What do you say
about an application as venerable as Microsoft Excel? The first GUI spreadsheet,
the first spreadsheet program on the Mac, far superior to its PC contemporary at
the time (does anyone remember MS Multiplan?). Over the years it has only gotten
more capable and more complex. Still the leader and standard in most offices, Excel
is the spreadsheet by which all others are judged.
Microsoft Excel 2004 from the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite is all that and more.
If you mainly use Excel for lists and tables, there is not a great deal in Excel
2004 that would cause you to want to upgrade from an earlier version. However, if
you use formulas or make charts, this upgrade may be for you.
- Mac OS X-compatible processor
that is a model G3 or higher.
- Mac OS X version 10.2.8
- 256 MB of RAM.
- Monitor that can display
1024 x 768 or higher resolution displaying thousands of colors
Like any spreadsheet program, Excel offers the row/column format that allows a user
to enter formulas to operate on the grid of figures. It has numerous charting and
graphing features, including 3D features that take advantage of OS X's Quartz layer,
as well as drawing features, clip art and word art inherited from the other software
in the Microsoft Office suite. You can merge columns for headings, and format cells,
rows and columns with an almost infinite variety of borders, fill colors and patterns.
If you can dream it up, Excel 2004 can make it look good.
As usual, Microsoft introduces a host of small improvements and also some significant
One nicety I noticed right away was more orderly behavior from the Formatting
Palette. I like to have my Dock on the right side of my screen, similar to my habit
with the Program Switcher under OS 9. The Formatting Palette now recognizes that
the Dock is present and arranges itself to the edge of the Dock, and will automatically
adjust its position when Hiding is turned on or off. With Excel v.X, if I turned
the Dock hiding on to get a little more room for the Palette, the Palette would not
return to its previous location when I turned the Dock hiding off. Details like this
make using the program easier, and demonstrate that the programmers at Microsoft
working in the Mac Business Unit use Macs every day.
The Formatting Palette is now customizable as well, similar to the toolbars that
have been a Microsoft mainstay for years. One of the options is that the Formatting
Palette makes nice use of Mac OS X's translucence. When working in the main spreadsheet
window after a short delay, the Palette will fade to a translucent state. Immediately
upon moving your cursor over it, the Palette will return to the normal state. The
length of time required for this behavior to occur can be changed, as well as changing
the fade to a minimize (genie) effect. The panels that make up the Palette can be
changed, as well as the content of the panels, including a favorite of mine, Page
While these changes are nice, they probably won't strongly influence your decision
to spend the fairly hefty upgrade fee, especially if you are already using Office
v.X. A couple of the other new features might change that, however.
Add Objects Panel
The Add Objects panel is new to the Formatting Palette and puts many commonly used
features in one place. You can insert charts, drawing objects, symbols, lines or
text boxes from one simple tabbed panel. For instance, highlight a row or column
of data, select the type of chart you want from the panel and click. Your chart will
appear in your spreadsheet without dragging you through the Chart Wizard every time.
That by itself is almost worth the price of admission. In addition, almost all of
the chart options, including data, labels, lines and colors, can be changed from
the Palette. This for me is a major improvement in terms of convenience.
Page Layout View
If you use Excel to make charts and print them, or have struggled in the past
to format your sheets to print properly (I know I have), the new Page Layout View
will help. Taking a cue from Microsoft Word, Excel 2004 now has a row of buttons
along the bottom of the screen with three different view options: Normal, Page Layout,
and Page Break. Like working in Word Page Layout view, you can immediately see what
effects your actions have on your page. I'm somewhat surprised that it took so long
for Excel to get this very useful feature.
New Help Features
Remember the days when software shipped with useful manuals? You could sit at
your computer with the book in your lap or beside your keyboard and refer to it if
you needed help. MS Excel's were among the best. A whole section was devoted to functions
and formulas and made it easy to find syntax for the formula you were using. Well,
those days are long gone. Very few companies go to the expense of printing manuals,
and many of them don't even write very useful Help Viewer files. Microsoft has not
included manuals for Office for several versions, although I could generally find
what I needed from Office Help. I found this lack of a manual the biggest inconvenience
in Excel. When I need to use a function that I have not used recently, it's not unusual
for me to have forgotten the syntax or order of operators. This means I have to search
through the Help to find it. Microsoft has come to my rescue in Excel 2004. Just
type the function in the cell followed by the left parenthesis and a small yellow-shaded
box will drop down with a hyperlink to the Help entry. Click on it and you instantly
can see the syntax for your function. Take that Office Assistant!
For those of you who may use Office XP or 2003 for Windows, the Smart Buttons
feature will be familiar. When you paste an item, have a formula with an error, or
need to AutoFill a row or column of data, a Smart Button will pop up on your spreadsheet.
Click the little arrow that appears when you mouse over it, and you will be presented
options for dealing with your data. This is especially nice with pasting, as a number
of the features of the Paste Special menu option are contained in the Smart Button,
which allow you to skip a trip through the dialog box that results when using Paste
Special. The Error Checking Smart Button will present diagnostic options for formulas
when you have problems. It can trace cells that the formula uses and will open the
correct help window with one click. It also allows you to set options as to what
rules should be presented or ignored in the Smart Button. Finally, there is the AutoFill
Smart Button. When using Excel's AutoFill feature, this button will give formatting
and copying options that avoid going through a menu item or dialog box to add.
Microsoft has a long
history of providing software for the Macintosh. Excel was revolutionary when it
came out a few moths after the original Mac. Excel 2004 is evolutionary, rather than
revolutionary. It is a solid, reliable, feature-filled spreadsheet application. While
MS has not always produced products that Mac users were enthusiastic about (Word
6, anyone?), that can not be said of Excel 2004. If you are still using a Classic
version of MS Office (e.g. Office 98 or 2001), this may be the release that finally
convinces you to part with that cash and drag your machine into the 21st century.
It has inherited numerous great features (some Mac-only, like the Project Gallery)
from Office v.X and added a few from the Windows world, like Smart Buttons. It is
thoroughly Mac-savvy and I find myself right at home using it. All that said, Office
2004 is not an inexpensive suite of programs. If you already have Office v.X, you
may find it difficult to justify spending that much money for the very nice, but
not essential, new features. With a lower more digestable price, this would be a
5 mice title.
- Powerful, flexible, loaded
- The de facto standard
- Great new formatting
and help features
- Smart Buttons will speed
- Office is an expensive
- Not all users will need
or want the new features
4 out of 5 Mice