Back on May 11th I promised to try and live without MS Office in a “Corporate Setting” for 30 days. It’s been some seven weeks and I’m none too happy to report that a copy of MS Office has to go with me to the desert island.
However, in an interesting twist it turns out I can’t live without iWork either. Follow me after the jump to discuss what worked and what –œsurprisingly–didn’t.
The Achilles heel of this whole project, as I suspected back on the 11th, was going to be email and calendaring. I know Mail will work with exchange. Just as I know there are plug-ins for iCal which will enable some measure of Exchange integration, but this is 2008, three separate applications for scheduling, contacts, and email is just arcane.
Even Mozilla has decided to party like it’s 1996 and finally add PIM-like features to Thunderbird through the Sunbird plug in. Sadly, Thunderbird and Sunbird both overtly fail to support the mail server that 95% of people who don’t have to wear nametags to their jobs are required to use (I say overtly, because you try and raise the notion of Exchange support in the Thunderbird forums, and see how hard you get flamed –œgo ahead, I double-dog-dare you).
The productivity applications
When it came to living without Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, life was a whole lot easier. I found no instances where I was offered an Office document and was unable to work on it. In fact, I found that producing professional looking deliverables for clients was actually easier in iWork than in MS Office. iWork’s speed, as well as its ability to make documents that just sparkle really won out.
My only gripe: the built in grammar checker. This issue is pervasive in applications that use OS X’s built in spelling and grammar checking (the problem even occurs in my new favorite writing tool: Scrivener). If you’re reading this before one of the guys has a chance to clean up the mess that I call writing, it likely comes as no surprise that I’m dyslexic, and I really rely on those green and red squiggly underlines to tell me when I’ve made some bone-head mistake.
I didn’t really notice the difference until I started to use Pages to compose posts for the Cult in lieu of Word –œhonestly I didn’t notice the difference then either, but a whole lot of you all did. It was enough that I took one particularly illiterate article and pasted it into Word, Pages, and Scrivener to see the results. Redmond’s word processor was able to identify nearly all of the goofy little errors that my co-workers now refer to as “Leigh-isms”. My favorite: my usage of “antidotally” instead of “anecdotally” as pointed out by reader Paddy.
The Big Surprise
Is that I also can’t live without iWork. Did you know that iWork is more Office compatible than Office? Who’dathunkit, right? It appears that Microsoft’s removal of Visual Basic for Application (VBA) from Office for Mac has creates all order of compatibility problems (note: this removal also obviates most, if not all, the viruses identified in my May 11th article).
This is just an anecdotal observation but there were a number of MS Excel documents forwarded to me from Corporate IT that had embedded VBA that Excel 2008 was simply unable to open for editing. Oh sure, it’d open it read only, but what good does that do me?
Enter Numbers, the best thing to happen to spreadsheets since Visacalc. Numbers had no problem opening the spreadsheets, it stripped the offending VBA code right out, and even went so far as to Unprotect the worksheets so I could do my own sorts and such. Why they were locked in the first place: Corporate IT didn’t want my job to be too easy.
All in all, I’m giving my experiment a 75% pass rate. It is certainly possible, and even pleasurable, to live quite nicely without MS Office assuming you’re not an illiterate forced to use Exchange. So to put the questions to the crowd:
Is there a way to get a better grammar checker to replace the built in one?
Is there some single Calendar, Mail and Contacts solution that is exchange compatible for OS X of which I’m not aware?
If we can crowd source good answers to these two, I’m happy to give swearing off MS Office a full quarter in the name of science.