Jun 27, 2005

Microsoft Office

Following my success at installing Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger on my Linux laptop, I realised I might as well install Microsoft Office and make a clean job of fizzling out my open source utopia. So I did it, yesterday. I installed Office 2000, the latest version that was known, as far as I knew, to work with Wine.

The installation did error out at first, but a quick check of a couple of Wine websites told me the answer to that problem. So I managed to complete the install -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint, possibly the three most used desktop applications in the Monash computer labs. Well, Visual Studio/Visual C++ is up there, but still.

Anyway, after I installed everything and made sure it worked -- and it does, more or less -- I started wondering how far Wine has come at running Office XP. So I did some Googling and wouldn't you know it, Office XP now works with Wine -- again, more or less. Damn. Still, at least Office 2K has all the features I really need in Word and Excel -- tables within tables, and PivotCharts.

Using Word and Excel, even stripped of all their Windows XP eye-candy freshness, I quickly appreciate just how good the user interface is. How well everything has been put together and just gets out of your way, compared to something like OpenOffice.org. Take, for example, the pull-down menus of their word processors. Word's menus are of a reasonable size; they don't stretch down almost to the bottom of the screen. In OpenOffice.org Writer, they do.

Note: I'm not dissing OpenOffice.org here. I really, really like some of its features, and if I could help it, I'd use it over MS Office any day. Features like the true integration -- it's really one program that changes its menus, toolbars, etc. depending on what type of document you're viewing; Stylist and Navigator panes which quickly let you manipulate and apply all kinds of styles, and move around documents quickly; the built-in PDF export; the Python programmability (I've written a very useful little word count tool for Writer in Python -- remind me to talk about it some other time); and of course, the fact that it's free and open source, works pretty much flawlessly with MS Office documents, and runs on the Big Three operating systems of today -- Windows, Unix and Mac OS X.

But where does that leave me with MS Office? The truth is I need Excel to conveniently do data analysis in my statistics units, and Word as a last resort to open files I might come across.