Numbers '09 Review

Numbers ’09, the spreadsheet component of Apple's iWork ’09 application suite, is the second major release of Numbers since its debut in iWork ’08. While the initial version of Numbers worked well for small projects and included some beautiful templates, I found it lacking in a few areas. Exports to Excel's file format lost formatting; there was no support for pivot tables, Excel macros, or AppleScript; scientific graphing options were limited; and large files could really slow the program down.

So how well does Numbers ’09 address these issues, and what new features does it bring to the table? And, is it now a full-fledged Excel replacement—or does that even matter? In short, Numbers ’09 is a solid improvement over its predecessor, addressing many of the outstanding issues while adding usable new features. Can it replace Excel? That depends on how you’re using Excel, but for many users, Numbers ’09 is probably now a viable alternative to Microsoft's program.

New templates>

Numbers ’09 includes 12 new templates, most of them in the new Personal Finance category. These include financial templates, a home inventory tracker, and templates to help you save money for your kids' education and your retirement.

I found the new templates to be well designed and easy to use; yellow notes on certain complex templates explain exactly how to use them. Apple’s templates are also a good way to learn many of Numbers' unique capabilities—just take a look at the cell formulas to see how certain cells work.

New functions
Numbers ’09 features over 90 new functions, bringing the total function count to over 250. Technical types will love the new Engineering category, with over 20 engineering- and computer-related functions. A new Duration category lets you convert textual durations, such as 3w 1d 5h into actual time units (543 hours, using the DUR2HOURS function, for example).

Existing categories also gain new functions. NETWORKDAYS, for instance, shows the number of work days between two dates. Mathematical users will find MULTINOMIAL and FACTDOUBLE (and more) in the Numeric section.

But the most notable changes are in the Statistical category, with over 30 new functions, including AVERAGEIF, CHITEST, and many more. A new Function Browser offers greatly expanded help on every function. Where Numbers ’08 provided one line of text for a given function, Numbers ’09 not only offers longer explanations, but also adds sections that describe each variable in the function, usage notes, examples, and links to related topics. If that’s not enough help, there’s an extensive, detailed manual just for formulas and functions that you can access through the Help menu.

Adding functions to a table has gotten easier. As before, an Insert Function button places the formula on your table, complete with placeholders for the variables. In Numbers ’08, these placeholders were text, which had to be removed when inserting values. In Numbers ’09, the placeholders are clickable buttons. To enter a value, click on a placeholder, then click in the table or type in a value. (If you forget the function of a placeholder, hover your mouse over it to view an explanatory floating tooltip.)

When you click or type, the placeholder is replaced by a cell reference or your new content. This change makes entering formulas much faster than it was in Numbers ’08. A new Formula List feature displays every formula in your project, and shows you the cells used in each formula. You can print this view, which helps with both spreadsheet auditing (as you can see exactly which formulas reference which cells) and will aid students turning in assignments (as many classes require formulas to be visible). Unlike its predecessor, Numbers ’09 supports keyboard entry of formulas. Hold down the Option key before pressing one of the arrow keys while entering a formula and the selection will change as you press the arrow keys. Release the Option key to enter the selected cell reference in the formula.

The iWork 09 suite reviewed

For other products in the iWork 09 range click one of these links:
Macworld's iWork 09: Pages review.
Macworld's iWork 09: Numbers review.

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