Microsoft should get “Numbers”

Microsoft’s Office team should run, don’t walk, to the nearest Apple store and buy the new iWork, which includes a spreadsheet app called “Numbers.”

This is the iPhone of spreadsheets. Lots of wow. Cool. Kickass.

But no developer API. Yet.

No collaboration. Yet.

Hey, this does sound like the iPhone. 🙂

But when you sit down to use Numbers as I did today after the press conference you see a few things.

1) You can have multiple spreadsheets on a canvas and you can resize and drag them around.
2) It feels very comfortable if you’re an Excel user.
3) Writing formulas rocks. Yeah, you can write syntax like “=sum(D2:F22)” but Apple goes one further. Uses the names of rows and columns you come up with. And has a nice little auto sum feature. Underneath it writes “=sum(monthlyreport:employee)” instead of the more obtuse (D2:F22).
4) Lots of templates aimed at regular people and what they tend to use spreadsheets for. Budgeting, lists of things, etc.
5) The UI feels much nicer than Microsoft’s stuff does. Much more interactive and easy to use.

But it is a 1.0 product. No macros. No pivot tables. Microsoft’s profits are safe for now.

This does provide a sizeable poke in Microsoft’s ribs, though, and reminds us all that even a spreadsheet can be made a lot better if you take a new look at it. Apple has sent us all a gesture that they are working on their own office suite. It’s one that everyone should take a look at.

66 thoughts on “Microsoft should get “Numbers”

  1. Have you ever heard of named ranges in Excel? And have you seen the new UI in Office 12?

    I’ll grant that Mac puts out some cool UI – but you’re right, with no API and only incremental improvements on Excel, doesn’t it feel like everyone just keeps copying each other?

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  2. Have you ever heard of named ranges in Excel? And have you seen the new UI in Office 12?

    I’ll grant that Mac puts out some cool UI – but you’re right, with no API and only incremental improvements on Excel, doesn’t it feel like everyone just keeps copying each other?

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  3. And it can read Office 2007 files before MS can.
    Same is true for Pages and Keynote. They all support multiple Office formats including Office 2007

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  4. And it can read Office 2007 files before MS can.
    Same is true for Pages and Keynote. They all support multiple Office formats including Office 2007

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  5. The app might be AppleScriptable though. Since Office 2008 will lose VB support, it won’t be much different to script for Numbers or Excel 2008…

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  6. The app might be AppleScriptable though. Since Office 2008 will lose VB support, it won’t be much different to script for Numbers or Excel 2008…

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  7. Just for fun, I did a quick test:

    Rows, columns, areas and cells can be named whatever you wish in Ecxel. You can indeed write formulas like “=Sales*Share”, where ‘Sales’ and ‘Shares’ are columns.

    I counted 200+ templates from bood pressure and home budgeting to invoices and profit and loss statements. There was more, but I got bored.

    It’s even got decent API and macros too!

    Oh, I forgot to mention that spreadsheets can be arranged at will and the layout can be saved as a workspace.

    Eh, what was the unique feature of Numbers?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist 🙂
    //Pasi

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  8. Just for fun, I did a quick test:

    Rows, columns, areas and cells can be named whatever you wish in Ecxel. You can indeed write formulas like “=Sales*Share”, where ‘Sales’ and ‘Shares’ are columns.

    I counted 200+ templates from bood pressure and home budgeting to invoices and profit and loss statements. There was more, but I got bored.

    It’s even got decent API and macros too!

    Oh, I forgot to mention that spreadsheets can be arranged at will and the layout can be saved as a workspace.

    Eh, what was the unique feature of Numbers?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist 🙂
    //Pasi

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  9. Just wondering how often do you use Excel 2007. Obviously Apple did something right if you are really impressed with Numbers but Excel 2007 is a pretty well thought out and designed software application as well. It’s not the dull, boring and user unfriendly app that your post suggests.

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  10. Just wondering how often do you use Excel 2007. Obviously Apple did something right if you are really impressed with Numbers but Excel 2007 is a pretty well thought out and designed software application as well. It’s not the dull, boring and user unfriendly app that your post suggests.

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  11. I didn’t know Excel had that either, but I knew Excel has loads of templates. Apple isn’t going to hurt Microsoft with this product. Especially with Microsoft Office being on Mac, and portable to Windows (Mac at home to Windows at work, for most people). This isn’t portable to Windows, and if it is I can’t see people switching over from Microsoft Office. If anything they will use OpenOffice.org, because it’s free and multiplatform. Apple’s suite isn’t a threat at all. Apple isn’t poking any ribs here.

    -Ivan
    http://thenerdcan.wordpress.com/

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  12. I didn’t know Excel had that either, but I knew Excel has loads of templates. Apple isn’t going to hurt Microsoft with this product. Especially with Microsoft Office being on Mac, and portable to Windows (Mac at home to Windows at work, for most people). This isn’t portable to Windows, and if it is I can’t see people switching over from Microsoft Office. If anything they will use OpenOffice.org, because it’s free and multiplatform. Apple’s suite isn’t a threat at all. Apple isn’t poking any ribs here.

    -Ivan
    http://thenerdcan.wordpress.com/

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  13. I am so sick of Excel. Way too much features and complexity for most users. That is why Numbers will be a big app in the Mac world.

    Waiting for the iWork Trial download to finish so I can try out Numbers for myself!

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  14. I am so sick of Excel. Way too much features and complexity for most users. That is why Numbers will be a big app in the Mac world.

    Waiting for the iWork Trial download to finish so I can try out Numbers for myself!

    Like

  15. “And has a nice little auto sum feature. Underneath it writes “=sum(monthlyreport:employee)” instead of the more obtuse (D2:F22).”

    I’m guessing not a big spreadsheet user, huh? The DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 had this capability.

    And I’m pretty sure every version of Excel has had this capability.

    Never used Excel while you were at MS? Never checked the Office web site for the plethora of templates they always had?

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  16. “And has a nice little auto sum feature. Underneath it writes “=sum(monthlyreport:employee)” instead of the more obtuse (D2:F22).”

    I’m guessing not a big spreadsheet user, huh? The DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 had this capability.

    And I’m pretty sure every version of Excel has had this capability.

    Never used Excel while you were at MS? Never checked the Office web site for the plethora of templates they always had?

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  17. uh oh…Scoble is turning into one of them Apple/Steve Jobs fanboi!

    Just because you like the iPhone, doesn’t mean that ever Apple product is great.

    Seriously though, before telling the world that Micrsoft should have a look at this, why not a real reason.

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  18. uh oh…Scoble is turning into one of them Apple/Steve Jobs fanboi!

    Just because you like the iPhone, doesn’t mean that ever Apple product is great.

    Seriously though, before telling the world that Micrsoft should have a look at this, why not a real reason.

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  19. Perry: just take a look at the UI. It’s nicer to use than Microsoft’s UI. And I’m not explaining the feature well enough. I’ll do a video and get back to you.

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  20. Perry: just take a look at the UI. It’s nicer to use than Microsoft’s UI. And I’m not explaining the feature well enough. I’ll do a video and get back to you.

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  21. Hmm, if you guys actually check out the Numbers demos or download it, it does things quite differently to Excel. I know what Scoble is saying. Its more like Quantrix in concept.

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  22. Hmm, if you guys actually check out the Numbers demos or download it, it does things quite differently to Excel. I know what Scoble is saying. Its more like Quantrix in concept.

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  24. I am reading the comments here and shaking my head. This being Numbers 1.0 you folks are mostly correct. Feature for feature Excel has much over Numbers. But you don’t understand Apple’s strength. It’s never been in feature. It’s always been in the user experience. Sometimes they add features to create the user experience. Sometimes they just bump them up for a product refresh like the current iMac announced today, but they always focus on the experience being better than their competitors.

    I also believe you are missing Robert’s point. He is advising MS to check out the way Numbers works and to learn something from it. How does that make him a fan boy?

    Douglas
    http://TheSplinteredMind.blogspot.com

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  25. I am reading the comments here and shaking my head. This being Numbers 1.0 you folks are mostly correct. Feature for feature Excel has much over Numbers. But you don’t understand Apple’s strength. It’s never been in feature. It’s always been in the user experience. Sometimes they add features to create the user experience. Sometimes they just bump them up for a product refresh like the current iMac announced today, but they always focus on the experience being better than their competitors.

    I also believe you are missing Robert’s point. He is advising MS to check out the way Numbers works and to learn something from it. How does that make him a fan boy?

    Douglas
    http://TheSplinteredMind.blogspot.com

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  26. I agree with Scoble, as well. This is my first time to this site, and many of the comments have attacked him, completely ignoring the realities of why Apple stands apart from the rest of the industry. They haven’t just made a spreadsheet program to compete with Excel, they’ve made something that average people will find useful and fun to use. How many of you have _fun_ using Excel? Apple has added class to a business app. That’s worth something.

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  27. I agree with Scoble, as well. This is my first time to this site, and many of the comments have attacked him, completely ignoring the realities of why Apple stands apart from the rest of the industry. They haven’t just made a spreadsheet program to compete with Excel, they’ve made something that average people will find useful and fun to use. How many of you have _fun_ using Excel? Apple has added class to a business app. That’s worth something.

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  28. Excel is just a terrible POS. Try opening an excel file with hundreds of images in it. You will die under the “Converting Metafile…” deluge, which cannot be stopped.

    Applescripting Excel is horrible as well.

    And just try setting table borders in Excel.

    Not to mention: Try plotting data that have empty rows between them: Excel does NOT connect the points!!!!!

    The much touted Pivot table of Excel is a total kludge (and yes, I know how to use it. It is unusable in many cases).

    And don’t get me started on how HORRIBLE, TERRIBLY WRONG Excel default plots are.

    M$ Office is an abomination.

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  29. Excel is just a terrible POS. Try opening an excel file with hundreds of images in it. You will die under the “Converting Metafile…” deluge, which cannot be stopped.

    Applescripting Excel is horrible as well.

    And just try setting table borders in Excel.

    Not to mention: Try plotting data that have empty rows between them: Excel does NOT connect the points!!!!!

    The much touted Pivot table of Excel is a total kludge (and yes, I know how to use it. It is unusable in many cases).

    And don’t get me started on how HORRIBLE, TERRIBLY WRONG Excel default plots are.

    M$ Office is an abomination.

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  30. @16 Well, it may get some interest from Mac owners given the price vs the price of Office. But it’s unlikely to make any penetration beyond that. Office likely has nothing to worry about, particularly in the business space.

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  31. @16 Well, it may get some interest from Mac owners given the price vs the price of Office. But it’s unlikely to make any penetration beyond that. Office likely has nothing to worry about, particularly in the business space.

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  32. “Besides I’d take features over a slightly better UI any day.”

    I take it you own a Zune then, right? Fortunately, most people want a better experience with their technology, not more features.

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  33. “Besides I’d take features over a slightly better UI any day.”

    I take it you own a Zune then, right? Fortunately, most people want a better experience with their technology, not more features.

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  34. Having looked at all the demos on Apple’s website I am impressed with the flexibility and usability of Numbers. I won’t need Excel at home now and I might try using my Mac at home for spreadsheets for work (Win Office 2003). I love the outline down the side with all the components on a page named. Keeping each table separate also stops your sheets and calculations getting complicated. Finally though it looks easy to print something that looks good. Excel is terrible at this.

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  35. Having looked at all the demos on Apple’s website I am impressed with the flexibility and usability of Numbers. I won’t need Excel at home now and I might try using my Mac at home for spreadsheets for work (Win Office 2003). I love the outline down the side with all the components on a page named. Keeping each table separate also stops your sheets and calculations getting complicated. Finally though it looks easy to print something that looks good. Excel is terrible at this.

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  36. I’m all for better UI and user experience. Yes Apple, usually does a great job with that.

    Douglas: If the point is to look at the UI and user experience, well then it was certainly lost. Looking at the 5 points only the fifth one talks about that. If that is the only thing then that is what the post should be about.

    The reason I’m calling him a fanboy is because Scoble used to be able to see through a lot of the marketing gimmicks, and be able to call things out for what they are.

    Oh well, I will now have to make a mental note that Scoble is slightly Apple biased.

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  37. I’m all for better UI and user experience. Yes Apple, usually does a great job with that.

    Douglas: If the point is to look at the UI and user experience, well then it was certainly lost. Looking at the 5 points only the fifth one talks about that. If that is the only thing then that is what the post should be about.

    The reason I’m calling him a fanboy is because Scoble used to be able to see through a lot of the marketing gimmicks, and be able to call things out for what they are.

    Oh well, I will now have to make a mental note that Scoble is slightly Apple biased.

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  38. In this case, Scoble is clear fanboy, he praised Number for features that Excel already had for at least 5 years.

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  39. In this case, Scoble is clear fanboy, he praised Number for features that Excel already had for at least 5 years.

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  40. @24 Yes, he praised Numbers for a feature that excel already had, but that is just 1 thing. He didn’t know that Excel already had that feature because Excel has way too many features already.

    You guys have to get a little perspective here. Numbers is not aimed at the heavy duty business user. It’s aimed at people like me who use spreadsheets a couple of times a month and for simple things. Same goes for Pages.. it’s a great program because it doesn’t have all the features that Word does.. it has the features I need. The whole package costs $79. Think of it as the MS Works package for the Mac. Which makes a lot of sense because 90% of us don’t need to full MS Office package but we end up paying hundreds of dollars for it so we can use Word and occasionally Excel.

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  41. @24 Yes, he praised Numbers for a feature that excel already had, but that is just 1 thing. He didn’t know that Excel already had that feature because Excel has way too many features already.

    You guys have to get a little perspective here. Numbers is not aimed at the heavy duty business user. It’s aimed at people like me who use spreadsheets a couple of times a month and for simple things. Same goes for Pages.. it’s a great program because it doesn’t have all the features that Word does.. it has the features I need. The whole package costs $79. Think of it as the MS Works package for the Mac. Which makes a lot of sense because 90% of us don’t need to full MS Office package but we end up paying hundreds of dollars for it so we can use Word and occasionally Excel.

    Like

  42. Number is an excellent start, but it still suffers from several conventional spreadsheet limitations. The first of these is that you still refer to cells by letter and number, instead of being able to rename columns and rows as you can in Quantrix, or could in Lotus Improv.

    Nevertheless, I’m greatly relieved that I’ll never have to buy another MS Office license.

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  43. Number is an excellent start, but it still suffers from several conventional spreadsheet limitations. The first of these is that you still refer to cells by letter and number, instead of being able to rename columns and rows as you can in Quantrix, or could in Lotus Improv.

    Nevertheless, I’m greatly relieved that I’ll never have to buy another MS Office license.

    Like

  44. Oops, I was mistaken. Turns out that I can indeed rename rows and columns, it just wasn’t obvious to me how to do so.

    The real danger to Microsoft’s Office franchise isn’t Numbers, though. When Apple ships iWork on Windows, the app that will sell the bulk of the licenses will be Keynote.

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  45. Oops, I was mistaken. Turns out that I can indeed rename rows and columns, it just wasn’t obvious to me how to do so.

    The real danger to Microsoft’s Office franchise isn’t Numbers, though. When Apple ships iWork on Windows, the app that will sell the bulk of the licenses will be Keynote.

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  46. Oops, I was mistaken. Turns out that I can indeed rename rows and columns, it just wasn’t obvious to me how to do so.

    The real danger to Microsoft’s Office franchise isn’t Numbers, though. When Apple ships iWork on Windows, the app that will sell the bulk of the licenses will be Keynote.

    Like

  47. Oops, I was mistaken. Turns out that I can indeed rename rows and columns, it just wasn’t obvious to me how to do so.

    The real danger to Microsoft’s Office franchise isn’t Numbers, though. When Apple ships iWork on Windows, the app that will sell the bulk of the licenses will be Keynote.

    Like

  48. That’s one of the reasons why I bought iWorks ’08 today instead of waiting for Office ’08, delayed to January.

    Office 2004 is unusable on my MacBook, too unstable and far from being really easy to use. Numbers makes the difference because you can’t say “iWork is cool but no spreadsheet there” any more.

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  49. That’s one of the reasons why I bought iWorks ’08 today instead of waiting for Office ’08, delayed to January.

    Office 2004 is unusable on my MacBook, too unstable and far from being really easy to use. Numbers makes the difference because you can’t say “iWork is cool but no spreadsheet there” any more.

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  50. It makes me laugh that you Excel fanbois start criticising Numbers before you even get your hands on it.

    I bought it yesterday and it’s a much better foundation than Excel. You have way more control over layout and it’s far more logical in use. Remember it is at version 1 and Excel is at version 1000 or whatever.

    Wait till it gets to version 2 and there is scriptability. Then forget excel as it will look like a dinosaur with obesity compared to Numbers by then.

    People who use Apple software get enthusiastic about it because it does what it is supposed to. you just wouldn’t get that would you.

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  51. It makes me laugh that you Excel fanbois start criticising Numbers before you even get your hands on it.

    I bought it yesterday and it’s a much better foundation than Excel. You have way more control over layout and it’s far more logical in use. Remember it is at version 1 and Excel is at version 1000 or whatever.

    Wait till it gets to version 2 and there is scriptability. Then forget excel as it will look like a dinosaur with obesity compared to Numbers by then.

    People who use Apple software get enthusiastic about it because it does what it is supposed to. you just wouldn’t get that would you.

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  52. “No macros. No pivot tables.”

    That alone makes Numbers not even looking at. For anyone harping on Excel people for being so hard on Number without even using it, we don’t have to use it to see the flaws. Making a spreadsheet app without pivot tables means it doesn’t even warrant comparison to Excel.

    Oh, and to people saying this is v1.0, and it will improve, the features left out shouldn’t be something that make it in the later revision, they are standard enough that they should be in the first release.

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  53. “No macros. No pivot tables.”

    That alone makes Numbers not even looking at. For anyone harping on Excel people for being so hard on Number without even using it, we don’t have to use it to see the flaws. Making a spreadsheet app without pivot tables means it doesn’t even warrant comparison to Excel.

    Oh, and to people saying this is v1.0, and it will improve, the features left out shouldn’t be something that make it in the later revision, they are standard enough that they should be in the first release.

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  54. I love the ease of use with numbers and the UI, but until they add some of the more powerful features of Excel, namely pivot tables, I will not be buying iWork ’08

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  55. I love the ease of use with numbers and the UI, but until they add some of the more powerful features of Excel, namely pivot tables, I will not be buying iWork ’08

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