Pure Danger Tech


Office suites on the Mac

02 Dec 2007

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the Mac and for various reasons I’ve spent significant amounts of time using

  • Microsoft Office 11.3.8 – mostly Word, but also a little Powerpoint and Excel
  • NeoOffice 2.2.1, the Mac-friendly version of OpenOffice – mostly in the word processor, but also the drawing, presentation, and spreadsheet modes
  • Apple iWork 3.0.1 – mostly Pages and Keynote but I’ve played with Numbers a bit
  • Google Docs – word processor and spreadsheets

First, I should mention that I’m totally procrastinating some more writing right now and writing this instead so these are just random thoughts and a thoroughly spotty review.

Word Processing

In the word processing arena, I’ve spent a lot of time in all of these tools. I’m really happy with NeoOffice and could easily use it and nothing else. It reads and writes Word docs and that mostly works for interoperation (some stuff doesn’t translate perfectly, but certainly good enough for almost everything I’ve done). The NeoOffice style drawer and toolbars are decent. Nothing whiz-bang, but stuff pretty much works as I’ve been trained by years of Word pushed on me by the man. Took me a while to get images to come in reasonably but I found setting it to treat the image as a character usually let me do what I wanted (and nothing else was even close). It’s never crashed on me. My biggest complaint is the reviewer tools which suck and are virtually unusable.

Word is well…what you expect from Word on the Mac. It’s basically the same feature set as the PC version passed through some bizarre MS-perception filter of how things should work on the Mac, which basically ends up feeling like neither a native Mac app or the PC version of Word. It crashes on me reguarly, sometimes losing data even when I’ve saved. Recovery works but is incredibly confusing. The style stuff is just awful, even worse than the PC. I love the concept of styles and absolutely hate what MS has done to them. I grew fairly reliant on the Document Map on the PC Word but sadly it is broken in multiple ways on the Mac. The reviewer tools are incredible (and have gotten better in newer versions on the PC at least). MS nailed that feature set cold and everyone else is behind. Word is functional, but no fun.

Pages is pretty good, definitely improved over the first version. The first version didn’t know whether it wanted to be a word processor a page layout app (and it did the latter better). In the new version, they split it into two modes at least. I use it for helping my wife layout flyers and stuff and it’s better for that than any of the others. It’s always felt very clicky to me – seems like I’m always opening zillions of inspectors and side windows to get anything useful done. The recent versions have excellent toolbars that cover most of what you normally do. The style drawer and style management are pretty great – I have some nitpicks with the interface but in general I like it a lot. Images work well. The positioning guides are genius and god-like. Reviewer tools are good, very usable, but still don’t come close to MS. I usually go for NeoOffice over Pages unless I’m doing something that requires a lot of image control and manipulation. Pages opens Word docs very well, better than NeoOffice and sometimes better than Word itself. :)

I’ve been using Google Docs off and on lately for stuff. For sharing and working on things with other people, it obviously is great. The 90% of stuff that you do always generally works really well. Not too good if you need to edit when on a plane or something obviously. Doing anything with bullets and numbered lists is atrocious – I almost got kicked out of the house for cursing too much when working on something like that. Sharing docs is killer – when I need to do that I reach for Google Docs more often than not.


NeoOffice’s presentation stuff is way behind. It’s ok functionally, but looks like garbage. All of the default themes and almost every theme you can squirrel out on the net look like they were done by a pre-schooler. After a few hours of searching I found a handful of acceptable themes to use. I can’t really comment too much on it because I just couldn’t take the way it looks. That’s kinda crucial for a presentation.

I have found that the NeoOffice drawing stuff is pretty nice. It looks a little amateur, but I like it better than PowerPoint and haven’t really done much like that in Keynote, but I don’t remember liking it much. Although, you should probably just use OmniGraffle and save yourself the trouble of all of these.

Powerpoint is what you’d expect. Has every feature known to man. Looks passable. Animations and build outs are confusing but not too bad. Themes look like every generic PPT theme you’ve ever seen. You can get things done with it, but you are hurting your soul.

Apple’s Keynote is the bomb. It’s my favorite choice hands down. Themes look phenomenal. Transitions make people drool. Positioning guides are just as god-like as in Pages, well actually more so. The dual-screen presenter’s view is great. Animations and build-outs are pretty easy. Love it.

Haven’t used the online presentation stuff.


NeoOffice is ok for spreadsheets. I’ve just done very very basic stuff and it was fine for that.

Excel is great and works well as always. I haven’t done much graphing with Excel on the Mac but that was the part that I always found annoying on Excel on the PC.

Apple Numbers is a new product and seems to work pretty well. I enjoyed playing with it but haven’t done any serious work. Graphs looked pretty good, better than the bland default Excel graphs, for sure.

Google Docs has a decent spreadsheet but I find it very frustrating not to be able to click a cell or cells and drag and get Excel behavior. That stuff kind of works sometimes but is way crappier than Excel. In my mind, they have not yet nailed the 90% feature set you need there. Definitely not my first choice unless I’m sharing it with somebody.

There you go, hope that helps somebody making a decision somewhere. Now back to Word…sigh.