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

Audio Hijack 3.2.0 - Record and enhance...
Audio Hijack (was Audio Hijack Pro) drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio... Read more
FontExplorer X Pro 5.0.1 - Font manageme...
FontExplorer X Pro is optimized for professional use; it's the solution that gives you the power you need to manage all your fonts. Now you can more easily manage, activate and organize your... Read more
Calcbot 1.0.2 - Intelligent calculator a...
Calcbot is an intelligent calculator and unit converter for the rest of us. Featuring an easy-to-read history tape, expression view, intuitive conversion, and much more! Features History Tape -... Read more
MTR 5.0.0.1 - The Mac's oldest and...
MTR (was MacTheRipper)--the Mac's oldest and smartest DVD-backup app--is now updated to version 5.001 MTR -- the complete toolbox, not a one-trick, point-and-click extractor. MTR is intended for... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.5.2 - Free, open-source...
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
Adobe Lightroom 6.1.1 - Import, develop,...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more
File Juicer 4.41 - Extract images, video...
File Juicer is a drag-and-drop can opener and data archaeologist. Its specialty is to find and extract images, video, audio, or text from files which are hard to open in other ways. It finds and... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.52 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
OmniFocus 2.2.3 - GTD task manager with...
OmniFocus helps you manage your tasks the way that you want, freeing you to focus your attention on the things that matter to you most. Capturing tasks and ideas is always a keyboard shortcut away in... Read more
TinkerTool 5.4 - Expanded preference set...
TinkerTool is an application that gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X. This allows to activate hidden features in the operating system and in some of the... Read more

Rescue humanity from a Demon horde in An...
Angel Stone is Fincon's follow up to the massively successful Hello Hero and is out now on iOS and Android. You play as a member of The Resistance, a group of mighty human warriors who have risen up in defiance of the Demon horde threatening to... | Read more »
Gallery Doctor (Photography)
Gallery Doctor 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Free up valuable iCloud and iPhone storage with Gallery Doctor, the only iPhone cleaner that automatically identifies the... | Read more »
You Against Me (Games)
You Against Me 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A simple game… You. Me. Claim, steal, lock, score, win! | Read more »
Yep, it's True - Angry Birds 2 is O...
The not exactly rumors were true and the birds are back. Angry Birds 2 has come to the App Store and the world will... well I suppose it'll still be the same, but now we have more bird-flinging options! [Read more] | Read more »
You Could Design Your Own Card for Chain...
If you've ever wanted to create your own item, weapon, trap, or even monster for Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night, this is your chance. Auroch Digital is currently holding a contest so that fans can fight to the death (not really) to see which... | Read more »
Bitcoin Billionaire is Going Back in Tim...
If you thought you managed to buy everything there is to buy in Bitcoin Billionaire and make all the money, well you though wrong. Those of you who made it far enough might remember investing in time travel - and it looks like that investment is... | Read more »
Domino Drop (Games)
Domino Drop 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Domino Drop is a delightful new puzzle game with dominos and gravity!Learn how to play it in a minute, master it day by day.Your... | Read more »
OPERATION DRACULA (Games)
OPERATION DRACULA 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: 25% off launch sale!!! 'Could prove to be one of the most accurate representations of the Japanese bullet hell shmup... | Read more »
Race The Sun (Games)
Race The Sun 1.01 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.01 (iTunes) Description: You are a solar craft. The sun is your death timer. Hurtle towards the sunset at breakneck speed in a futile race against time.... | Read more »
Tap Delay (Music)
Tap Delay 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Back in the “old days”, producers and engineers created delay and echo effects using tape machines. Tap Delay combines the warm... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Worldwide Tablet Market Decline Continues, Ap...
The worldwide tablet market declined -7.0% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15) with shipments totaling 44.7 million units according to preliminary data from the International Data... Read more
TP-LINK TL-PA8030P KIT Powerline Featuring Ho...
Consumer and business networking products provider TP-LINK is now shipping its TL-PA8030P KIT AV1200 3-Port Gigabit Passthrough Powerline Starter Kit that expands your home’s network over its... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Air 2s available for u...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iPad Air 2s available for up to $140 off the price of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 128GB... Read more
Updated Apple iPad Price Trackers
We’ve updated our iPad Air Price Tracker and our iPad mini Price Tracker with the latest information on prices and availability from Apple and other resellers. Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 13-inch 128GB MacBook...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more
12-inch MacBooks in stock for $20 off, save o...
Adorama has 12″ Retina MacBooks in stock for $20 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. For a limited time, Adorama will include a free Apple USB-C to USB Adapter, free 4-... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $100 off Ma...
Take an additional $100 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through August 8, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take... Read more
2015 13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sal...
B&H Photo has the new 2015 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale today for $1199 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales. Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales. Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Engineering Manager, Search Relevance, *Appl...
**Job Summary** Apple 's new Spotlight Suggestions service provides fast, relevant search results from the Inte et in Spotlight and Safari on iOS and OS X. We are looking Read more
Lead Infrastructure Engineer - *Apple* /Mac P...
…of a team * Requires proven problem solving skills Preferred Additional: * Apple Certified System Administrator (ACSA) * Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales. Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales. Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.