The Northern Spy: To Excel or not to Excel
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: To Excel or not to Excel

By Rick Sutcliff

The Spy has become a cautious adopter rather than an early one. As the reader of this space well knows, he has been unwilling (and unable) to upgrade from Excel 2004 because of his very heavy dependance on macros, which the 2008 version lacked. This in turn meant that he could not use Lion, as 2004 would not run at all in that environment.

Nor was he willing to convert all those macros to one of the open source competitors, even though VBA is a textbook example of how not to design a language, if for no other reasons than its complete lack of orthogonality and wretched documentation. The 2011 version has been out some time now, with the macro facility restored, and this has to be run on an Intel system, of which he has two (out of nine total). Since his main spreadsheet file is production bookkeeping software, harbours mission critical data, and he's had little time for experimentation, the process of certifying 2011 for this purpose was glacial.

The first time he read a copy of his four megabyte workbook file into 2011, the program reported a file error and possible data damage, but appeared to have read it intact despite the message. So, he saved another copy without making any changes, opened that in 2004, made some minor changes, and saved it again as a third copy, which read into 2011 without incident, everything still intact. Further detailed experimentation pointed the finger at a complex graph embedded on one page of the original, but could produce no clue as to what 201 originally flagged as wrong.

All macros have now been thoroughly tested, and appear to work. Files edited in 2004 and/or 2011 make the round trip intact, and everything appears to be in order. Further, 2011 appears to crash less often than 2004, which under Leopard routinely died after half an hour or more of data entry--possibly a memory de-allocation problem, which is common to C++ programs. At least when it did crash, the recovery file usually had most of the data intact, and rarely more than ten minutes was sacrificed rectifying the situation.

There was a recent incident where, following such a 2004 version crash, all the formulae on one page of the workbook vanished, and then only numbers remained, as if there had been a secret copy-all-paste-special-values-only operation performed on the entire page (all other pages were intact). This required a Time Machine rescue of the formulas from a backup. However, so far, few crashes and no data loss can be attributed to Excel 2011. The Spy has run it only under Snow Leopard thus far, and he also still prefers the older look and feel, but is so far satisfied that 2011 is the side grade that 2008 should have been, and that it strikes an compromise he can live with between the two in look and feel.

The spreadsheet, not the word processor, is the single most important small computer application. The original VisiCalc drove the Apple ][ computer to dominance. The ability to combine database functions, financial reporting, and forecasting with "what-if" scenarios into a single application was ground breaking. It created the small computer revolution, and is responsible for its development into a far more useful and versatile tool today, in which the spreadsheet plays a proportionately lesser role than it once did.

The Spy had one of the first hundred copies of VisiCalc produced, would later test and reject Lotus 1-2-3 as bloated, but adopt the Apple Puget Sound Program Library Exchange (A.P.P.L.E.) entry "The Spreadsheet" as his workhorse software for many years, switching to the vastly superior Excel when MS first released it for the Mac. It is quite possible that his current models still contain code from the late 1970s.

Excel was, until 2004, the best of category, and thus, in the Spy's lexicon, the most significant (and the best) application across all software categories, despite the display, printing, and VBA quirks that require so many workarounds. He is cautiously optimistic that it has now by restoring the lost 2004 functionality regained at least a share that crown, but advises those starting out in spreadsheets to consider carefully the open source alternatives to save money. He will himself, should he ever be up to rewriting his many macros in a better language. (How does he know the open source language is better without using it? It could not be worse, even on purpose.)

He also expresses his concern that if MS were again to require seven years to complete an update, Excel would inevitably go the same was as Lotus 1-2-3, and for exactly the same reason. What indeed will happen if Apple changes to the A6 chip or similar for the Mac, as seems reasonably likely? Would MS be able to produce a new version, or simply abandon the effort?

The astute reader will note however, that the Spy's high praise for Excel does not by any means extend to other MS products. Word, for instance, is bloated, non-intuitive, prefers a proprietary file format, does not exchange files well, and has difficulty with the very large files (300K words+) he often handles. He has tested dozens of word processors over the years, and of them all, rates it ahead of only the ill-fated, bug-ridden, and badly-written Word Perfect for the Mac (which he could never persuade to walk, much less run, for more than a few minutes at a time).

He has happily used Nisus Writer Pro (and the OS 9 version before it) for many years now as his workhorse for the vast majority of small documents, and for final proofing of assembled large ones. It recently caught up with the pre-version ten Nisus product, and is marginally better today by now having collaborative editing facilities, mail merge, the ability to read some .docx files, and an improved macro facility in the most recent versions. Nisus also offers a stripped down Express version of the program for those with lesser needs and fewer dollars to support them.

However, Literature and Latte's incomparably excellent Scrivener, with its support for multiple chapters, outlining, storyboarding, composition notes, research sections, multiple format export, thematic editing, and other composers' tools for book and screen writing, is by far his choice (and deserves to be everyone's) for the initial composition of large documents and books. Frankly, Word has nothing to offer someone who splits his time between Scrivener and Nisuswriter. Oh, and did you know? Literature and Latte has now released the program for that other OS. What is the world coming to?

As for browsers, Explorer was the poorest offering on the Mac by far before MS abandoned it as a lost cause, to the great delight of web site authors and users both. The same action is overdue on the PC, for Safari and Firefox are all a surfer needs.

Likewise, FileMaker Pro is the current champion of small-computer cross-platform database managers, and MS simply has never had anything comparable to offer. Finally, the Spy still prefers the long-in-tooth but reliable old Eudora to any mail program seen since, including all offerings from MS and even from Apple. However, when he finally does switch to Lion this summer, he will have to move elsewhere. Extensive research appears to give a marginal preliminary nod on Apple's Mail over Thunderbird, with everything else far in the distance, though he remains reluctant to give up the tried, the true, and the working. (He's had issues with Apple Mail in his consulting work, though most appear to have been resolved in current versions.)

As a last word, take W*nd*ws (please take it). The Spy has never been able to understand why anyone would use a cheap, buggy imitation of Apple's slick OS when they can have the real thing. He, for one, cannot afford the down time. This, like the stock market, merely goes to show that decisions in the land of business are made primarily on the basis of emotion rather than reason.

And on that latter note, the Spy closes with a word of caution. He did think Apple's stock undervalued in the $300 range. But $200 or more in increases later, at a PE ratio of over 15, and as a $500B company (sixteen times that of Dell) it appears to have excelled (sic) to the point that it is fully valued under current conditions. Since on the upside, investors buy on rumour and sell on fact, we should assume that the prospect of a dividend is nearly fully priced in, though institutional purchases would, in that event, support a high valuation for many years to come. Anything beyond the current price is all for future considerations, of which there could be many--eventually. (Not that he gives investing advice or would expect anyone to take it if he did).

Oh, and excellent fortune, if he may use the terms, to the about-to-be-launched iPad 3.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several organizations, including in the corporate sector, and participated in industry standards at the national and international level. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and six novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
opundo: http://opundo.com
Sheaves Christian Resources: http://sheaves.org
WebNameHost: http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource: http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman: http://nameman.net
URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com
Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

URLs for items mentioned in this column

Microsoft Excel: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel/
Nisus: http://www.nisus.com/
Scrivener: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/
Firefox: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/
Safari: http://www.apple.com/safari/
Filemaker: http://www.filemaker.com/

 
AAPL
$102.50
Apple Inc.
+0.25
MSFT
$45.43
Microsoft Corpora
+0.55
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
+2.40

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Path Finder 6.5.5 - Powerful, award-winn...
Path Finder is a file browser that combines the familiar Finder interface with the powerful utilities and innovative features. Just a small selection of the Path Finder 6 feature set: Dual pane... Read more
QuarkXPress 10.2.1 - Desktop publishing...
With QuarkXPress, you can communicate in all the ways you need to -- and always look professional -- in print and digital media, all in a single tool. Features include: Easy to Use -- QuarkXPress is... Read more
Skype 6.19.0.450 - Voice-over-internet p...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
VueScan 9.4.41 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Rhonna Designs Magic (Photography)
Rhonna Designs Magic 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Want to sprinkle *magic* on your photos? With RD Magic, you can add colors, filters, light leaks, bokeh, edges,... | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: August 25-29, 2014
Shiny Happy App Reviews   | Read more »
Qube Kingdom – Tips, Tricks, Strategies,...
Qube Kingdom is a tower defense game from DeNA. You rally your troops – magicians, archers, knights, barbarians, and others – and fight against an evil menace looking to dominate your kingdom of tiny squares. Planning a war isn’t easy, so here are a... | Read more »
Qube Kingdom Review
Qube Kingdom Review By Nadia Oxford on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: KIND OF A SQUARE KINGDOMUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Qube Kingdom has cute visuals, but it’s a pretty basic tower defense game at heart.   | Read more »
Fire in the Hole Review
Fire in the Hole Review By Rob Thomas on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: WALK THE PLANKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Seafoam’s Fire in the Hole looks like a bright, 8-bit throwback, but there’s not enough booty to... | Read more »
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwi...
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwide Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dodo Master Review
Dodo Master Review By Jordan Minor on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: NEST EGGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Dodo Master is tough but fair, and that’s what makes it a joy to play.   | Read more »
Motorsport Manager Review
Motorsport Manager Review By Lee Hamlet on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MARVELOUS MANAGEMENTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite its depth and sense of tactical freedom, Motorsport Manager is one of the most... | Read more »
Motorsport Manager – Beginner Tips, Tric...
The world of Motorsport management can be an unforgiving and merciless one, so to help with some of the stress that comes with running a successful race team, here are a few hints and tips to leave your opponents in the dust. | Read more »
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Add...
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Adds Lots of New Stuff Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple now offering refurbished 21-inch 1.4GHz...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 21″ 1.4GHz iMacs for $929 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $170 off the cost of new models,... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
The Rise of Phablets
Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a businesses and technology consulting firm focused solely on the financial services industry, has released an infographic depicting the convergence of... Read more
Bad Driver Database App Allows Good Drivers t...
Bad Driver Database 1.4 by Facile Group is a new iOS and Android app that lets users instantly input and see how many times a careless, reckless or just plain stupid driver has been added to the... Read more
Eddy – Cloud Music Player for iPhone/iPad Fre...
Ukraine based CapableBits announces the release of Eddy, its tiny, but smart and powerful cloud music player for iPhone and iPad that allows users to stream or download music directly from cloud... Read more
A&D Medical Launches Its WellnessConnecte...
For consumers and the healthcare providers and loved ones who care for them, A&D Medical, a leader in connected health and biometric measurement devices and services, has launched its... Read more
Anand Lal Shimpi Retires From AnandTech
Anand Lal Shimpi, whose AnandTech Website is famous for its meticulously detailed and thoroughgoing reviews and analysis, is packing it in. Lal Shimpi, who founded the tech site at age 14 in 1997,... Read more
2.5GHz Mac mini, Apple refurbished, in stock...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2.5GHz Mac minis available for $509, $90 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, and shipping is free. Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.