Monday, September 15, 2008

Does our family really need an OS X spreadsheet?

We don't have a spreadsheet for our OS X machines. Sure, I could install Microsoft Office, but I'm not all that fond of Excel - and it's overkill for most of our family. Besides, it includes Word which I despise, and PowerPoint which I prefer to forget.

Running office is why I have VMWare Fusion -- I'd rather keep it off our Macs.

That leaves Google Spreadsheets, which we use extensively. That works for most things, but, for some odd reason unconnected to echoes of 1929, Emily wanted a way to review our investments. We're not quite ready to expose them to Google (which was recently found guilty of an astoundingly bone-headed security screw-up).

The data lived in a spreadsheet in our old XP box [1], so at first I thought it was time to get a Mac spreadsheet. There are a few options in addition to Excel ...
Pure Mac: Spreadsheets - Software for Macintosh

Mariner Calc
I don't have the time to mess with anything but very reliable products, so based on my personal experience that ruled out most of the open source options. We already have AppleWorks (works on 10.5), but the fonts look ugly with 10.5 and it is pretty darned old.

That left Mariner Calc, Numbers, and maybe Tables. Of these I'd probably opt for either Numbers (get Pages and Keynote for free) or Mariner Calc (simplest, fastest, most tested, great vendor). If they save as .xls I could still use Excel from the XP box for editing of the iMac served file.

Still, it's a lot of bother to buy and install a desktop app given that we use Google Spreadsheets so much and that we so rarely need one.

That's when I remembered FileMaker Pro - version 8 (!). Yes, old version. Still works on 10.5, though if you don't have web sharing disabled the first startup is very long. I have it on my XP machine and our Macs, so it's cross-platform. It's easy to create a mini-app with running totals, filters, search, links to our FileMaker password file, security, simplified menus, etc.

I don't have to do it all at once, the beauty of FileMaker is I can import the spreadsheet, make a few tweaks, and evolve from there. Bento can probably do something simpler in a similar way.

Between FileMaker Pro (Bento?) and Google Spreadsheet we might be able to go a very long time without a true OS X spreadsheet. In the unlikely event that my daughters early enthusiasm for math persists, we might end up with Mathematica or MathCad rather than Excel ...

[1] I used Quicken 2.0 -- and almost every Windows version since - as well as 4 years on Mac Classic versions. Somewhere between 1997 and 2005 Intuit's quality hit rock bottom. I still use Quicken and the quality may be improved now, but really I don't have time for it anymore. Intuit killed my enthusiasm some years ago.

It was never all that friendly for anyone but a regular user anyway. We make do with the simplest possible approach -- we have too much complexity everywhere else.

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