iWork

A Lawyer's Take on Macworld

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In addition to my job at Macsparky (the business card really does say "Chief Slacker"), I have another job that actually pays money as a business attorney. So every year in addition to looking for things new and geeky at Macworld Expo, I also take a look for tools useful in the practice of law. Here is this year's take:

Daylite Touch



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Marketcircle's Daylite has become the “go to” applicaiton for running your law practice. This year they had a strong presence at Macworld including numerous demonstrations, presentations from the David Allen company, and previews of their soon to be released iPhone client. It supports full synching with your Daylite database. This is excellent news for Daylite users.

Livescribe Smartpen



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Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen is coming to the Mac. This is, essentially, a computer in a pen. It records all pen strokes and then recreates the pages on your screen. It also records audio while you are taking notes and indexes it to your notes. You must use their paper (printed with the required microdots to give the computer context) but I could use this every day in my practice. This could also be a nice gift for any university students in your life.

FileMaker Pro 10



The new version 10 of FileMaker took several lessons from their consumer product, Bento. It still uses the same file format so the upgrade should be relatively painless. With features and improvements such as persistent sorting, dynamic summary reports, and editable table views, it is clear this upgrade is all about the user experience.

MacSpeech



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MacSpeech has now been with us a year and the software is showing its maturity through increased stability and additional features. Speaking with the developers I was most impressed with their sense of urgency. These guys are working hard to leverage the Dragon engine on your Mac. If you are practicing law without this tool, you are missing out. Give your fingers a break and check this one out. You can read my full review here.

OmniFocus



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The Mac software community has exploded with task management applications. I have been running my practice out of OmniFocus now for a year and a half and consider it the best tool for the job. It allows management of tasks by both project and context, allows for easy capture of new tasks from anywhere on your Mac, and includes a robust, syncing iPhone application. Furthermore, it is fully supported by a reputable Mac developer, the Omni Group. The cost for both a desktop and iPhone license is under $100 and while there are cheaper solutions, I've not seen anything better. You can read my full review here.

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Omni Booth at Macworld 2009

Microvision Projector



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One of the most notable new technologies was Microvision’s laser based projector. This tiny projector (about the size of an iPhone) easily fits in your pocket and projects at 10 lumens. Because it is laser based, it focuses at any viewing distance. It looks really sharp and you can get 2 hours of projection off the battery. The unit is expected to be available this summer in the $500 price range.

Timeline 3d



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While Timeline 3d has been out now a few months, BeeDocs' presence at Macworld should be noted. The developer continues to refine and polish this excellent timeline application that is extremely useful in presentation work. You can read my review here.

SMART Digital White Board



These digital white boards combine the benefits of your analogue whiteboard with the technology of your Mac. This could be useful both in the conference room and the courtroom.

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Who wrote that?

iWork 09



While a lot of people still refuse to look at iWork as a serious business tool, I continue to make other attorneys look bad using Keynote. It just about 10 years ahead of PowerPoint. The new improvements, particularly "Magic Move", will save me hours of fiddling. The increased mail merge hooks between Numbers and Pages will increase your ability to set up forms. I still must admit I do all of my serious writing in Scrivener (review here). Regardless, for me Keynote is worth the price of admission.

While Apple appears to keep focusing its energies toward the Mac as a consumer device, the third party developer community continues to develop excellent resources allowing you to get the edge in your practice with your Mac.

Review - iWork 08 Numbers


Numbers


There is a reason why I waited until last to do the review of Apple’s new spreadsheet program. I’ve never been very good at them. Frequently I find it useful to create little spreadsheets and graphs. My Excel sheets are generally pretty small. I’ve made more complex spreadsheets, but it usually seems more trouble than it is worth and, frankly, Excel is not always friendly to casual users.

So Apple now has a spreadsheet, Numbers, that is supposed to be “for the rest of us.” I decided to give it a try to see if it lives up to hype.

The first thing that strikes you with Numbers is the layout. All the spreadsheets I’ve used (even back to the DOS days) always had one sheet per page. That is the rule. Isn’t it? Who would think to put more than one sheet on a page and move them around willy-nilly? Well, apparently someone at Apple did. If you haven’t seen any of the screenshots on the web, Numbers allows you to make multiple sheets of various sizes and formatting and even graphic objects, text, and graphs on the same page. No longer does changing the column width for one data group muck it up for the other groups below. It is really convenient.

Not only does this make it easier to build a spreadsheet. It also makes it easier to print. You can move your elements around the page so you have them just the way you want. So many times I’ve had to fiddle with the column widths just for the sake of printing. With Numbers it is easy. Click and drag. It also previews your print so you can see exactly what you are printing.

The support for graphical objects, titles, and graphs is also very smooth. These features tie into the powerful OS X graphics features making drop shadows and other effects both familiar and good looking. Moreover, they move, resize and manipulate very easily.

The templates in Numbers are typical of Apple, clean and useful. For the lazy among us, the templates satisfy a lot of the typical uses for a spreadsheet: budgets, loans, investments and several other common uses. I can hardly wait to see what interesting templates the user community comes up with. The Numbers templates were so useful that it made me go back and look at the Excel templates to see if I was missing something. I wasn't.

In terms of data input, I found it more intuitive than Excel. It self populates and generally could figure out what I was up to. The available formulas were not as extensive as those in Excel.

I liked the drag and drop calculations that allow you to quickly put together similar calculations of different data. I also really liked the custom cell formatting that lets you work with sliders and fixed intervals. The checkbox feature was also nice for my family budget. I can include and exclude certain lines with a simple check. I tried to find similar features in Excel, but couldn't. It may be there, but simply beyond my paygrade. But that is the problem with Excel.

The only word I can use to describe the charts is "pretty". Quite often my spreadsheet charts end up in a Keynote presentation or attached to a document. A lot of time my Excel charts end up looking like a train wreck. This isn't really Microsoft's fault but my own lack of subtlety. Thankfully Numbers' default charts and colors look nice so long as I restrain myself from altering it too much. Like the formulas however, Excel has more variety in the types and formats of charts.

The Excel compatibility worked fine for me. I looked through my Excel files. Over the years I've prepared about seventy-five sheets for various work and personal projects. I loaded about twenty-five of them and they all seemed to work fine. A few times I got Apple's little on-screen warning telling me where it had some heartburn over the conversion but it never seemed to make any difference. I also exported a few Numbers sheets to Excel. They didn't look as nice, but also worked.

From reading the web I understand that the Excel compatibility isn't perfect. There are quite a few formulas in Excel that Numbers doesn't support. Also, thankfully in my opinion, Apple didn't put macro support in. I think Apple probably put a lot of thought into Steve Jobs’ comment that Numbers is a spreadsheet "for the rest of us" because that is exactly what it is. I think the real high end macro jockeys should stick with Excel. If you need macros and some of those high end formulas, Excel is the only game in town. I doubt many Excel power users will be switching to Numbers. But then again, I also doubt Apple cares.
Regardless, I've found myself doing more complex spreadsheets with numbers than I ever did with Excel. Part of this may be my infatuation with this new spin on spreadsheets but part of this is also that it is just easier. It is for this reason that I can recommend iWork for the third straight week. If you have need of any of the iWork applications, the $79 is a no-brainer.

Review - Pages 08


Pages


I was not a fan of Pages 06. I'm sure it was perfectly fine for making brochures and flyers, but unfortunately I never had much need for brochures and pamphlets so there it sat on my hard drive, unused and neglected. That being said, I wasn't particularly happy with any other of the word processors on my Mac either. I played a bit with Bean and NeoOffice but when it came down to it, I usually ended up in Microsoft Word. Word reminds me of one of those RV's you see driving down the road. The kind with bicycles tied on the back, a boat bolted to the roof, and spare luggage falling out the window. Like the old RV, Word has every possible feature bolted on and wedged into the various menus. While it has everything you could possibly need (and quite a few you will never need) it drinks system resources and is a real chore to use. Nevertheless, I, like many others, have been using Microsoft Word for more than 15 years and anything else I try will be compared to it.

So Steve Jobs announced the new Pages 08 and explained that now it is a word processor in addition to being a page layout tool. It is in this new word processing mode that I spent most of my time kicking the tires on Pages 08.

All word processors are fundamentally the same. From the days of my 8-bit Atari computer to sitting here with my fancy MacBook Pro, I still am forced to put the words together and get them onto the screen. When it comes to word processing, the devil is in details.

The details in Pages 08 are very nice indeed. There is a contextual format bar that monitors your activity and puts the applicable tools in easy reach. Whether you are typing text, working in a table, or inserting shapes and diagrams, Pages puts the related tools in the top bar.

Pages also incorporates several of the graphical tools added with iWork 08 to this Pages program. This allows for Instant alpha, customizable frames and other graphic tools. They work just as slick as in Keynote. I don’t think I’ll have a lot of need for these tools in a word processor but it is nice to know they are there.

Change tracking has also been added. This is a very important feature for my work. I often exchange documents with others where change tracking is critical. The implementation of change tracking in Pages is both easy and slick. Even more important, it has worked flawlessly with Microsoft Word. Since most of the people I am working with are using Word, this is critical.

Another new feature is automatic lists. This, of course, has been the bane of existence to all Microsoft Word users for years. Apple’s implementation of this feature is a bit more forgiving. It actually adopts your formatting instead of imposing its own. For instance if you type a number 1 and then period and two spaces, it will apply the same with the autoformatting.

The compatibility with Microsoft Word is generally good but not perfect. I put some format heavy contracts into it and made several adjustments while tracking changes. I then exported them to Word format and viewed them in Mac Word 04 and and Windows Office 2003. They looked fine and my windows colleagues were none the wiser. I also tried this with a legal pleading document and the conversion was a mess. Legal pleadings have a very specific format with lines down the left side, line numbering and a variety of other formatting requirements that don’t make a lot of sense but hey .. its the world I live in. Anyway, while the Word pleadings imported just fine into Pages, they did not export to Word properly after changes in Pages. The page formatting, font sizes, line numbering, and just about everything else were screwy and unusable without plenty of work. So for me that means I need to do pleading work in Word or just do it as a text file and send it to others for formatting.

Another issue I never quite sorted out was exporting to different versions of Word. Apple beat Microsoft to the punch with compatibility with Office 2007 but I don’t run Office 2007 so I can’t report on that issue. I tried to figure out if there is a setting to export to Office 2007 or Office 2003. Perhaps if I could sort that out it would solve the problem of exporting pleadings properly but after spending an hour trying to figure it out on the internet, I’m officially kerfluffled on that issue. In short, if you need to work with Word files and use complicated formatting make sure to give it a test run before you commit.

Pages 08 runs much cleaner than Microsoft Word in OS X. It loads quickly and happily exists far down in my activity monitor. As I typed this review in Pages, it ranged between one and ten percent of the total system resources. When I clicked out of Pages it pleasingly dropped to zero percent.

The included templates are very well designed and cover just about any need. It is telling of just how much of a stranglehold Microsoft has on the word processor market that my biggest problems with Pages are not its own feature set but its ability to play nicely with Word. Separating that issue, running Pages is easier and less intrusive than Word. It allows me to think less about the program and more about the words on the screen. While the feature set is more limited, it has everything I need. While Word still remains on my hard drive, I’m quite pleased to leave the Winnebago in the garage.

You can listen to this review on Surfbits MacReviewCast Episode #122.

Review - Keynote ‘08


Keynote


Presentations and word processing are my bread and butter. That is, I earn my living writing and presenting. I have been writing Power Point presentations for years. I'm actually very good at them and occasionally freelance for my geek challenged colleagues. It is with those years of experience in mind that I was initially skeptical about using Apple's presentation software, Keynote. That was, at least, until the first time I saw a Keynote presentation.

I think Keynote (even before this recent update) is superior to PowerPoint in both ease of use and final product. With the release of Keynote '08, the gap has just grown larger. For the purpose of this review, I'm going to skip over a lot of the features that already existed in Keynote and focus on the new additions. If you are not familiar with Keynote, even before the upgrade it was full of stellar templates, transitions, and text effects that made producing convincing presentations a breeze. Indeed there are even more new transitions and effects but that is just the start of some fantastic changes and additional features.

With the new point to point animation you can tell an object where to go on the screen and how to get there. For example, if you have a map of the forest and want to show exactly how the wolf went to the three little pigs homes, you can plot the motion paths with a one click procedure for each stop and Keynote does the rest. With each click during your presentation the wolf will move across the screen at the speed, acceleration, and motion path that you set. The way I used to accomplish this was a very convoluted procedure involving Final Cut's Motion program and a lot of praying. Now its a breeze.

Another new feature is one I didn't even realize I needed but now I couldn't live without. Its called "Instant Alpha". It allows me to incorporate picture, pdfs, and other objects and remove the background. I've talked about how much I like using OmniGraffle but what I've never posted on is the frustration of making a beautiful diagram in OmniGraffle and then having to look at that ugly white background when I import it into Keynote. I guess I could have removed the background all along in Photoshop Elements, but to be honest I never really thought of it. Regardless, with the new Keynote, you just tap the "Instant Alpha" button and then put the mouse inside the color you want to remove. You click and drag and it removes the background on screen for you. When you get it just right, you hit the enter key and its done. It is really easy and extremely useful.

Inevitably, every slideshow I prepare has a run of pictures. A lot of my work involves construction projects and buildings and pictures are essential for demonstrating particular issues. The new keynote has an excellent feature called "Smart Build" that lets you put an entire series of pictures into one slide and easily pick a transition that is flashy or subtle.

Keynote will also now insert a frame around a picture or text box. This is really nice for setting a picture or highlighting text I pull out of a document image. In powerpoint this took two separate images and it was an absolute pain. No more “send to back”. No more resizing and moving multiple objects. Just one clicky. Thanks Apple.

Navigating and sorting also got easier with adjustable sizes and new views. Formatting and auto-correcting also got a lot easier with new tools to make production of your keynote faster and more efficient.

Apple also improved the movie import and export function. You can now key a quicktime movie on a mouse click instead of it starting automatically on the slide transition. It also allows you to export your presentation to Quicktime. This export is not, however, just a static movie but you can actually set it to advance on clicks just as if you are viewing it in Keynote. Are you getting this? That means you can take your Keynote and play it on any machine that has Quicktime. Even a beige box that has requires Norton and is covered with stickers that say “Intel inside”. This feature will be extremely useful to me when I have to give a presentation using somebody else’s windows rig. It will also leave them all wondering, “How did he do that?” And that is a wonderful thing.

So in case you haven’t figured it out I’m giving the new Keynote two big thumbs up. You can purchase it as part of the iWork suite for just $79 or $99 for the family pack. Next week I’ll be following up this review with my look at Pages ’08.

You can listen to this review on the Surfbits MacReview Cast Episode 121.

Pages 08 and Microsoft Word


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Well yesterday I picked up iWork 08 and I haven't had a whole lot of time to check it out yet but I do plan on reviewing several (if not all) of the applications in the coming month. Regardless, this morning I needed to prepare a legal pleading for work and I thought it was the perfect time to check out just how well Pages 08 plays with MS Office. I took a word document with a legal pleading paper embed and imported it into Pages. For those non-lawyer types that means the document has a ton of formatting including lines down the left side, line numbers and a variety of other unique formatting that doesn't make much sense but the courts require. Anyway, it looked perfect in pages. Not only did it look just like it did on my windows box, it even recognized the tracked changes.

At this point I am fantasizing about not using that slug Mac Office anymore and already looking for other word processors to delete off my drive (Sorry Bean). Well I got it all done and then clicked "Export" to "Word". I snapped it onto a thumb drive and loaded it into my PC Office 2003 program. That is where the trouble started.

It did recognize the format, more or less, but the font and line spacing was inconsistent, the font size shrunk from 12 to 8 points throughout and the numbering down the left side of the page was all jinky. Put simply, it was a mess. I don't have time to sort out if this was operator error or just the way it works on complex documents. I've got to fix this mess on my screen now. Regardless, I thought I'd drop a quick line in from the trenches on this issue.

Mac Hardware and Software Updates


New iMac


Although I generally don't consider MacSparky a "news" site, there is some great live coverage of the Mac event today at Engadget right here. At the time of this posting, Steve has released the new iMacs, iLife 08, and iWork 08 and a bump of .Mac drive space (I think) to 10 gb. The software updates look fantastic and will be finding their way on to my hard drive soon.