Microsoft Office 2008 vs NeoOffice vs iWorks’08

2009/04/28

I was happy user of the iWork Suite 08 since I moved to OS-X. It somehow better matches the way I am thinking and does much better job than Office to get me from idea to acceptable looking rendering of that idea in the form of document, spreadsheet or presentation.

In past two month I was involved much more interaction with the requirements, business analysis and project management part of the process. Which inevitably means much higher exposure to documents creation, collaboration and exchange. iWork gives you reasonably good compatibility with Office document formats, which means that you can easily import almost every Office document modify it and export it back so that Windows user will see almost all of your changes. Almost everything will be just fine. Unfortunately, almost is not the same as everything: it often breaks fine details of formatting, reviewer comments and does not really work for more complicated Excel spreadsheets. Especially those spreadsheets which project manager-ish people so love to create.

I tried to use OpenOffice/NeoOffice which suffers from the same malady. It spoils different set of features than iWorks, quite often works well, but it cannot be trusted. On top of that, it just does not feel right and is kinda ugly.

So I had to take a deep breath and installed Office 2008. After few weeks, here is my impression and very brief comparison of all three mentioned suites.

With Office 2008, I was not having very high expectations regarding user experience on Mac and I have to report that Microsoft did not disappoint. I indeed was not too great experience, starting with installation.

Office 2008 contains 4 products. I absolutely wanted Word and Excel, was not quite sure about Powerpoint (because Keynote is sooo much better),  and certainly had zero interest in Entourage and Microsoft Messenger.
Guess what: Microsoft installer, as many times before, knew better what I want and did not give me a chance.  All questions asked were related to what Microsoft needs to know (serial number), with little regard for users interest.  It also installed whole bunch of fonts, which I did not really want – but I guess to provide 100 % compatibility with Windows, it may be a good idea to include same set of fonts as Windows office has.

After installation, Office 2008 works reasonably well. Minor annoyance is start taking forever – I guess it is because (unlike under XP/Vista) OS-X does not preload shared components (and does not eat up memory just to make Office appear start snappier).  As soon as any Office application is running, I have occasionally seen weird behaviour when switching between windows (note lowercase ‘w’) and does not play nice with Spaces. Sometimes scrolling forgets to redraw screen in word and you have to minimize/restore to get back to readable text. And it is generally quite slow even on very fast and powerful machine.

With respect to the main motivation for getting Office – seamless document compatibility – that problem appears to be solved. So far I have not seen anything that would be distorted or deleted just because I touched the file on the Mac.  Only exception is Excel – Office 2008 does not support VBA macros, so your mileage with more advanced spreadsheets may vary.

Should I mark my experience with Office 2008 using school grades, it would be:
– installation: C
– user experience: B-
– compatibility with Windows Office: B+
– price/performance ratio: D
– overall: B-

For iWorks’08 it would be:
– installation: B (if I recall correctly, it was OK, but required installer).
– user experience: B+
– compatibility with Windows Office: C
– price/performance ratio: A-
– overall: B

For NeoOffice:
– installation: C-
– user experience: C-
– compatibility with Windows Office: C+
– price/performance ratio: A
– overall: C+

Recommendation:

If you are working on Mac as part of a team that collaborates using Office documents, you most likely need Office 2008. Unfortunately the only office package that comes very close to be compatible with Office 2003 and Office 2007 is Office 2008.

If you value user experience, aesthetics and are OK with mostly one-way conversions between Windows Office, you will find iWork provides excellent value and will make you feel at home. If you never have to exchange documents with Windows world, enjoy it – we all who have to do it daily are green with envy.

If you for economic or ideological reasons refuse to pay for software (or only for software made by certain companies ;-)) – or if you require compatibility with Linux based office, you have no other choice than NeoOffice or OpenOffice. The first one looks considerably better on OS-X – although still not quite right.

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The aftermath of mainboard change

2009/03/04

In theory, exchanging mainboard on Macbook has no impact because all your data is stored on your harddisk that is untouched. In real life, there are few minor surprises.

First, your MAC address of the network card had changed. This is something you will not notice, unless Murphy’s law plays funny game with you, as it did with me. When arriving back to the office, I was able to connect to WiFi network, but the ethernet was stubbornly getting the “internal IP” – 169.254.x.x address, which is pretty much useless from connectivity point of view. We are running two separate networks – both NAT-ed, one on WiFi – mainly for guests, other internal. Not getting an IP address did not make any sense: the cable was OK, because other machine worked just fine with same drop/cable. The Ethernet connection was OK, because it worked when assigned IP address manually.

The problem was – new MAC address. During last week or so, by playing with virtual machines, I must have allocated all available IP addresses from DHCP server space. The leases are fairly long lived and all slots were taken by either computers around the office or by both running and also now defunct VM’s. One of them was still kept reserved for my old and gone MBP’s MAC address. Nobody would notice the problem, unless you tried to attach new DHCP based VM or new computer. Lesson learned – if you have problems with internal IP address does not want to go away – check the DHCP server. In home environment, resetting the router mostly helps.

Second effect of changed MAC address was that all VMs in Fusion started to ask whether they were moved or copied. Always answer “moved”, otherwise you VM will get new virtual MAC address generated – which can have impact on your DHCP space (if in bridged mode).

Third, quite unexpected effect was that Time Machine stopped working, with ‘volume cannot be found’ message. See e.g. http://www.macfixitforums.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/454151/Time_Machine_can_t_find_backup for more details. It looks like Time Machine is using the MAC address to match the backup volume with the computer it belongs to. Clean solution is to erase backup and start from scratch – or use different disk. Partial solution is a hack – in /Volumes/Time Machine Backup/ locate file that has the MAC address encoded in the name, e.g:

/Volumes/myTMbackupVolume/.0a1b2c3d4e5f

Get the new MAC address (from ifconfig) and copy the old cookie file to new cookie file – using the new MAC as name. This made the volume accessible again – with unfortunate effect that pretty much ALL content was considered as unbacked-up and first back up took away over 90 GB of disk space. But at least, the old data was still there, should the need ever occur.

Maybe this experience will be useful for somebody else – it was quite good learning experience for me.


How to un-stuck unsuccessful OS-X upgrade

2009/02/07

Here is the context: in order to upgrade iLife 08 to iLife’09 (which is very nice, btw), I had to install 10.5.6 upgrade. And according Murphy’s law, one of the 2 GB DIMM’s in my MacBook Pro went bad exactly during the OS-X upgrade process.

It had two rather unpleasant consequences:

  • some of the patch files got downloaded and saved in corrupted state
  • The machine did not boot back after restart

The second problem was fixed by replacing the bad DIMM, but the first caused that upgrade to 10.5.6 was impossible: the files were downloaded, verification failed, after restart I was back to square one. There was no obvious way how to “undownload” the files.

The Apple Support representative recommended downloading the update as DMG from Apple Downloads, and run installer. The DMG of 10.5.6 had over 300 MB, while the patch file was barely 190 MB, so I was wondering whether there is better way. As it turned out, it is very easy.

The location of the downloaded files is  /Library/Updates which is normally almost empty:

picture-105

During update process, this is the location where OS-X will keep the downloaded files, as shown here:

picture-102

All you need to do is to delete these downloads (keep the plist, of course) and try Software Updates again. The updater will re-download the files and everything will work as expected:

picture-103


Chapters goes Mac

2008/12/01

I have noticed few of this beauties in Kanata Chapters. Nice replacement for the beaten up CRT terminals that used to be around. They somehow looked right and familiar from the distance.

img_0834

Beautiful screen, with touch capability.

Nice presentation and user interface.

img_0835

The keyboard with unique personality.

And after looking closer, it was very obvious why:

img_0836

Proper keyboard simply must have Command key 😉

PS:I am sorry for bad quality of pictures – iPhone camera under bad light conditions…


Fix for ‘Sender address is invalid’ error on iPhone 3G

2008/11/24

I started to have this error about week ago, out of the blue. I was not aware of making any changes, but suddenly could not reply to an email, send new email or even forward existing email in the iPhone default Mail application. I am using GMail account and because other clients on different platforms worked OK, I suspected either Rogers or Apple. I was trying several possible fixes (and used Safari and Gmail web access – which is not much fun).

Here is what did NOT resolve the problem:

  • deleting and recreating the account
  • upgrading to firmware 2.2
  • resetting and restoring the phone

Finally, the fix was to switch off all Gmail SMTP servers (for no particular reason there were two) and switch on the Rogers SMTP. To do that, go to Settings, Mail Contacts Calendar, click on account, select SMTP server.

I do not remember entering any of these servers, so they must have been created automagically when creating the GMail account in the Mail app. The Rogers account that works is all greyed out, the username and password is set to optional and the part of URL showing is smtp.rogerswirelessdata.c…

Because I have disabled BOTH Gmail server, the Default settings now shows under SMTP ‘No Server’ – but it works 🙂


How to save local copy of YouTube video

2008/11/20

If you want to watch YouTube video on the plane (and Google TechChannel has some amazing collection of videos), here is how to save it to disk, without any tools or third party program, using just your Mac and Safari out of the box.

Go to YouTube page and select video you are interested in in Safari. While playing, press Option-Command-A which opens Activity window. Locate the video stream – it will be the largest item in the list. Double click it, which causes Safari to download it.

After finish, go to download folder, locate the file (usually named get_video) and rename it to SOMETHING.flv. Open with any FLV enabled player – VLC works like charm.

At the end usual disclaimer: you should always make sure you do not violate copyright law or law of the country you reside in. I am not recommending or endorsing any behaviour that would cause violation of copyright law, merely describing interesting technical feature of a popular browser ;-).


Too good to be true ?

2008/09/11

If this thing is real, I am buying one. Regardless that I really, really do not need another Mac :-). Form factor of thin screen of size 9-12 inch, with reasonable subset of touch gestures would be EXACTLY what I need from a internet terminal / reader. Plus the option to tether it with iPhone for ubiquitous connectivity …