AMITIAE - Wednesday 26 March 2014

Some Comments about Writing on Macs - Bangkok Post, Life

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


This is not an anti-Microsoft column. It is pro-Apple user. However, after many years of using Macs, including pre-OS X, I just don't see the need for Microsoft's bloated Office suite, especially Word. Luckily for Redmond, many users do not have the same ideas as me, but it isn't a question that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose (Steve Jobs).

When some people buy Macs here, they insist that Microsoft Office is installed. Most only use Word, and only for basic letters. Some claim that using Word guarantees standardised output. They should ask my students about that. These hardworking young people write on their PCs at home, then use a print service at the university. The output is full of errors. This undermines a basic reason many give for their insistence on Office and Word. My Mac output - printed using the secretary's PC - is better.

Redmond has managed a magnificent snake-oil trick here as Word is seen as the must-have application. Few need the power of such a fully-equipped word processor (or the rest of the Office suite come to that). I run a Microsoft-free environment and produce first-rate text output. I do not need a fully-equipped word-processing program to write a shopping list.

Early draft of this article in TextWrangler

I start writing with a basic text editor: TextWrangler. What you are reading now was produced in this (free) application. If I need formatted text, I will add HTML code for web pages, or copy and paste the work into Apple's TextEdit: an application that comes with all Macs. It allows saving in several formats, including .DOC and .RTF, and I can export a file as a .PDF document if needed. All my teaching materials and letters are done in TextEdit.

For output like brochures and other items that need more specialised formatting (and for creating eBooks) there is Apple's Pages. This is extra useful as I can synchronise output with my Macs and iOS devices using iCloud: the files are available even if I do not have a computer with me. The same applies for Keynote (presentations) and Numbers (spreadsheets): collectively, iWork.

Also available in beta form, is iWork for iCloud. The parts of the suite (Keynote, Numbers, Pages) can be opened in a browser, even on a PC.

iCloud and iWork beta
iCloud with iWork for iCloud beta icons

A couple of years ago, I was asked to review a new version of Office for the Mac. I was aghast at the bloat, particularly the unnecessary installation of hundreds of fonts, most of which I already had. These were "Microsoft approved" fonts. The Apple-installed ones were not approved, nor were the half a dozen Thai fonts I had, so they did not work in Office. I hope that if, as rumoured, there is a new version of Office for the Mac on its way, those users who think they need Office, do not have that feature imposed on them again.

Pages templates
iWork for iCloud - Pages Templates

Belatedly, many users who bought iPads have discovered that they do not need the flabbiness of Word. As I write these words, there is no Office for that device, despite rumours of its appearance for the last couple of years. The latest news has it that a version of Office for the iPad - perhaps using the cloud - will be announced tomorrow (27 Mar). To coincide with this, Microsoft released its OneNote for the Mac last week. It is available on the Mac App Store, currently for free.

There are many apps (free and paid) that allow formatted text output, including Apple's iWork. Some apps use iCloud, others Dropbox to synchronise content. This is a lot more than a squandered opportunity of Microsoft. It may now be a closed door. An estimated 170 million iPads have been sold. Many users are working quite happily with the devices, despite the idea put around some while back that the iPad is not for productivity.

I would be first to admit that it is not as easy for me to create on my iOS devices, but that does not mean I cannot. My pork-sausage fingers do not respond well to the iPad keyboard: a female colleague can type super-fast on this. Surprise! . . . There is a solution: an external keyboard.

I have an Apple wireless keyboard that means typing is just like working on the Mac. There are some third party keyboards too and if you can find a good one, these work with the Function keys as well. For some reason, the Apple ones do not.

Poster in Pages beta for iCloud

Office will not disappear. It is a widely-used suite of tools that businesses and government organisations will continue to use, because of its universality, but also because of the wide range of features within each of the component parts. Whether or not all users need this suite, I have my doubts.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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