Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Q: When I get my Mac is do I really need MS Office to survive in PC land or will iWork suffice?

Yep, a friend asked me his question, and after I responded I realized that it made a pretty decent post topic.

I’ll get the first item out of the way right now. If you HAVE to work with an Exchange server directly for shared contacts, calendars, etc, you’re stuck with buying a full version of office 2008 for the Mac, as opposed to the student edition. Otherwise identical, exchange accounts are disabled in the version of Entourage that ships with Mac Office 2008.

If that’s not a problem, here are some alternatives:

  • NeoOffice
  • iWork

As the link notes, don’t bother with OpenOffice – it’s for geeks like me who’ve installed the programming tools that come with OSX, and doesn’t “fit” with the aesthetics.I haven’t heavily used NeoOffice in a while, before they made some major speed improvements and added MS Office 2007 compatibility (Office 2007 uses a new file format), but I can say it’s usually pretty transparent in handling word/excel/etc. files, and unlike Mac Office 2008 and iWork, it has an access-like database. If you need a database, you’ll know. It’s also free – though donations are appreciated.

As I mentioned earlier, Mac Office 2008 Teacher and Student edition won’t let you directly connect to an Exchange server (though IMAP, POP, and other standard methods of connecting will work), but is otherwise solid and complete. Many people are screaming Entourage fanatics but I much prefer the simplicity and integration with addresses and such that the OSX Mail app gives. This has been ameliorated somewhat by allowing entourage to sync calendars and contacts with the iCal and Address book.

iWork? Love it. Don’t write in it much because I usually do my writing in a project/data composition tool called Scrivener that helps you collect related info and snippets, but Pages is great for dumping pretty output, and doesn’t rearrange things in the weird ways that any version (including Windows) of Word does when you add pictures, mess with columns, etc. – especially if doing multicolumn newsletters and such.

Numbers is a killer spreadsheet with some truly nifty features when it comes to creating sums without typing, etc. and organizing and laying out tables. I use this for tracking my current household budget re: expected and forcast expenses and how much I have free for groceries/etc. No, it doesn’t have all the formulas and features, but covers 99% of what most home users will ever need. Like the rest of iWork, it’s lovely to look at.

I don’t use Keynote, but that’s because I haven’t done any presentations lately. I’m not using Powerpoint if I can help it. Having messed with it, it’s at least as easy to use and MUCH prettier.

A note on exporting/importing: Word documents go in and out pretty smoothly . You will see some things you need to clean up because nothing is PERFECTLY compatible (this is true to a much lesser extent with NeoOffice, and even a bit between windows and Mac versions of office due to fonts, etc.) , but is pretty solid. Your biggest headaches are going to be with Excel spreadsheets. With complicated spreadsheets, things can get rearranged and demand some cleanup time, while the completely different layout paradigm of Numbers can make for some strange spreadsheets when exporting. Powerpoint and Keynote actually get along very well but at times there are obviously going to be issues there as well….

UPDATE: Instead of NeoOffice, I’d go with the current version of Libre Office these days.