Aug 10 2007

Spreadsheets: Excel & Numbers

Published by at 8:41 am under retro

Apple has introduced a new “spreadsheet” product as part of its iWork suite, and as usual for Apple, it is ‘different’. Not an Excel clone but a page layout oriented numerical table, chart, image and movie masher! Sounds very modern, but it is very retro in that printing paper seems to have been a major factor in its design.nd it is lacking features essential for effective use “on screen”. A very odd choice of features for Apple to have made.

In Numbers, tables can have header or footer rows and header columns, but only one of each. This makes sense in that Apple can then display this corresponding text to make formula much easier to read, but it limits the ability to associate descriptive text for display or printing. In essence, letting ‘programming’ interfere with display. Is that Apple?

So far, its worst deficiency for me is in handling big tables. In Excel, a standard practice is to be able to ‘freeze rows or columns that provide identifying information to rows or columns on the screen to help orient the eye when viewing large sets of data. Near as I can tell there is no way to do that in Numbers. The print view sort of addresses this problem but only very poorly. You can scroll through and edit the pages on the screen and each page will have the header information. But then the paper paradigm again intrudes unnecessarily.

On the positive side, the change from one big sheet that is mashed different ways tor different purposes to separate tables, charts, etc. that can be related and manipulated on a “canvas” is a real step forward.
I seem to recall a failed spreadsheet named Canvas which tried this approach years ago. Not sure of that, however. Lotus’ old Symphony also had some of these capabilities. So Numbers is retro and current at the same time. A lot to like, but I’m having to adopt to its limitations and work around them. Haven’t decided to switch.

Update: The old program was apparently called Trapeze

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