- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The formal introduction last week of Microsoft Corp.’s Office for Mac 2008 brought with it new versions of the Excel spreadsheet, as well as the PowerPoint graphics program used daily in millions of presentations worldwide.

As with Word 2008, reviewed here previously, Excel offers easy ways to use formatting to help “tell your story,” as Microsoft says, with numbers. The program features a range of design tools, styles and, of course, templates, to make creating visually useful spreadsheets and charts a breeze. In my view, once someone can see the numbers you are working with, they’ll be able to understand the point you are trying to make.

There’s also a “Formula Builder” to help the computationally challenged, such as this writer, create formulas to use in putting a spreadsheet together. An “auto-complete” feature can help bring things together as well.

And the spreadsheet is large enough for just about anything, up to and including the federal budget: Excel 2008, Microsoft says, can handle spreadsheets of more than 1 million rows and 16,000 columns.

For me, and for other users, the true tests of a Mac spreadsheet are ones of compatibility, with both spreadsheets and templates created in the Microsoft Windows-based version of Excel, and with Windows-based Excel files. So far, so good: Excel 2008 allowed me to open my corporate expense-report form and print it out for the account department to marvel over.

There’s a bonus, I believe, in being able to demonstrate this kind of compatibility: If you are the corporate “renegade” who is trying to persuade the information-technology department that a Mac is needed for your work, being able to seamlessly interact with your Windows-using counterparts is a plus. As mentioned last week, so far I’ve seen no area where there isn’t that level of file compatibility between Windows and Mac versions of the various Microsoft Office components.

Microsoft PowerPoint for Mac 2008 offers a similar level of compatibility with its PC counterpart, and also offers Apple’s Keynote a run for the money. On the plus side for PowerPoint, it draws on the best of the Windows version and on integration with multimedia tools on the Mac; I think you can easily insert images from Apple’s IPhoto library into your PowerPoint slides. A similar range of formatting palates and enhancement tools exist in PowerPoint on the Mac side as are found in the Office 2007 for Windows version.

But unlike Apple’s word processing or spreadsheet programs, the simply named Pages and Numbers, it might be a tossup for some users as to whether or not PowerPoint surpasses Apple’s Keynote.

This is, I suppose, a “theological” issue: If you are a confirmed Keynote user, you might not want to go back to PowerPoint. But, again, for the corporate Mac “renegade,” having PowerPoint available, and again having it truly compatible with the Windows version, is a plus.

Don’t mistake my ambivalence about presentation software for an overall ennui, however. I’ll repeat what was said here last week: Microsoft beats the world with this Mac office productivity suite.

It’s an essential for home, school and business users, particularly in a world where, for better or for worse, Windows dominates and Microsoft Office’s Windows version still have a lion’s share of the market.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech blog at www3.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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