Is Apple’s iWork a viable alternative to Microsoft Office? To find out, we asked Rob Griffiths—our go-to expert on spreadsheets—to use Excel 2008 and Numbers ‘08 to create the same project, progressing from the basics (text entry and formatting) to more-advanced features. Our questions: Which program is better at each stage of the job? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which jobs (and which users) require which tool?
To find out how Numbers ‘08 ( ) and Excel 2008 ( ) compare, I used both programs to create the same sales-tracking spreadsheet.
Data entry, formulas, and formatting
I started by creating a single worksheet, with a fictional company’s product sales by month across the top and a row for each of six sales representatives. I then added cells at the bottom and to the right, where I calculated totals and averages for each month and each salesperson.
Entering basic data in both programs is quite simple. Excel, however, made the task particularly easy. It warned me when I accidentally tried to drag one cell to another already-full cell; Numbers simply overwrote the destination without warning me. Excel also offers nine separate rules for flagging potential errors; Numbers offers only one.
Excel is better at helping you enter formulas. I selected the empty cell below the numbers I wanted to sum, and clicked on the Sum button in the toolbar. Excel figured out the top and bottom of the range. Numbers included extraneous rows when I tried to do the same thing.
That said, Numbers has a few nice data-entry tricks of its own: If you select an already-entered Sum formula in Numbers, the program highlights the range that formula sums; Excel does this only if you double-click on the cell to edit it. Numbers also makes it easy to see what’s being summed, without your having to click your mouse.
I found that basic formatting is also easier in Excel. For example, a keyboard shortcut makes it a breeze to add single-line borders to any cell. Excel also provides a more extensive choice of cell border types than Numbers does.
Numbers’ default worksheet size (on the Blank template) is small; if you want more than 13 rows or 45 columns, you need to drag a corner to make the sheet bigger. Excel, on the other hand, opens a massive work area, ready for even the largest of worksheets.
Overall, I found that Excel made the process of creating the simple worksheet easier and more enjoyable than Numbers did.