In Part I of this series I downgraded Microsoft’s Expression Media to the virtually identical iView Media Pro. If you didn’t know, Expression Media comes bundled with a special version of Office 2008 for the Mac — and if you want an M$-free Mac you’re gonna need a replacement for Office, so…
“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy.” — The Matrix, 1999.
I was so irked when MacWorld magazine made barely a mention of NeoOffice in a recent iWork/Office smackdown that I cancelled my subscription the same day that particular issue arrived. I’ve been testing the Mac-specific port of OpenOffice for almost a month now, and it’s not just every bit as good as MacOffice 2004… It’s better!
Have a look at this blow-by-blow comparison, or consider the nasty bug in Excel that I’ve yet to find a fix for — every time I copy a group of expenses from one worksheet to another the dates somehow and inexplicably get changed to a different day and year. How useless is that?
Except for the inconvenience of a few missing keyboard shortcuts NeoOffice Calc (their stand-in for Excel) looks, feels and performs exactly the same as the monolithic Microsoft app that inspired it. Ditto for Writer (Word)… And Impress (PowerPoint)? If you’re a true Mac fanatic, you already know there’s something better. More on that in a bit.
So, end of story, right? Time to toss Office into the Trash and hunker down for some free open-source productivity goodness? Unfortunately, no…
… Namely the small matter of the smartphone I carry with me every day and use to read scripts, track expenses and take notes on the go. Like all S60 handsets from Nokia it comes bundled with a mobile Office app called Quickoffice. Lucky Eseries users like me even get the upgraded version that can compose and edit new documents on the go, instead of the cheaper view-only app that Nseries devices ship with.
The problem is that OpenOffice files cannot be read using Quickoffice, as tersely stated on their own web site. This goes not only for .odt text files and .ods spreadsheets, but even the supposedly Microsoft-compatible .doc and .xls files saved by NeoOffice! It seems that despite the full support of Google’s online office replacement, OpenOffice filetypes are not standard, but the ones with the M$ juju are.
There is an alternative S60 office suite from Mobile Systems called — appropriately enough — OfficeSuite. It can’t read or write .odt or .ods files either, but can at least make do with .doc and .xls files saved from Open/NeoOffice. It’s comparable in price to a paid upgrade to the latest fully-featured Quickoffice but lacks the ubiquity of it. And given that I may be in the market for an Nseries handset in the near future, I don’t really want to pay for the same software twice.
The only other alternative is to go with the mobile version of Google Docs, but until the arrival of worldwide unlimited data plans that’s a pretty expensive proposition!
We all knew where this was going, right? You smug Mac zealots can wipe that smirk off your faces, though… I haven’t yet fully committed to Apple’s supposed Office-killer; I’m merely testing the waters with the thirty-day free trial.
But so far so good. I haven’t even touched the word processor yet (I’m sure it’s fine) but I’ve round-tripped a few sample spreadsheets from Excel to NeoOffice Calc to Numbers (Apple’s Excel) to Quickoffice on my Nokia, and everything seems to stick. One nice touch — or annoyance, depending on your point of view — is that Numbers adds a “table of contents” worksheet to exported .xls files, with clickable links to the other sheets in the document. It’s not at all necessary, but it’s thoughtful at least.
I’m a theatre director and teacher by trade, and up to now I’ve used Excel as much for cue sheets and running orders as I have to track my finances and such. I think I’m going to like the advanced layout options that Numbers has versus the kludgey feel of using Excel for anything other than hardcore number crunching. Like any other Apple product, Numbers has a very active community of users who, among other things, share their templates with each other, and given that we MacHeads are largely creative types anyway, that’s another huge plus.
So there it is. I’ll keeping NeoOffice on my two Macs for now (it is free after all) but after I make my monthly backups today I’ll be unceremoniously dumping M$ Office into the Trash.
To slightly misquote Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior:
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I’m free at last!