iWork ’09: The Missing Manual

iwork09Earlier this month, O’Reilly Media published its latest title in the “Missing Manuals” series, Josh Clark’s “iWork ’09: The Missing Manual.” It throws a spotlight on Apple’s office suite, with how-to guides for the Pages word processor, the Numbers spreadsheet and the Keynote presentation app.

Even as a devoted Apple user, no matter how much I want to, I can’t quite make the psychological break from Microsoft Office (s msft). I’ve nothing against the software giant’s office suite — even the 2008 Mac edition I use is a great collection of software, although it is perhaps a little over-featured,  lacking the intuitive web collaboration of Google Docs (s goog) and not quite as elegantly Mac-native as I’d like.

Apple’s iWork ’09 (s aapl) fares no better on web collaboration than Microsoft’s offering, but it’s certainly more Mac-native and tantalizingly low-priced, though it’s not as full-featured and lacks tutorials for new users switching from Office.

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iWork.com: Apple Takes a Bite of the Cloud

Copying to iWork.comWith no Stevenote at this year’s Macworld, the world not only awaited Apple’s 2009 lineup with bated breath, but also the company’s inaugural Schillergram. Sadly, Apple’s announcements were widely accepted as being underwhelming, lacking the razzle-dazzle of previous Macworld keynotes; no iPods, Mac minis or iPhones, but a slew of application updates and the death of DRM for music (yay!)

Om provided a great overview and perhaps the most pertinent release for web workers was the beta launch of iWork.com, Apple’s foray into web-based office productivity applications.

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Microsoft Office Is Coming To the Cloud

Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will have a new home in the cloud, the company announced at the Microsoft Developers Conference in Los Angeles this morning, adding the Office suite to the cadre of software and services it has said it will provide as it develops its Windows Azure cloud-based platform. The browser-based versions of the apps will run on Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, as well as on Windows Mobile devices. It will go into a tech preview for developers later this year, the company said.
Given that Microsoft (s MSFT) isn’t talking about when the suite might be released, why the announcement today? The company says it’s because the Office apps are part of its larger shift to the cloud announced with Azure. But it’s also coming relatively late to the game and has let efforts in the productivity space by others go by unchallenged.
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ClickFree: simply plug it in and back up your PC

Clickfree_thumbCan’t say I’ve used a ClickFree external backup solution myself, but Dwight Silverman gave it a go over the weekend. It appears to be as easy as possible: simply connect the external USB drive and it backs up the most common data files. No muss, no fuss as there’s clearly software included on the drive to handle the process. You can certainly specify file types if you find that some of your data files aren’t considered “common” to the ClickFree and you can use it to back up multiple PCs.Obviously, you’ll have to remember to actually plug the device in as that’s the only time a backup actually occurs. And yes, there are plenty of other backup options out there, both physical as well as through web services. You can also create a similar experience with any external drive and appropriate software. Still, I got the impression from Dwight’s experience that ClickFree offers a simple and portable solution that’s worth a look, especially for mainstream computer users. The 120 GB model he reviewed goes for around $150 and requires no external power supply, making it good for those on the run.

Microsoft Patches Office, Commits to VBA Support

Microsoft has been busy today, releasing security updates, announcing a new service pack and committing to restoring functionality to their Mac office suite.

Yep, It’s Patch Tuesday Again

Microsoft released security bulletin MS08-014 today that contains a patch to a remote code execution vulnerability effecting Microsoft Office 2004 & 2008 for Macintosh. Office 2004 is bumped up to version 11.4.1 and primarily contains security & stability fixes. Office 2008 bumps up to version 12.1.0 and includes security fixes along with a plethora of other improvements. Both updates are available via Office software update or via direct download from the aforementioned links.

Get Your Red Hot Office 2008 SP1!

Microsoft MacBU announced the availability of Office 2008 SP1 today in conjunction with the security patch. The 180MB download contains over 1,000 fixes including – what apparently was a major annoyance – the return of custom error bars and axis tick manipulation in Excel charts.

The full release notes are available for your perusal. Here are some other SP1 highlights:

Microsoft Office Excel

  • Compatibility. Improved compatibility with files exchanged between Excel 2008 for Mac and Excel 2003 and Excel 2007 for Windows
  • Custom Error Bars. Restored formatting option on the Error Bars panel for data series
  • Printing. More reliable printing for elements on Excel 2008 workbooks

Microsoft Entourage

  • Calendar. Significant enhancements to improve calendar view and all-day reminders with reoccurrence
  • Exchange Server support. Overall improvement to synchronization support, including removing attachments from Exchange Server messages and synchronizing to the server, as well as support for editing the contents of Exchange Server messages via AppleScript and synchronizing the changes to the server
  • E-mail images. Ability to send and view images in Entourage from third-party tools

Microsoft Office Word

  • Printing. Improved accuracy when orienting tables with cell shading
  • Document map. Improved reliability and responsiveness to select items
  • Notebook layout. Updated formatting, recording status and a variety of display options

Microsoft Office PowerPoint

  • Printing. Improvements to eliminate crashing when printing documents to high-dpi printers and increased overall printing speed by 10 times on some large presentations
  • Mobile viewing. Ability to view Mac .PPTX files on Windows Mobile phones
  • AppleScript. Ability to use the PowerPoint selection object in AppleScript to implement custom scripts that operate on the current selection in PowerPoint

Restoring Functionality (& Vulnerabilities)

Microsoft’s MacBU also announced (official press release) the return of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) support to the next major release of Office for Mac. This is a mixed bag since VBA macros are a juicy vector for vulnerabilities but that same functionality is critical to many business processes that have been developed using the suite.

From the announcement:

Sharing information with customers as early as possible continues to be a priority for the Mac BU to allow customers to plan for their software needs.2 Although the Mac BU increased support in Office 2008 with alternate scripting tools such as Automator and AppleScript — and also worked with MacTech Magazine to create a reference guide, available at http://www.mactech.com/vba-transition-guide — the team recognizes that VBA-language support is important to a select group of customers who rely on sharing macros across platforms. The Mac BU is always working to meet customers’ needs and already is hard at work on the next version of Office for Mac.

When you install the security update or try out SP1, drop a note in the comments with your experiences and definitely let us and the MacBU know if they didn’t fix any of the issues you were having pre-SP1. Also, if you have any thoughts on the revival of VBA for Mac Office make sure to let us know in the comments as well.

(post updated to fix version errors & links)

Computers Just Keep Sucking More Power

I’ve been out of touch for a while now, and for past few days, I have been in catch-up mode. Last week, I caught up with Ted Schlein, general partner with the Sand Hill Road VC firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. We discussed, among other things, his various investments, many of which are in the IT security and software industries.

The startup he’s invested in that caught my attention was Seattle-based Verdiem, which has developed technology to better manage the power consumed by personal computers installed in corporations – big and small. (Thanks to some constant needling by the Earth2Tech editorial team, I’ve started paying attention to the whole energy consumption and efficiency aspect of computing.) Read More about Computers Just Keep Sucking More Power

Zoho Writer Lets You Edit Documents Offline

Zoho Writer logoToday web-based word processor Zoho Writer moves further into Microsoft Word’s territory with the announcement of offline editing capabilities. Zoho enabled offline read-only review of documents in August.
With features like this, Zoho’s office apps might someday entirely replace Microsoft Office in the toolbox of many web workers. But other online word processors take what looks like a complementary approach. For example, recently-announced Live Documents integrates web-based editing and collaboration with Microsoft Office using an “embrace and extend” strategy. And Google Docs, at least for now, serves mainly for real-time collaborative editing of lightweight online documents.
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Horror, the Next Big Web Video Genre?

Oh, the horror. Hollywood, having just begun to grudgingly accept online video dramas like Prom Queen, is now facing an influx of slasher flicks and gorefest vids on the computer screen.

fearnet.jpgI’m not sure why anyone would want to watch horror videos on their computer — it’s hard to snuggle in this Aeron, I’ve tried — but Hollywood and a few vidshare sites are intrigued. Below, four new horror films coming to a desktop near you.

Devil’s Trade — Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, best known to horror fans as the director of the Evil Dead series, is the executive producer of FEARNet’s Devil’s Trade, a series of seven short episodes that follow three teenagers who are cursed after buying an item online. The first episode debuted Thursday, and the miniseries is Raimi’s first work following Spider-Man 3. FEARNet is a Comcast property.

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Fixed Wireless: Like Viagra for DSL

I argued about Fixed Wireless as backhaul business yesterday and also had pointed to BellSouth buying fixed wireless spectrum from MCI for about $65 million. Today Glenn provides proof.

bq. BellSouth is starting a new trial of broadband wireless in Palatka, Florida: The company is still leveraging its expensive wire base, but it’s conducted ongoing tests of broadband fixed wireless as a way to reach customers beyond the range of DSL. via 802.11b Networking News