For years, after Apple allowed its Appleworks office suite to fade into oblivion, and spurred on by the introduction of iWork, an office suite comprised of Pages and Keynote (for word processing and presentations, respectively), Apple users have clamored for an application to replace Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet. On August 7, Apple answered those requests, with the introduction Numbers, their easy-to-use, powerful spreadsheet application.
While I’ve not had the opportunity to try out Numbers (or any of the new versions of the iWork suite), I took a look at the Apple iWork website to see what new and exciting things were in store. Based on that, I give you my first impressions of:
This program, a basic spreadsheet application, is probably one of Apple’s most highly-anticipated programs in a few years. even more than new versions of iTunes or the iLife package, professional users have been waiting and waiting for the iWork office suite to include a replacement for Microsoft Excel.
Since Numbers is brand new and just released today, my comments regarding it are based completely on the iWork website and the demo videos posted there. There appear to be four big features Apple is pushing with Numbers. First is Intelligent Tables, second is the ability to Analyze Data Intuitively. They also claim users can get Impressive Results Fast, and that Numbers is Widely Compatible (with Microsoft Excel, in particular).
First, Intelligent Tables. This is a feature that allows you to embed a spreadsheet inside another spreadsheet. Numbers has more than 150 functions built-in, allows for numerous drag and drop functions from other Apple applications (you can drag your contacts in from the Address Book, for instance, if compiling a mailing list), as well as creating formulas the old fashioned way. Each table within Numbers is a fully-functioning spreadsheet, and as such can contain numerous types of data, so with Numbers, you really can display everything you want.
With a spreadsheet, of course, it’s more than just looks. If a spreadsheet is only good for making lists, it will be worthless. So Numbers includes a lot of ways to analyze your data. From automatically giving header rows or columns normal names, such as “Last Year’s Budget” instead of B27, to providing easy ways to sort an organize, Numbers is flexible. You can also designate certain cells as sliders or steppers, according to Apple’s terminology. This way, if you’re preparing a table, and you want to see how the rest of the numbers would change if a certain figure changed (money spent or saved, for instance), simply slide the slider under that cell, and all the other cells change immediate, to give an instance overview of what would happen “if.”
Despite a spreadsheet being about more than just looks, looks are important as well, so Apple has provided numerous templates in Numbers as well. These templates make it easy to set up a variety of common spreadsheets, as well as insert pre-configured tables and charts, already filled with standard formulas. This makes it easy, for instance, to set up a checkbook spreadsheet. Numbers also makes it simple to print exactly what you want. In the print preview stage, you have fine-tuned control over what gets printed, at what size, and on what page. So you’ll never be surprised by the last column on a page accidentally not getting printed.
Finally, Numbers aims to be compatible. In a business world absolutely dominated by Microsoft Excel, this is incredibly important. Not only can Numbers import and read Microsoft’s older Excel formats, it reads the new XML format as well. Appleworks spreadsheets are also supported, so you can give new graphic flair to an old set of data. In addition to Microsoft’s formats, Numbers can also read documents in the Open Financial Exchange format, tab-delimited files and CSV (comma separated values) files as well. And when it comes time to save and share your Numbers documents, Numbers can write to the Excel format, as well as print to PDF or save as CSV.
While no one knows for sure if Numbers will ever surpass Microsoft’s fully-entrenched Excel spreadsheet program (and I have my doubts about that ever happening, to be honest), it is a fact that, assuming Numbers is as good as it looks, it will be quite popular. Home users will love its beautiful output, common functions built into the program and ease of use, and of course there will be certain folks who are just glad for any opportunity to rid their computer of Microsoft products. Whatever the reason, I think Apple has announced a winning application with Numbers, and I look forward to taking it for a spin myself.