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/

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

The beginner's guide to Warbits
Warbits is a turn-based strategy that's clearly inspired by Nintendo's Advance Wars series. Since turn-based strategy games can be kind of tricky to dive into, see below for a few tips to help you in the beginning. Positioning is crucial [Read... | Read more »
How to upgrade your character in Spellsp...
So you’ve mastered the basics of Spellspire. By which I mean you’ve realised it’s all about spelling things in a spire. What next? Well you’re going to need to figure out how to toughen up your character. It’s all well and good being able to spell... | Read more »
5 slither.io mash-ups we'd love to...
If there's one thing that slither.io has proved, it's that the addictive gameplay of Agar.io can be transplanted onto basically anything and it will still be good fun. It wouldn't be surprising if we saw other developers jumping on the bandwagon,... | Read more »
How to navigate the terrain in Sky Charm...
Sky Charms is a whimsical match-'em up adventure that uses creative level design to really ramp up the difficulty. [Read more] | Read more »
Victorious Knight (Games)
Victorious Knight 1.3 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.3 (iTunes) Description: New challenges awaits you! Experience fresh RPG experience with a unique combat mechanic, packed with high quality 3D... | Read more »
Agent Gumball - Roguelike Spy Game (Gam...
Agent Gumball - Roguelike Spy Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Someone’s been spying on Gumball. What the what?! Two can play at that game! GO UNDERCOVERSneak past enemy... | Read more »
Runaway Toad (Games)
Runaway Toad 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It ain’t easy bein’ green! Tap, hold, and swipe to help Toad hop to safety in this gorgeous new action game from the creators of... | Read more »
PsyCard (Games)
PsyCard 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: From the makers och Card City Nights, Progress To 100 and Ittle Dew PSYCARD is a minesweeper-like game set in a cozy cyberpunk... | Read more »
Sago Mini Robot Party (Education)
Sago Mini Robot Party 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: -- Children's Technology Review Editor's Choice -- | Read more »
Egz – The Origin of the Universe (Games...
Egz – The Origin of the Universe 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ►►► Special offer until 2nd may : get the game at 2.99€ instead of 3.99€ ! ◄◄◄ Egz is a mesmerizing mix... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $130-$200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1169 $130 off MSRP - 13″ 2.7GHz/... Read more
Apple price trackers, updated continuously
Scan our Apple Price Trackers for the latest information on sales, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers. We update the trackers continuously: - 15″... Read more
SanDisk Half-Terabyte SSD Optimized for Every...
SanDisk Corporation has announced the SanDisk Z410 SSD, a cost-competitive, half-terabyte solid state drive (SSD) that enables manufacturers to design for a broad range of desktop PCs and laptops.... Read more
Churchill Downs Racetrack Selects VenueNext t...
Churchill Downs Racetrack has announced an agreement with VenueNext to implement its technology platform for the start of Churchill Downs 2016 Spring Meet, which includes the 142nd running of the... Read more
Record 700 Million Pounds of CE Recycled in 2...
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) reports that a record-setting 700 million pounds of consumer electronics (CE) have been recycled under the eCycling Leadership Initiative (ELI). According to... Read more
Price drops on clearance 12-inch Retina MacBo...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on leftover 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks with models now available starting at $999. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros available for $20...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $210 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina... Read more
Target offers Apple Watch Sport for $50 off M...
Target has Apple Watch Sports on sale for $50 off MSRP for a limited time. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices for online orders only, in-store prices may vary... Read more
Apple restocks Certified Refurbished Mac mini...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis, with models available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Service Repa...
Simply Mac is the largest premier retailer of Apple products in the nation. In order to support our growing customer base, we are currently looking for a driven Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
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
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.