Choosing a version of Excel, Powerpoint, or competitors

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by bollweevil, Apr 12, 2009.

  1. bollweevil macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2008
    Hello All,

    I used to be a big fan of Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint, but I was using an old version of Office on a PC. Now I have migrated to Mac and gotten Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, and the new versions of Powerpoint and Excel are completely awful.

    What is causing all these problems? When were these problems introduced - 2008, 2004, or earlier? Are the Mac versions of Office simply worse than the PC versions? And most importantly: What version should I downgrade to? Should I be running Office in Windows under Fusion? Or should I ditch Microsoft entirely (which I would truly love to do) and start using some competing product for my slideshow and spreadsheet needs?

    Here are the problems I am having with the new versions, from most obnoxious to only moderately obnoxious:


    1. There is absolutely no way to make error bars derive their height from a column of data. Error bars must be a fixed size or a fixed percentage. This means it is totally impossible to do error bars that indicate the standard deviation, interquartile range, or 95% confidence interval. This feature was present in the old version of Excel, they simply removed it. Was Microsoft intentionally trying to make this software useless to scientists?

    2. There is no way to select one column and call it the x-values and another column and call it the y-values (when making a chart). You have to select two columns at once, and Excel will guess which is which. And they better be neighboring columns, too.

    3. The chart options and formats menus/dialog boxes are completely different than they used to be, and much more restrictive. I can't find the tab where you enter the chart title, the axis titles, and check a box for whether you want a legend or not.

    4. All the charts are really incredibly ugly. They are full of shadows, bubbles, rounded edges, bevels, and bright colors. There is no way to make plain graphs.

    5. I can't get the page-break preview dotted lines to disappear. They are distracting, I don't want to see them.


    1. Everything in Powerpoint is now hideously ugly, and you can't make it simple. The problems are similar to the aesthetic problems in Excel, but fifty times worse. Every table, every arrow, and every autoshape is now 3D, puffy, brightly colored, rounded on the edges, and has shadows and reflections of light on its metallic textured surface. You cannot make a normal black arrow, or a normal table made of straight, rectangular, black lines. You cannot make a plain red hexagon, it will look bubbly and metallic. I'm sure the people at Microsoft thought that simple things looked archaic and unsophisticated, but they completely failed to realize that you need to keep the simple option available. The new aesthetic that they impose on all Powerpoints looks completely childish, unprofessional, and silly.

    2. When I open an old presentation (saved long ago with my PC), Powerpoint modifies the original file without warning, without asking, and there is no way to override it. I have to carefully make a copy of every .ppt presentation before I double click on it, because double clicking and letting Powerpoint do its horrific dark magic will irreparably change the file. That is not okay. On multiple occasions, I have had to use Time Machine to restore .ppt files that I accidentally opened without copying and Powerpoint then mangled. It changes the slide layouts so that arrows don't line up, pictures overflow the slide, tables turn ugly and colorful, fonts change size, and so on.

    Both/All Office for Mac applications:

    1. Expose and Spaces do not work, there are lots of annoying bugs with window management in these programs.

    I have found a few things that I like, but I will gladly give them up for a good downgrade that addresses these problems:

    1. Powerpoint can now export as images really easily.

    2. Excel gives the syntax of every function in a pop-up box every time you type it. That is helpful.

    That's it. Good work, Microsoft. Your new versions created 8 big new problems that weren't present in the old versions, and you added 2 tiny features which I slightly appreciate.

    Please help. Advise. Suggest. What is the last version before these problems? Is there some way that I am not seeing to enter x- and y-data in Excel, or make things non-ugly in both?

  2. 5280m macrumors member

    Jan 16, 2009
    Many of the features you complain about exist. You just need to find out how to use them.
  3. MacDawg macrumors Core


    Mar 20, 2004
    "Between the Hedges"
    Many folks prefer 2004 to 2008
    But neither is an absolute equivalent of their Windows versions (2003 and 2007)

    You can try OpenOffice as an alternative to the Office Suite
    You can also try Mariner's Calc as a spreadsheet substitution

    Also, many consider Keynote in iWork a much better product than Powerpoint

    Woof, Woof - Dawg [​IMG]
  4. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    Open Office and NeoOffice aren't any better than the original. You could try iWork, but as usual with Apple applications they're mostly eye candy and don't offer any extra functionality.
  5. exegete77 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 12, 2008
    If you need compatibility with Windows users or you work where you need anything with VBA, I would opt for virtualization and use Office 2003/2007. While Office 2004 has VBA it is based on VB 5 (same as Office 97), whereas 2000/2002/2003 is based on VB 6, so there many things that could be done on the Windows side that were not available on Mac. Office 2007 is based on .net but they have allowed some overlap with VBA for compatibility with previous Windows versions of Office. Office 2008 has no VBA capability.

    I worked for a Fortune 50 company for 8 years as an analyst. We used Office 2000, then 2003 the last five years I was there. Charting was frustrating even on 2003. So after struggling with it for 3-4 years I learned some better ways to overcome Excel's limitations. In the end I never used built in charts without extreme modification. Here is a simple example, but you can get as complex as you want:

    1. I put all data on one worksheet (called "Base"),

    2. All set up data on another worksheet (called "A", or if I had more worksheets for setup [one for each chart], then I labeled them "B", etc.), which used formulas to automate everything pulling data from Base. And this was the set from which charts were made,

    3. Then the worksheet with the charts (each chart was fitted into one cell (i.e. chart in cell B4, with the title in cell B3 [font size 10 pt] and the annotations in cell B5 [font side 8 pt]). I sized the cell B4 to be much larger, then stripped all formatting out of the chart, except the axis and data representations - never pie charts. Then by holding down the ALT key, you can snap the outer edges of the chart to the cell borders for perfect alignment. I did all this using VBA in 2003. With some minor adjustments, etc., it took me a total of 1-2 minutes to get a chart set up this way.

    4. By automating this way, I never touched a chart after creating it, I never touched the setup worksheets. BTW these charts were all linked via VBA to PPT (which I detest, but it was "company policy"). So I could update the data, update every chart in Excel, which then updated every chart in Excel. With 900+ charts of data, I could finish the project in 20-25 minutes. Most of that time was using VBA to pull data from the mainframe into the Base worksheet.

    Initial setup times for some of the complicated ones took 2-3 months, which included extensive testing before going live. Most of that time was ensuring that all formulas were correct - many thousands. The best part is that once I explained it, it was easy to transfer the entire project to someone else to maintain. After I began developing these spreadsheets, I was being tasked with training other analysts, and so it became somewhat of a standard in one department (about 2000 people).

    Check out Excel User by Charley Kyd for excellent resources and instructions about using Excel to its best.

    Probably more than you wanted...

    But I had a little time.:D
  6. deej999 macrumors regular

    Apr 1, 2009
    I might get laughed of this thread for suggesting this. Have you looked at iWork '09?

    I dunno about Numbers vs Excel, but Keynote is a very nice app (similar to Powerpoint but not as ugly).

    my 0.02$

  7. exegete77 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 12, 2008
    I would take the Edward Tufte approach. Is this the right software? But more important, what are you trying to do? The biggest problem with Powerpoint (and Keynote and Impress, etc.) is the mentality of its use or better abuse.

    If you get a chance, read Tufte's little booklet, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. Check out his books Tufte Books.

    At least worth thinking about.
  8. iJesus macrumors 6502a


    Jun 30, 2007
    Reno, Nevada
    I would have to say that Keynote is the best presentation software that I've used. In class we have to do "Powerpoint" presentations on different subjects and all my classmates always admire my keynotes. It's easy to use and it's much harder to make a "typical junky powerpoint" as I would call them. You know, the ones with too much effects, sounds, gradients, etc. Yuck.

    Download the iWork '09 trial.
  9. exegete77 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 12, 2008
    One further thought if you use virtualization and relative to my long post above. Never link the chart itself into Powerpoint. Rather select the cells (and the chart comes for free!) and link the cells. I had used VBA to do that, then put a button on the toolbar. Select the cells, click one button and it was linked to PPT.
  10. nadyne macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2004
    Mountain View, CA USA
    This is on the Formatting Palette, under "chart options". Look in the Excel help for the topic "format a chart", and you'll get complete details for it.

    You can make your graph look like anything you want. Select your graph, and then look in the Formatting Palette. The parts that you're probably the most interested in are the "Colors, Weights, and Fills" section, as well as the "Shadow" section.

    You can remove that if you like. As in Excel, it's in the Formatting Palette.

    You can also create your own custom theme, and define how you want everything to look.

    Make sure that you've updated to the latest version of Office 2008 (currently 12.1.5). This was an issue that we've fixed.

    This is a problem that's known by both us and Apple. We've both made changes to our code, so make sure you're up-to-date with both Office 2008 and Leopard fixes. However, the issue isn't completely fixed on either side. We've shown our code to Apple, and they can't tell us how to fix it. If you want to know the gory technical details of this, check out this blog post from one of our senior developers that explains it -- the stuff specific to Spaces is about halfway down, starting with the paragraph that begins "Bear with me while I shift gears".

    Just FYI, I'm not enough of an Excel guru to answer the rest of your questions about it, but I'm looking into them 'cause I feel like I should know the answers. :) I wanted to answer the questions that I could quickly so that you knew that someone from MS really is listening. If you want to find a bunch of Excel gurus who can probably answer your questions off the top of their head, I highly recommend our Excel product forum. The forums there are searchable, too, so you can see if someone else has already asked your question and gotten an answer.

  11. exegete77 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 12, 2008
  12. nadyne macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2004
    Mountain View, CA USA
    Doh! Sorry 'bout that. I didn't close my quote in the URL tag. It's all fixed now. :)

  13. bollweevil thread starter macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2008
    Thank you, Nadyne. That is the best response I have ever gotten from a big evil corporation. In my book, Microsoft is slightly less evil today. I hope they are paying you to troll the forums and help poor souls like me.

    That said, I really need answers to Excel problems 1 and 2. Of all the problems I listed, those two are the only deal-breakers that will force me to downgrade and be bitter at Microsoft. And the answers to both need to be "that is possible, here is how you do it." I may be incompetent, but I haven't been able to find the answers myself on the internet. Perhaps I haven't massaged the search terms correctly.
  14. exegete77 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 12, 2008
    Regarding #2, there is a workaround: it is possible to make two charts and overlap them (one for each axis). You have to set the background of the top chart to none (not to white), so that you can "see through it". Then you have to align them; hold down OPTION key and they will snap to the closest cell border.
  15. clevin macrumors G3


    Aug 6, 2006
    I go with 04, it at least offers vb tools. and it can open newest xml based office 07 document (after you install a free format converter).
  16. bollweevil thread starter macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2008
    I cannot get to "Chart Options", it is grayed out in every menu, in every Workbook I create. This is a problem, and it makes no sense. When I right click a chart, I get the options "Change Chart Type" and "Format Chart", but "Chart Options" is always grayed out. I have downloaded other people's workbooks from the internet and had the same problem. Help?
  17. pooky macrumors 6502

    Jun 2, 2003
    I'm a scientist, so, coming from that perspective, I have to ask, why are you using Excel to create figures? That might be acceptable for an undergrad, or for quickly throwing something together, but for a real, polished figure, you should be using a tool that is better suited to the job. Some options:

    Sigma Plot is standard across many fields, but is windows-only
    Deltagraph works on Mac and is pretty good. The interface can be frustrating at times, but it produces publication-quality figures.
    Kaliedagraph - similar to Deltagarph, just with it's own set of quirks.
    R - my favorite. Fully customizable graphs, very capable, but steep learning curve. Also free.

    There are others out there as well.

    As for presentations, I switched to Keynote a while back, and haven't looked back. If I have to give a talk using someone else's computer, I try to use a .pdf file exported from Keynote. If I absolutely must use powerpoint, I still create the file in Keynote, then export to Powerpoint, then do final touchups in powerpoint.
  18. bollweevil thread starter macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2008
    Excel 2008 is USELESS!

    I have been reading, among other things. Microsoft employees and developers have admitted that they took away custom error bars! They just took them away! There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to do interquartile range or 95% confidence interval on your graphs now, and there is only one way to do standard deviation that forces you to do awful things.

    YUCK! I am really disgusted that Microsoft did this. That was my number 1 complaint/obstacle, and there is no work around other than downgrading. If I downgrade, will I have to pay for it? If I don't pay for it, how will I get updates? I paid for Office for Mac 2008, does that entitle me to a licensed copy of Excel for Mac 2004 because the Excel component of the Office package I purchased is defective?

    Why would Microsoft do this?
  19. bollweevil thread starter macrumors 6502

    Feb 1, 2008
    Very good question, I ask myself that question every time I use Excel. Here's the answer:

    I am the only person in my lab who is less than 60. We are not going to change. I had been using Matplotlib, which is a Python graphing package similar to MATLAB. I am vaguely familiar with Sigma Plot and R. I had to rediscover Excel a few months ago when I joined this lab, I had abandoned it and never looked back about three years ago.

    Long story short: This thing needs to take in and put out .xls workbooks, or the world will implode.

    EDIT: Also, 100% of the graphs I make or even touch are not for publication. I wish they would let me nearer to the actual papers. These graphs are for internal use. They need only display the data and be easily modifiable by everyone involved, they actually can be ugly. It is just unpleasant if they're ugly.

    EDIT 2: I found a Y2K bug in our microplate reader software a few weeks ago. An honest to god Y2K bug! It was taking the date and time of the experiment from the computer's timestamp automatically, but throwing away the "20". I didn't notice this until I went looking for results from 1997 using the program's UI for browsing past results. It paginates the results and only gives you a "next" and "back" button. There was nothing before 2000, which seemed very odd. Then I noticed that the "next" button was still available in the 2009 page, and it brought me to 2096. Well, it didn't call it 2096. It just shows you the page, and every result on the page has a date column that says things of the format "10/15/96 4:23 PM". I looked at the manual - my lab bought this software along with "One year of free software upgrades and a lifetime of free security and stability updates" in 1996. Hilarious.
  20. Achiever macrumors 6502


    Jan 23, 2008
    My vote for "Backhanded Compliment of the Day."
  21. pooky macrumors 6502

    Jun 2, 2003
    Oh boy... that sucks. That's about all I can offer you there.

Share This Page