Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Running Office 2004 and Office 2008

As mentioned previously, we bailed on Office 2008 for the Mac when it was apparent that Excel did not include functions that are essential for a business environment.  They are adding back the Solver, but the lack of VBA support, which makes it impossible to share Excel files with Windows users, is a non-starter.

Still, I was interested in trying to use the other pieces of the Office suite, particularly to see if they would not be such memory leaking RAM hogs as Office 2004.  I re-installed Office 2008 to give it a whirl.

The thing I like about it is that Entourage does not seem to have the same memory leak problem in 2008 as in 2004.  I suspected that running natively on Intel chips might make it better and it appears to have done so.  If I run Entourage 2008, I don't have to quit it by the afternoon to free up memory.  Word and the others don't seem to leak, but they hog the RAM from the get go.

Using both or either is not a big problem.  I can still run Entourage 2004 when I get tired of looking at the horrible purple colors with Entourage 2008.  I suspect this is because we use an Exchange server so it creates an identity for each.  If you did not do this, I have heard of problems trying to share the same identity.

I don't like the fact that I can't select which version is the default to open a file when double-clicked.  It defaults to Office 2008.  Not a problem with Word or PowerPoint, but the opposite of what I want with Excel.  I could trash Excel 2008 or uninstall all of Office 2008 and reinstall only Entourage, Word and PowerPoint.  When I get a second, I will try that and post results.

Bottom line is that you can run them both.  I will use them a little longer and give my thoughts on whether it is even worth it.  I suspect I will conclude that it isn't worth the cost, but who knows?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

iPhone Update

Well, I have been using the iPhone 3G for about a month now and thought I would update my thoughts.

Overall, I like it, but don't love it.  There are things that I really like about it--web browsing, Google maps, cool apps, etc., but some of the things that I don't like are so bad, it colors my overall perception.

First off, as a phone it has worked well.  I have not had any issues with dropped calls, although it now appears that the problems folks are having are AT&T problems, not iPhone problems, since the same issue is cropping up no non-iPhone 3G phones with AT&T.  Different chips, same problems.  I am glad I am immune so far, but it underscores my biggest issue with trying one:  AT&T is just a bad cell phone provider.

My biggest gripes are emails.  It is a heck of a lot slower to manage email on an iPhone than on a Treo or BlackBerry.  The keyboard is slow.  The general interface is not designed for efficiency.  It is bad and needs an update with some keyboard shortcuts or something with the next version.

The thing I hate.  Absolutely hate, is the autotext.  Apple's is bad beyond description.  First off, it is random.  Frequently used words do not get suggestions, but others do.  There is no way to turn it off or edit it.  It is particularly vexing since it wants to suggest something stupid for a person's name in our organization.  Every time, I have to try to cancel the thing.  At the very least, the default should be that hitting space cancels the suggestion while you need to do something to accept it.  It is almost always wrong, so why should we have to cancel it?  Why can Treo, BlackBerry and even Microsoft do this fairly well, but Apple can't?

Apparently, you can fix this by jailbreaking the iPhone, but I am reluctant to do that.  If one of you clever apps developers will write something to fix this problem, you will have a very happy customer.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


One little app that I find indispensable is MacJournal from Mariner Software. Mariner is an old timer in the software biz--if you are old enough to remember pre-Windows or even Windows 2.0, you may recall that there were other spreadsheets and word processors before MS came to dominate. A very good one was Pascal and Pascal Write, which was a Mariner product.

MacJournal is touted as a journaling and blog software package. It does do that stuff--I can do a post in MacJournal and have it post here, if I want. For me, though I could do that stuff in a lot of different ways. The value in MacJournal, as I see it, is a catch all for all the stuff you need to keep--at least for a while, but don't know where to put. It is like the little corner of my desk where stuff that is important enough to keep but not important enough or long lived enough to file sits.

Say you are doing research on a project. You get stuff from newspapers, emails web searches, whatever. You know you are going to need this stuff, but it isn't worth bookmarking in your browser. Or, perhaps you just want it all in one place under the project name. MacJournal is perfect for organizing all that stuff. You can put whatever you want into it (at least so far I have not found anything that would not work), organize it the way you want and have it all at your fingertips if you need it.

It is one of the few software packages that I really am glad I have--a real convenience rather than a boring necessity.

Hopefully soon they will come out with an iPhone version to sync with the desktop version. Even if they don't, it is a great package.

Accounting Software

The one major difficulty in running a business entirely on Macs is the availability of decent accounting software. Basically, you have two options: Quickbooks and MYOB. Quickbooks is easy to use and works fine for a sole proprietor, but it falls flat as things get a little more complicated. MYOB Accountedge, though it has a strange interface, can take a small business much farther.

It has a good chart of accounts functionality, good controls built in and is generally superior to Quickbooks in almost every way. However, it has limitations which our SmallBiz is starting to run up against. We need something a little more robust, that can handle consolidation and other things that are tougher to do in entry level packages. I would love to use Peachtree, but unless you are running Windows, that is not an option. I have tried almost everything I can find for the Mac, but nothing seems to be close.

We have looked at online stuff, like NetSuite, but we don't like that option very much. Perhaps we are a little old fashioned about having our financial information on teh interwebs, but the real issue is speed. We have a pretty speedy T-1 connection here, but these things are still very slow to run. Too slow.

So, the search goes on. Feel free to post any suggestions and I will definitely check them out.

OmniFocus and OmniFocus for the iPhone

Once I got the iPhone, I started looking for some cool apps. Since one of the weak spots in Exchange for Mac and the horrible iCal is task lists, that was want I really wanted. I wanted to be able to find something where I could enter a task on my iPhone when it popped into my head and have it sync with my computer at some point. My old method of emailing it to myself, worked okay with the Treo, but it was inefficient, particularly since it takes longer to send an email with the iPhone.

I finally settled on OmniFocus. One reason I selected this is that it is made by the Omni Group, which also makes the very excellent OmniGraffle, which we have on all of our machines, and OmniOutliner and OmniPlan, which we have on several. OmniFocus is not supposed to be a run of the mill task manager. It is based on David Allen's "Getting Things Done". GTD is an interesting and useful system. I have read the book and agree with much of what he says, so I thought this would work well.

Unfortunately, OmniFocus is not ready for prime time. To get the system to work you have to buy both OmniFocus and OmniFocus for the iPhone. In addition you need a MobileMe (nee .Mac) account or another webDav server, so the whole setup is quite pricey. The worst part, is that to sync the iPhone version and the desktop version, you have to pay full price for what is essentially an alpha version of the software. They send updates every day, but it is a long way from being done. Getting the daily update is like playing roulette. You spins the wheel and you takes your chances. Is the update going to fix things? Or is it going to send the whole thing crashing down. Lately, crashing has come up more often than not.

I can't sync anything since an update last week. Even more unfortunate, support, which is typically very good with Omni Group products, is nonexistent. If you try to get help, you get a notice that they are very busy writing the software and may get back to you within three weeks. If you go to the forums on their site, you get dogpiled by GTD true believers who will usually say something to the effect that "working software is not GTD canonical".

I hope they get things worked out, because this has potential to be an excellent app, but it is crazy to charge full price for alpha software. I can guarantee that we will not be rolling out OmniFocus throughout the company for a while and we will start thinking hard about using less Omni Group software in the future. After all, even Microsoft waits until it has a beta version before selling it to the masses.