Excel X, by Microsoft
Posted: 14-Oct-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Denny Behm Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Introduction
Microsoft Excel is the ubiquitous spreadsheet/charting software that started out as two separate applications on the Mac nearly 20 years ago. I used both MultiPlan and Chart on my Mac Plus, and I used early versions of Excel for the Mac. I currently use Excel for Windows at work, but I use Appleworks (Mac OS 9) at home.

This software was reviewed using a 233Mhz beige G3 with 128 MB RAM running Mac OS X ver. 10.1.5.

The installation of Excel X includes a 169 page Acrobat file called "Getting Started With Microsoft Office," 42 pages of which are devoted to Microsoft Excel. These pages are written for the first-time Excel user; however, I have been using Excel for years, and I learned a few new things when reading the document.

User Interface
I must admit I was surprised (as well as delighted) when I first launched Excel. Its appearance is visually pleasing. Its Aqua interface "sits well" on the desktop. It looks better than I expected, although its graphic elements seem a bit more harsh than other OS X applications I use (Mail, iTunes, Address Book).

Also on the positive side (and my second surprise), Excel X runs pretty fast on my old 233MHz G3. I'm sure it will really scream on a new machine.

My initial thrill with the look and speed of Excel X was replaced with disappointment after I started using it. Excel X appears to be merely a port of the Windows version of Excel. I was hoping for a more user friendly interface. Something more intuitive than the Windows version. However, the menus and submenus are the same as the Windows version. The dialog boxes are the same. That's good (arguably) if you are familiar with the Windows version, but if you are new to Excel you can look forward to a lot of searching through menus and submenus to find what you need.

Excel X plays a sound when opening and saving files (and some other operations). I found the sound irritating; luckily the sound can be turned off in the preferences.

Another irritating aspect of the user interface is the inconsistent use of the CTRL and CMD keys for keyboard shortcuts. Some keyboard shortcuts (such as cut, copy, paste) use either the CTRL key or the CMD key. Others (fill down and fill right, which I have a tendency to use a lot) are defaulted to use the CTRL key only. Maybe I'm too picky, but I find CMD- shortcuts easier to use with one hand. However, there is a solution. The "Getting Started..." file listed customizable keyboard shortcuts as a new feature. Using the help pages I found out how to assign keyboard shortcuts to the commands of my choice. So now I happily use CMD-D and CMD-R for 'fill down' and 'fill right' respectivley.

Interoperability
I use spreadsheets to a greater extent at work than I do at home, so for evaluation purposes I emailed some Excel for Windows files from work to myself at home. They opened fine in Excel X. And the macros (which were recorded in the Windows version) worked fine in the Mac OS X version. I also saved some of my Appleworks (Mac OS 9) files in .SYLK format and opened them without problem in Excel X.

Creating Charts
The process of creating charts in Excel X is identical to that in the Windows version. Even the default colors of the columns (or lines) are the same colors as in the Windows version. The menus and dialog boxes are the same as in the Windows version.

Automating Processes
Excel X uses macros to automate tasks, and it also has an extensive Applescript dictionary. A Visual Basic Editor is included to create and edit macros, and macros can also be created by "recording" a series of mouse clicks and key strokes. A macro that has been "recorded" can subsequently be edited with the Visual Basic editor. The AppleScript dictionary has over 170 verbs. (Yes, I counted them; I don't want to give a specific number because my count is probably not accurate.)

Help Files
The only time I needed to use the help files was to find out how to assign keyboard shortcuts. However, I did some browsing through them just for evaluation purposes. You can choose either 'Search Excel Help' or 'Excel Help Contents' from the Help menu. The 'Search' menu displays a window into which you can type one or more keywords and results in a display of several topics related to your keywords. Clicking on one of the topics takes you to that topic in the help files. The 'Contents' menu takes you (appropriately enough) to the contents page of the help files. This page has links to subjects such as "What's New," "Known Issues," and "Microsoft Technical Resources." It also contains links to an index and the search function.

Summary
On the surface Excel X is very pretty and pleasing to look at. Underneath the surface, however, it's menus and dialog boxes are the same as the Windows version so a new user will have a difficult time finding needed commands. Deeper under the surface the functionality of Excel X appears to be identical to that of the Windows version, which is to say it is very powerful. And for all its power, it runs quite fast on my old, slow Mac.

Pros

  • Native for OS X
  • Very nice Aqua interface
  • Supports AppleScript
  • Powerful spreadsheet, macro and charting features


Cons

  • Expensive ($392 at MacConnection)
  • Commands difficult to find in the menus


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice