs the risk of failing to deliver. A company that successfully focusses on delivery dosn't need to worry. Microsoft should remember how they got here.
        leigh@...
    • ...filing your taxes.

      I'd be perfectly content to have the Feds require a communications method I have no way of using--it would be all the excuse I'd need not to deal with the blood-suckers.
      Henry Miller
      • Too bad they don't care about excuses :(

        Unfortunately the blood sucker's need for wallet nourishment doesn't allow them to recognize your inability to communicate, in fact, they would count on it as interest and penalties can slam you much harder than any taxes.
        maldain
        • Ah, but if they require use of M$ Office

          ... they will have to provide a means for you to use office on whatever system you are currently using. The government CAN NOT compel any person to use any specific software unless they provide it. And it must be available on whatever system you are using... such as Mac or Linux or Unix.
          JJQ1000
          • Actually, they don't

            I'm a Mac user since 1984 and a veteran tax professional--and the
            government has no such requirement to play well with any OS. Some of the
            states are worse than the IRS, with websites that only display well with
            Internet Explorer. Much as that honks me off, I realize that they could not
            make such a requirement, as new OS and browser options appear all the
            time. Sadly, what they do is acknowledge the dominant OS (and the one
            they use) and take the easy and cheap way out, favoring Windows/IE.

            By the way, did you notice that the IRS and some states now have most of
            their online fill-in forms in a variation of Adobe Acrobat that lets you save
            the completed file to your hard drive? Being able to save, not just print, is
            new this year, at least for the IRS
            frabjous
    • Word, at least, isn't an issue

      Office 2007 Word documents can be read and written by both Pages and Leopard's
      version of TextEdit. TextEdit will also support ODF.
      Ian.Betteridge
    • Perhaps you did not see this.

      URL: http://www.sciencemag.org/about/authors/prep/docx.dtl

      URL: http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/submissions/template/index.html

      Instructions for Users of Word 2007/DOCX
      Because of changes Microsoft has made in its recent Word release that are incompatible with our internal workflow, which was built around previous versions of the software, Science cannot at present accept any files in the new .docx format produced through Microsoft Word 2007, either for initial submission or for revision. Users of this release of Word should convert these files to a format compatible with Word 2003 or Word for Macintosh 2004 (or, for initial submission, to a PDF file) before submitting to Science.
      Users of Word 2007 should also be aware that equations created with the default equation editor included in Microsoft Word 2007 will be unacceptable in revision, even if the file is converted to a format compatible with earlier versions of Word; this is because conversion will render equations as graphics and prevent electronic printing of equations. Regrettably, we will be forced to return any revised manuscript created with the Word 2007 default equation editor to authors for re-editing. To get around this, please use the MathType equation editor or the legacy equation editor included in previous versions of Microsoft Word, which can be accessed from "Insert Object" from the "Insert" ribbon in Word 2007.
      Update victim
  • Apple could make things a wee bit easier

    It would be really neat if Apple would build a pref that allowed the user to simply save into .doc or .xls (or MSXML if it ever takes hold) rather than use the Save As.

    We always had ClarisWorks and I personally preferred it to Office. But the save as was something that are users kept botching up ? ticking off clients. That?s how we ended up with Office.

    With the mac set to simply save into Office formats and set to open all .doc into Pages and all .xls into Numbers, it would make one less step for people to remember if they have to send something in that format out.
    j.m.galvin
    • not so easy

      Numbers' layout capability is significantly richer than
      Excel's. You can have any number of spreadsheets on a
      page in Numbers, all of different sizes, and all formatted
      differently. When you save to Excel format, though, the
      tables all get saved as individual Excel spreadsheets in a
      workbook, and you lose your custom layout. That's why
      you wouldn't want to save natively in .xls format. The
      export-to-Excel functionality is there if you need it, but
      the native format retains all of your custom sheet
      layouts.
      buddhistMonkey
      • Believe it or not

        We never get any Excel docs, nor create any, that anything more than lists. Things like name, title, publications, etc. The last one we got was a list of company loactions from a client. Most of these are actually pretty short.

        The only reason we create list in excel is because the clients tell us to. In mast cases it would be just as easy to just place a table in a word processing doc, but we're told to use excel.

        I know it might seem silly, but our people just seem to have this mental block against Save As.
        j.m.galvin