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New Office Suites For Macs

Last week saw a couple of noteworthy developments in the Mac productivity-suite business:

* The most Mac-like offshoot of the free, open-source OpenOffice suite, NeoOffice, advanced to version 2.1, which adds support for the new file formats Microsoft introduced in Office 2007 for Windows. (Confusingly enough, the original OpenOffice project now has a Mac port underway too. Although an alpha release of it is expected in May, it still seems far behind NeoOffice: According to its development roadmap, "native printing" support won't happen until the end of the year.)

* Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, the successor to its Mac-only Office 2004, is now in private beta testing. On Friday APC (short for Australian Personal Computer) published a report on this new version. It features some details on the graphics infrastructure and screen shots of its new, tab-centric interface, which--like the "ribbon" feature of Office 2007--tries to make it easier for users to discover Office's numerous features.

A potential third competitor in the office-suite market, however, remains a mystery. For many months, the Apple rumor sites have been predicting an update to Apple's iWork bundle of desktop-publishing and spreadsheet software, one that would add a spreadsheet application and officially replace the company's antiquated AppleWorks. But January's Macworld Expo convention came and went without any such update.

For a long time, the best productivity suite on the Mac was the only productivity suite on the Mac--Microsoft's Office 2004 (still one of my favorite Microsoft releases). Only Windows users had real alternatives to Microsoft, such as OpenOffice and Corel's WordPerfect Office. Now that's changing. With NeoOffice and, eventually, OpenOffice, Mac users have a free option; with a reinvigorated iWork, they may get a better option.

On the chance that developers of any of these programs stumble across this humble blog: What, Mac users, would you like to see in your next office suite?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 2, 2007; 6:16 AM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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I've used Ragtime with the Mac for a few years now. It is more intuitive than Office and can be used by neophytes with ease while offering lots of attraction for power users.

Posted by: Martin Edelson | April 2, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see a native version of Open Office.

That would be great because as Oo becomes better you would not be limited to what OS you use for office productivity.

You could use Oo on Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix etc.

Plus it looks like MS may be pulling the plug on VB scripting in Office for Mac. That means that documents made in Mac office that use macros will not be made using VB scripting, so those macros will not work on Windows.

Posted by: Ty Miles | April 2, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I've used open office on my mac for a year now. It is an old g3.

Posted by: Kurt Ramey | April 2, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

What would I like? Something intuitive and easy to use. Also: ability to export-import with outliners like OminOutliner, Opal, etc.

Posted by: Greg Smith | April 2, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

One of the first things I did when I bought my iMac was download and install OpenOffice.

It works fine.

Posted by: wiredog | April 2, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

NeoOffice rocks! Have had it on my intel mac for 6 months now with no complaints.

Posted by: Steve | April 2, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I use Open Office on my ubuntu systems and NeoOffice on my macs. While it'd be nice to run OO on both, I dislike the X11 framework and NeoOffice is less like a .004beta release than OO.

Having said that, I'm disappointed (am I allowed to be disappointed by free software?) in the 2.1 release: it broke the "save as... aportis doc" feature. Now to create docs for my palm, I must open Virtual PC (ooooh, what a dog.. wish I had an intel mac!), drag a text file to the PC-side, fire up the MobiCreator and wait a hundred years for it to process the doc. Much minutes wasted, this way.

BUT, in general, love the Mac-ness of the NeoOffice suite (and thank you, Rob, for suggesting I look into it).

Posted by: Bush -- not related | April 2, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Well, this is a simple concern for me. I, like many, appreciated AppleWorks. There still is not a program that treats graphics, drawings, spreadsgeetsm images, documents as similar but related 'object'. Sure it had limitations, but that was livable due to overall ease of use and productivity.

More importantly, it was one of the few times that Apple has simply 'walked' away from an area it supported users for over 20 years. I can still run the AppleWorks early software on my 1984 E512k system!

If Apple wished to stop development on AWorks, they should have struck an agreement with someone, even MSoft, and offered the upgrade at little or no cost with control over the invariable compatibility issues.

Jury is still out and Apple still has a window (no pun intended) to support those who supported them for years!

Posted by: gary | April 2, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

The majority of my work in Excel has focused on VBA macros. I've never tested them on my Mac...

I use a PC at work and Mac at home, but Excel is one thing that I'm much more comfortable with on PC.

Posted by: Sara | April 2, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I wish Microsoft would just table Entourage and deliver a Mac version of Outlook with a comparable feature set. A complete on-to-one Office application suite would make life for us Macs in the corporate world much easier.

Posted by: Robb | April 2, 2007 2:36 PM | Report abuse

My biggest complaint about NeoOffice and OpenOffice is the increadably long start up time on my 1.25 Mhz G4 tower. Office 2004 starts up so much faster. I will not upgrade Office due to the lack of VBA.

Posted by: Neal Tobochnik | April 2, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

While there are a number of "Office Productivity Suites" available on most OS platforms, the obvious one they must all convert to and from, is Microsoft Office. I may not be Microsoft's biggest fan, but I can recognize who has the most used office suite in the market. If the office suite being used can not handle M$ macros (no matter what platform they are created on) safely, or view images attached to documents or work with the same formulas created in the spreadsheet, it may be nice to have a "FREE" office package but it will be like trying to work in a Spanish country using high school spanish. BTW everyone knows M$ does not play well with others; especially with Mac.

Posted by: Anthony | April 2, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I'd like iWork'07 to include not just the rumoured Numbers spreadsheet-app but also an Outlook compatible iCal/Mail app that offers seamless integration with the PC network at the office. This last add-on can also be part of Tiger as far as I am concerned of course!

Posted by: Rudy | April 3, 2007 3:49 AM | Report abuse

It's worth noting that as of version 2.1, NeoOffice incorporates some support for VBA in its spreadsheet module - something that I believe isn't in OpenOffice itself yet.

Posted by: Padmavyuha | April 3, 2007 4:28 AM | Report abuse

I think you meant to say: " update to Apple's iWork bundle of desktop-publishing and presentation software."

Posted by: Wes | April 3, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The recent adoption of Open Document format as an international standard is something that every article comparing office suites needs to mention. It's a key feature for any competitor to MS Office since it will eliminate the problem of intercompatibility once it's adopted widely enough. I'm sure that will happen because the computer industry is becoming increasingly international and less dominated by the US. MS is not so well liked around the world as they are here.

I have heard good things about Papyrus Office but I haven't tried it myself. You could also mention other options like Koffice and Think Free Office.

Posted by: Aram Fingal | April 3, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Two of my biggest complaints for Microsoft Office;
1) Have the application suite mirrored across the platforms. i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, AND Access, InfoPath, Groove, OneNote, Publisher should be available for both the PC and Macintosh. I'm so sick and tired of MS basically giving us Mac users the shaft on every Office update and not supplying the application lineup between platforms.
2) Allow for full synchronization of Exchange services. Just being able to sync my e-mail, address book, and calendar items is not enough. I need to be able to sync everything; notes, to-dos, projects, categories, mail-rules, etc. This half-assed job of synchronizing with Exchange services is a joke.

Posted by: Red Claw | April 3, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

"Something intuitive and easy to use." That was AppleWorks, my favorite Mac application throughout the 90s. AppleWorks did everything most users need, and in a much more user-friendly environment than MS Office's opaque, Byzantine bloatware. AppleWorks was a perfect balance of integration and separate application environments, built that way from the ground up -- where MS Office is really a group of applications awkwardly stitched together under a thin, afterthought veneer. Nor does MS Office (or its competitors) include the excellent basic Draw and Paint capabilities that were what I mostly used with AW's word processor.

AW's crimes were two: (1) it wasn't MS Office, so could never get any traction in the corporate world, despite that it was much easier to learn/use and could do everything most people needed; and (2) it wasn't developed at NeXT (the real reason, I believe, why it was abandoned after Apple's entire development staff was replaced with people who came with Steve from NeXT). Thus, R.I.P.

Unfortunately, there's nothing like AW in the Mac world at present, or on the horizon. Open/NeoOffice is a valiant effort to break the MS monopoly and provide a truly user-friendly alternative -- an effort that deserves to succeed, and all the support it can get. I use it occasionally myself, and recommend it to everyone. But it isn't AppleWorks, any more than MS Office is. Nor, whatever Steve may have said at Macworld two years ago, is iWork really a replacement for AW.

The truth is, the buzz at Apple in the OS X era is multimedia -- the iApps. Apple has simply forgotten about dull old productivity software. Thus iWork is aptly named: it is not really a "productivity suite" but a presentation front-end for content from the other iApps, e.g. iPhoto, iMovie. Pages comes with 500MB of templates for little newsletters to send to family with pictures of the new baby -- but it can't set exact leading (line spacing), a capability that MacWrite II (and every other real word processor) had in 1991. And it's as hard to figure out as MS Word, where AW's word processor was friendly and easy. (Nor is Pages anywhere near a replacement for my other favorite classic Mac app, PageMaker, despite what numerous reviewers have suggested.)

Some have suggested that Apple release AppleWorks into Open Source, so users could update and Aquafy it for use in OS X. Sure would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath....

Posted by: HandyMac | April 3, 2007 12:23 PM | Report abuse

What AppleWorks Pro should have is the capability of customized kerning of pairs in each type face which should be able to be set as a default in the word processor. Also tracking should be aailable, as w3ell as half point leading.

Posted by: Walt Abbott | April 3, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I think NeoOffice blows.

Posted by: Murray | April 3, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

While Excel and PowerPoint 2004 meet my needs for spreadsheets and presentations, I still use WordPerfect 3.5e in the Classic environment for word processing. Nothing beats WordPerfect for features, customizability, and transparency (via Reveal Codes) even today, 10 years after its last official revision. John Rethorst hosts an active Yahoo group dedicated to keeping WordPerfect functional by creating new patches, macros, and scripts. There is even a Spotlight plugin to permit searching WordPerfect files. Thanks to John and others, it has now become possible to use WordPerfect on Intel Macs by using SheepShaver to emulate a Classic Mac OS. All freely downloadable from Yahoo. If any OSX word processor came close, I would adopt it. WordPerfect Win is not the same, though I prefer it to Word when I have to use a PC.

Posted by: Thomas J. Rostafinski | April 3, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

My needs are fairly modest - I would like a compare documents feature that actually works ie produces an accurate comparison, does not open help so easily when I try to accept/reject a change and does not change the insertion point to a watchface when I accept or reject changes from the menu bar's contextual menu (this latter quirk I have been able to fix in the last three versions of MS Office only by restarting the computer). I also would like a reveal codes type function and faster document saving across a network.

Posted by: Jennifer Porter | April 4, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

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