Choice is good! Unless you’re paralyzed in the face of diversity, a newish problem for users of the fairer platform seeking the best bang for their productivity-suite-buying dollar.
There was a time when Microsoft Office was not only the best it was nearly only choice available to Mac users. Today, Redmond’s productivity suite might still be the best choice for you, but it’s certainly not the only option you have. In fact, when it comes choice, there’s never been a better time to be on the fairer platform.
Still the king
Microsoft Office 2008 is huge, regularly updated, feature complete and available in shrink-wrapped packages targeted at user demographics you likely fit into: Home & Student ($109.99, Amazon), Standard (229.99) and the Special Media Edition (159.99).
Yes, you read that right””Microsoft’s marquis product, which comes bundled with Expression Media 2 (the application previously known as iView Media Pro)””is priced well below the standard edition””the SRP is $499.
Whereas Home & Student is a 95 percent solution, Microsoft’s Special Media Edition does everything, including decent Exchange support, and Expression Media is a valuable media management utility. So if you’ve got to have MS Office, this is the best value available.
(However, for whatever reason, Microsoft doesn’t offer a demo / trial of Office 2008″”rather parsimonious and a major detractor.)
iWork: The prince of productivity
Besides if you’re looking to save money and don’t need a “does everything” productivity suite, then Apple’s iWork ’08, which retails for $79 but can be had from Amazon ($67.99), ClubMac ($69.98) or MacMall ($69.98) for less, is an excellent choice. Further, Apple’s office solution does some things much, much better than even the priciest version of MS Office.
For example, Keynote is greatly superior to PowerPoint both in terms of ease-of-use and multimedia/animation functionality. It just rocks and integration with Apple’s other iApps””iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie””is impeccable.
Secondly, iWork’s word processing and layout program, Pages, is very, very capable, and it’s much more intuitive and not overburdened with features the vast majority of people will never need (ie Microsoft Word).
Numbers? Well, I don’t spend a lot of time using Apple’s spreadsheet, but it’s correctly opened, displayed and saved everything I’ve thrown at it. Various reviewers call it an 80 to 90 percent solution that’s plenty capable for the average user.
And, yes, Virginia Apple does offer a 30-day trial via download and with every new Mac.
And, what about Sun’s StarOffice, which has finally been ported to the Mac? Well, there’s no trial version for the fairer platform and for me that’s a deal breaker. Furthermore, it’s not a universal binary or otherwise available for PPC Macs.
ThinkFree Office 3 is something of an odd bird and that’s not a bad thing by any stretch. Its target audience seems to be nomads who might not have a computer of their own. That is, this Windows, Linux and (PPC, Intel) Mac compatible productivity suite is quite compact (a 40MB download for the rest of us) and all these versions can easily be carried around on a a thumb drive. Additionally, document storage and sharing is managed via an online account that’s a mandatory part of the equation.
Further, this is a regularly updated product that’s been around for years and it’s got a smooth if not beautifully implemented UI that’s immediately familiar and useful.
The 30-day trial certainly could get you by in a pinch. Also, if you were to buy the full-meal deal ($50 per year), this might be the ideal solution if you are a backpacker or journeyman developer, consultant, etc always looking for ways to lighten your load and exposure to loss on the road. And, yes, you do need an Internet connection, but in today’s world there are internet cafes and libraries with free internet pretty much everywhere.
NeoOffice 2.2.5“”I’m very partial to this third-party open-source riff on the OpenOffice architecture. It’s been around for years, it’s “free” (as in you should donate) and PPC / Intel compatible. Like Thinkfree, the interface is immediately familiar and useful if a little blandly implemented.
Moreover, the creators of NeoOffice, Planamesa, never rest on their laurels and updates, often including new and / or updated features, arrive with pleasing regularly. Neat, complete and what I’d called 90% solution.
OpenOffice 3, the first native OS X version of the world’s favorite open-source alternative to MS Office, has been a long time coming and to this pundit still hasn’t quite arrived. In many respects it still feels like port (looks great though) and, according to me as well as our friends at Macworld, is still only an 80 percent solution vis-a-vis functionality and MS Office compatibility.
Further, as of this writing, there isn’t a full-release, English-language version of OpenOffice 3 for PPC Macs and that’s disappointing. Yes, I’ve read third-party reports that it’s available, but so far I’ve been confronted by dead links and / or dead ends at every turn. Not cool.
Nevertheless, there are some really neat features and integration under the hood that really speak to the effort made so far. Will OpenOffice 3.1 or 3.5 be the releases that break through? I’m definitely hoping for that and more.
What did all of the above products do? Unsurprisingly, they all opened and saved native Office file formats. I didn’t make an effort to find trouble, but opening most any of the files (.doc, .ppt, .xls) I’ve collected over the last 5 years opened and saved without notable problems. Golden.
As noted above, I’m quite fond of Apple’s iWork ($67 and up) and Planamesa’s NeoOffice (donationware). However, depending on your needs and available resources, any one of the solutions noted above could be the one that’s right for you and that’s why I made a point of noting who does and doesn’t offer trial versions.
And, lastly, if you really have to have the full enchilada from Microsoft, then I’d strongly recommend spending an extra $50 and getting the Special Media Edition. You’ll get the full version of the MS Office and Expression Media 2 (aka iView Media Pro).
That said, what’s in your app folder?