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

MacFamilyTree 7.3.3 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: it's modern, interactive, incredibly fast, and easy to use. We're convinced that generations of chroniclers would have loved to trade in their genealogy... Read more
Skype 7.5.0.738 - Voice-over-internet ph...
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
PushPal 3.0 - Mirror Android notificatio...
PushPal is a client for Pushbullet, which automatically shows you all of your phone's notifications right on your computer. This means you can see who's calling or read text messages even if your... Read more
Logic Pro X 10.1.1 - Music creation and...
Apple Logic Pro X is the most advanced version of Logic ever. Sophisticated new tools for professional songwriting, editing, and mixing are built around a modern interface that's designed to get... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.2.0 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Sound Studio 4.7.8 - Robust audio record...
Sound Studio lets you easily record and professionally edit audio on your Mac. Easily rip vinyls and digitize cassette tapes, or record lectures and voice memos. Prepare for live shows with live... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.1.2 - 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
VueScan 9.5.03 - 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
Freeway Pro 7.0.3 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Cloud 3.3.0 - 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

This Week at 148Apps: February 23-27, 20...
Final February Fun at 148Apps   How do you know what apps are worth your time and money? Just look to the review team at 148Apps. We sort through the chaos and find the apps you’re looking for. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out... | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Does Not Commute is Definitel...
GDC 2015 – Does Not Commute is Definitely a Game You Should Keep an Eye on Posted by Rob Rich on March 2nd, 2015 [ permalink ] We were teased about Mediocre Games’ (Smash Hit, | Read more »
F84 Games & POW! Announce Stan Lee V...
F84 Games has announced that it is working with legendary comic creator Stan Lee and POW! Entertainment to produce Stan Lee’s Hero Command. The game will be a action adventure of heroic proportions. | Read more »
Setlyst Keeps Your Set Straight So You C...
Setlyst Keeps Your Set Straight So You Can Focus On Rocking Out. Posted by Jessica Fisher on March 2nd, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Space is Vast, So Space Agency Has a Vas...
Space is Vast, So Space Agency Has a Vast New Update! Posted by Jessica Fisher on March 2nd, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Size DOES Matter Review
Size DOES Matter Review By Campbell Bird on March 2nd, 2015 Our Rating: :: HARD TO BEATUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad This rhythm game has a unique control scheme and performance system that make it feel like a true... | Read more »
The first ever action 3D card battler Al...
On the other hand, you probably haven’t played an action 3D card battler – until now. Step forward, All Star Legion. All Star Legion is a 3D QTE-based action RPG card battler, but fear not – the game itself isn’t as convoluted as its description.... | Read more »
Travel Back to the 1980s With the Making...
Headup Games has released a hilarious making of video for its upcoming title, Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic. The game is a RPG/Roguelike where you control three heroes set to save the township of Pixton from an evil cult called The Sons of Dawn.... | Read more »
Heavenstrike Rivals Review
Heavenstrike Rivals Review By Campbell Bird on March 2nd, 2015 Our Rating: :: HEAVENLY STRATEGICUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite a few flaws, this free-to-play strategy game is a fun mix of new and old strategy... | Read more »
Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete...
Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete is Now Available and On Sale Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Sale! 15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro for $...
 Best Buy has the 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1774.99 $1799.99, or $225 off MSRP. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price valid for online orders... Read more
27-inch 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on...
 B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
Apple Launches Free Web-Based Pages and Other...
Apple’s new Web-only access to iWork productivity apps is a free level of iCloud service available to anyone, including people who don’t own or use Apple devices. The service includes access to Apple... Read more
Survey Reveals Solid State Disk (SSD) Technol...
In a recent SSD technology use survey, Kroll Ontrack, a firm specializing in data recovery, found that while nearly 90 percent of respondents leverage the performance and reliability benefits of SSD... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros 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
Updated Mac Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
Apple CEO Tim Cook to Deliver 2015 George Was...
Apple CEO Tim Cook will deliver the George Washington University’s Commencement address to GWU grads on May 17, at which time he will also be awarded an honorary doctorate of public service from the... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple 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... Read more
Save up to $50 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549 $50 off - 128GB iPad Air 2... Read more
16GB iPad Air 2 on sale for $447, save $52
Walmart has the 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi on sale for $446.99 on their online store for a limited time. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only,... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Pay Automation Engineer - iOS System...
**Job Summary** At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring passion and dedication to your job Read more
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Event Director, *Apple* Retail Marketing -...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global engagement strategy and team. Delivering an overarching brand Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.