Towards a Microsoft-free Mac, Part II: The .doc Dilemma

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…

NeoOffice Logo

“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…

Quickoffice ScreenOne more thing…

… 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.

OfficeSuite Screens

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!


iWork box

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!

Towards a Microsoft-free Mac, Part I

MS Expression Engine Logo

Having freed my phone line from the monopolistic clutches of Bell Canada a few years back I’ve set my sights on my next technological feat, to rid my computers of anything bearing the Microsoft logo.

The big hurdle has been finding a replacement for Office, which I’ll detail in part two of this series. But a surprising hiccup in my plan came when iView Multimedia, my favourite media cataloguing software, was purchased by Steve Ballmer and co. in 2006.

Microsoft immediately re-badged its acquisition as Expression Media and gave it quite possibly the worst start-up logo EVAR!!1! Ordinarily I’m quite happy to stare at a woman’s behind, but this thing is hideous and makes no sense!

Fortunately Microsoft has done little if anything to the actual app, so downgrading to last official release of iView Multimedia Pro — version 3.1.3 if you’re interested — was a relatively painless affair. It’s a Universal Binary, so it will run natively on any Intel Mac. And it works nicely with PhotoSync, a nifty bulk uploader for Flickr and the like.

It’s true that Adobe Bridge or even iPhoto will do much of what iView does for me, but if you don’t want photos loading up in RAM every time you open a folder (Bridge) or your RAW automatically converted to JPGs (iPhoto) then you’ll be interested in giving iView a try.

Expression Media is okay too, I guess… If you can stand that horrible splash screen!

Mobile Upstarts Continue to Challenge Wireless Status Quo

probably NOT the Gphone

(Relax, it’s only a mock-up…)

I guess you could call this Part II in a continuing series of how wireless NKOTB (oops, that’s certainly dating myself!) Apple and Google are already making other mobile manufacturers crap their pants — even though Apple’s iPhone is only (officially) available in the US&A on AT&T , and the Google Phone… Well, it hasn’t even officially been announced yet!

Consider the following timeline of recent events:

I. In an August 29th webcast Nokia suddenly decided that touchscreens weren’t such a bad idea after all, and demoed an interface familiar to anyone who’s seen an iPhone in action:

II. On August 30th shares in BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, Ltd. spiked due to speculation that Microsoft was considering gobbling them up to broaden its line of defense against the rumoured Google Phone. This isn’t the first time such a rumour has been entertained, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense — Windows Mobile already has a strong following in North America and a significant beachhead in Chinese markets, whereas the BlackBerry is only now starting to be sold through carriers there.

Still, the fact that their somewhat fanatical CEO isn’t categorically denying these rumours is kind of odd when you consider that the two companies are arch-rivals in the mobile enterprise email space.

III. This very morning Sony Ericsson President Miles Flint, credited as the man who single-handedly doubled both the company’s shipments and profits, announced his resignation as of November 1st. Perhaps he doesn’t want his stellar track record tarnished by the battles looming on the horizon?

IV. And towards the end of the afternoon (Eastern Time) CEO Ed Colligan personally announced that Palm, Inc. was abandoning its plans for the Foleo “smartphone companion”, at least for the time being.

Late last month Palm was publicly humiliated in a brutal but entirely accurate “Dear Palm” letter on — and with good reason; the Foleo was a stupid idea from the get-go — why would anyone settle for a dumb terminal when they could buy a fully-featured mini laptop for the same price or less? And all the while their Treo line of smartphones have been languishing with a feature set that looks great for 2003. Sure, they’re still popular in North America, but that’s more to do with Palm kowtowing to the carriers here than anything else.

And that’s where we’re at. It’s pretty amazing that the impact of the Google Phone can already be seen, despite the fact that no one even knows exactly what the thing is yet!

More to come…

The Worst Shortcomings of Windows and OS X Laid Bare!

So Robert Scoble, the go-to tech blogger on, has just released two hours of video documenting an expert debate of Windows Vista vs. Mac OS X. I’ll save you the two hours and get right to the point.

I should point out that I’ve been a Windows user since last summer, a Linux user since the spring and a Mac user since, well… About 1995. But I’m not as biased as you might think. Read on for proof…

As a Windows user, the single most irritating thing about OS X is that the ‘maximize window’ button doesn’t maximize on-screen windows.

Mac's misnomered maximize button

When I hit that little green button in the top left corner of a window in OS X it’s because I want whatever I’m working on to fill the entire screen and get any other distractions out of the way. Instead I get a window that, depending on the app I’m using, is slightly to sizably bigger, but still doesn’t fill the damn screen like I want it to. And this is productive how?

As a Mac user, the single most annoying thing about Windows is that I can’t use the ‘up’ cursor key to get back to the beginning of a line.

My Lenovo laptop's inferior cursor layout

If you’ve never used this feature you simply don’t know what you’re missing. Even the best of us touch-typists make the occasional boo-boo, and there’s no better or more intuitive time-saver than jumping back to the top of a line with a single press of the ‘up’ key.

Yes, I know I can use the ‘function’ and ‘PgUp’ combo on my Lenovo laptop, but that’s one key too many, and I’ve important blogging to do, dagnabbit!

… And honestly, that’s pretty much it. Both Windows and OS X are otherwise identical, in what they accomplish anyway. Both allow you to use email, the web, and a plethora of other document and multimedia filetypes found therein. If Windows would just fix their obviously broken cursor key, and Mac their obviously broken maximize button then there’d be nothing left to argue about, and we could all move on to some other pointless debate…

Is This a Windows Virus?

An odd re-occurence on my Lenovo laptop.Here’s an odd thing: A couple of times since I got my Lenovo laptop last summer the screen has suddenly gone blank on me, displaying a random colour — in this case, purple.

Fixing it is easy enough; I just close the lid, wait for the machine to hibernate, then open it up and log back in to Windows. My thinking is that the onboard video card just gets overwhelmed every once in a while, but maybe this is the first documented case of the dreaded Metrosexual Virus, where the user’s computer is taken over by a pastel colour, thereby forcing a rethink of the interior paint scheme in their home or apartment.

In any case it’s easier to deal with than my G5 tower‘s latest affliction — it’s decided to ignore the video signal from any camcorder plugged into it… Yippee! 😦