iWork Smarter, not Harder


I have a confession to make… I’m becoming a fan of Apple iWork.

I’ve always hated office suites. I entered the work world through the creative door, and we used tools like QuarkXPress, and Photoshop, and when I got into web development I used text editors. I never really had a need for office suites to create anything. My relationship with them was always in the form of document transcoders. Transcoding documents was not always easy in the times before free office suites like OpenOffice or NeoOffice.

Oh yes, OpenOffice and NeoOffice… When these came along I was thankful. Very very thankful. Finally, we could open those damn Word documents, and get the text out of them for whatever purpose we needed! Print brochure, web site, whatever. They were like can openers (or crowbars) for those .doc formatted files.

Years ago I did a contract job as a web developer in a Windows shop. They gave me Microsoft Word for some work I had to do, and no matter what I did, I could not get the thing to work the way I wanted it to work. Maybe I was used to QuarkXPress or InDesign, which are page layout applications where you have control over everything, but Word seemed to have a mind of it’s own as to where it would place things and how it would format them. It was maddening!

Sadly, while OpenOffice and NeoOffice are free alternatives, and great open source projects, I still didn’t find either one that good for creating documents. They just seem to do “weird” things that I don’t want. But recently, I started using Pages… lo and behold, it actually seems to do things that make sense. It actually seems to work the way I expect it to work. I don’t know if there’s some “Do What I Mean, Not What I Say” magic in there or what…

My only gripe about Pages so far is that it can’t open .odt documents. This would be an ideal feature, as I could easily open all those files I’ve created with OpenOffice and NeoOffice. Sadly, to get the most widespread ability to open a document, it looks like .doc is the best option. It can be opened by Pages, TextEdit, OpenOffice, NeoOffice, Microsoft Word, and many others… It’s not an ideal solution, but it works.

And Apple, why can TextEdit open .odt files but Pages can’t? You obviously have the capabilities. Yes, there is some loss of formatting, but it would save one more step in the chain… Hmmm, maybe you’re working on better .odt support for Pages… yeah, that must be it.)

See Also: iWork Smarter, not Harder (Part II)


NeoOffice and Innovation in Office Suites

Gabe wrote a post about his recent experiences with Office Suite software. I left a comment there, but thought I should expand on it here.


Here’s the comment I left:

I am very close to being 100% happy with NeoOffice (which is an offshoot of OpenOffice, for Mac OS X.)

I do not compare it to MS Office the way you might. For me, it is free and open source. This means I can install it on the 10+ Macs that I manage for $0 (in reality, I donated money to NeoOffice because I do find it valuable, and want it to flourish. Still, $25 for unlimited copies?) Anyway, the only features I care about is that it can open all those damn MS Office file formats. That’s it. For all I know, it completely sucks in every other respect. I don’t care. To me, it’s pretty much a viewer/converter. I do use it for simple document creation, but I could use other tools for that as well. It even handles Microsoft formats the the Mac version of Office can’t handle!

Sometimes innovation is found in just being an alternative.

Honestly, I’m coming at it from an entirely different direction that Gabe, so I’m in no way trying to discount his opinion, I’m just pointing out that different people have different needs. For the last 10 years I’ve been building web sites for clients, and sometimes those clients send me Word documents, from which I need to wrestle out the text. Believe me, try as you might to ask people to send you plain text files, or even RTF files, they just don’t get it. That’s fine. Today you can send me a Microsoft Word document, and I can open it, and get that precious text out of it. And I can install the software that does it on as many machines as I want, and not have to worry about license keys working, or buying more copies, or having to pay for upgrades, or any of that crap.

Years ago I was really excited about open source software that came out that dealt with things I did every day, text editing, web serving, graphics work, etc. But an office suite? It sounded like a movie with a cruel twist: “You get to work on open source software! By the way, it’s an office suite!” So the real innovation to me is the disruption in the status quo, being the alternative, the “here, this is free, it’s not perfect but may fit your needs just fine” compared to the polished commercial product filled with restrictions and hoop-jumping.

Big thanks goes out to the NeoOffice guys, as well as the OpenOffice folks, and all that contribute to open source software.