When you try to find an alternative to Numbers 3 you discover that it
is a remarkably effective program, and difficult to replace with an
equivalent. The new, iOS-compatible, version of Numbers has removed so
many facilities (though at least the latest update has restored
Applescript) that you may well feel
it's advisable to look for an alternative: of course for the present
version 3 continues to work, but it may be as well to plan for the
To move a database from Numbers to another program you need to export
it as Excel. Other programs can then open the file and data (though
some formatting may be lost): all the programs but one that I discuss
below will preserve the functions (except for one or two minor ones
which are not included).
Compared to the situation with word processors, there is a surprising
dearth of spreadsheet applications for Macs, and none of them is
competely satisfactory. (Prices quoted below may have sales tax added
Excel is of course the industry standard, and if you require
compatibility with others (for example in a coporate environment) or
its very advanced capabilities, the you are probably using it already
anyway. It's only available as part of the Microsoft Office
suite, which is very expensive; its advanced capabilities mean that
complex to use. All this makes it a poor choice if you are using
spreadsheets in a less complicated way. It saves in its own format,
which is unlikely to become obsolete in the forseeable future.
This program has now been withdrawn by Mariner and repaced with an iOS
and includes a spreadsheet module. It will open exported Excel files
including the calculations (again barring a couple of unsupported minor
functions such as WEEKNUM) and has a good range of facilities,
including drawing and object insertion capabilities, though its use of
headers is very limited. It's more fully featured than the other
programs mentioned here (excepting MS Office) and could make a good
replacement for Numbers though lacking its smoothness and layout
capablities. However it's not AppleScriptable, and stability may be an
issue: I found a consistent
conflict with QuicKeys which caused frequent crashes, and even without
QuicKeys running got the odd crash: other people have reported better
success in this regard and on Mavericks it seems to be stable, so far.
If it's stable for you it's a good choice. It
will run on OSX 10.4 (Tiger) and above and requires Java.
There are two spin-offs, NeoOffice
- the latter is free and the former asks for a donation of $10 - which
are broadly similar: personally I prefer OpenOffice but the differences
aren't huge. A similar office suite is available from ThinkFree
, which despite its name costs $49.95.
($34) is deliberately designed as a simple spreadsheet, with limited
facilities for those who don't want the clutter of a complex program.
It will open exported Excel documents, and has a reasonable range of
functions, though fewer than other programs. It does not handle
headers, or complicated formatting, and is not AppleScriptable. It
updated for many years - in this case since 2006 - but does at least
look reasonably modern. On the plus side it has well written
and comprehensive documentation which with study will enable access to
a few facilities which are not immediately obvious. If all you want is
a very simple spreadsheet it's a good choice (and less
cluttered-looking than Open Office) but it does rather look as if the
authors have lost interest in it (indeed though the page linked to
above still provides a download, it's not linked to from the site's
Home Page, which is a bit ominous). It
runs on on OSX 10.4 (Tiger) or later.
Like Mesa, Tables
(about $20 plus tax depending on the exchange rate) is designed to provide a
uncluttered application. It has a slightly wider range of facilities,
including rather limited AppleScriptability,
and includes everything you need other than for quite advanced usage.
On the whole I prefer it to Mesa, though there isn't a great deal in
it, one of the advantages being the availability of a text header. One
downside is the documentation, which is frankly inadequate. It's made
by a one-man company in Germany: Daniel Schwill is a freelance software
engineer. He does seem to keep this program reasonably up to date; with
one-man authorship there is always the risk that the author will cease
to support the program for personal reasons at some time in the future
(though, for example, Thorsten Lemke has been keeping GraphicConverter
up to date for more years than I care to think about); of course that
doesn't mean that the program will cease to work immediately, but that
if a future system upgrade breaks it it wouldn't be updated. As we have
seen, this risk is not absent with large companies either. For general
purpose use Tables is probably the best option. It runs on OSX 10.4
(Tiger) and above.
Mesa and Tables provide free trials; MS Office
provides a trial only of the subscription version. Tables may be
installed on one Desktop and one Laptop Mac on a single licence;
Mesa does not appear to state licence terms. Microsoft
Office may only be installed for one user on one computer per single
licence (multiple installs only on the subscription version).
All these programs save in their own file formats, which with the
exception of Excel cannot be opened by other spreadsheet applications;
all except Mesa can 'Export' or 'Save As' in Excel format so it would
be an obvious safety measure to keep a backup in Excel format of your
spreadsheets: this format is about as future proof as you can hope to
This article has examined the options available for word processing and
spreadsheets if you wish to transfer your data away from iWork.
(OpenOffice also has a presentation module, but I don't know whether it
will open Keynote documents: very likely not.)
It's worth maintaining a sense of proportion: there is no immediate
panic. People who have upgraded to the currently crippled version of
iWork still have the previous versions available in Applications/iWork
and can continue to maintain their documents in them for the moment.
What we don't know is whether a future upgrade will break this, but
it's not likely to happen in Mavericks; and it has been reported that
iWork '09 works in Yosemite (though iWork '08 does not work in either).
The timing and compatibility of
the next version of OSX is an unknown quantity, and when it does arrive
anyone using the older iWork would be very well advised not to rush
into updating. (One danger is that it will abandon 32-bit processing,
but as this would break a number of programs it may not be likely as
yet.) Make sure from reports in the various websites, particularly RoaringApps
that the older iWork will still run in any new system.
If you do want to move away from iWork we've seen that there are good
alternatives for word processing and rather less satisfactory but still
practicable options for spreadsheets. Either way there is a good deal
to be said for maintaining backups in RTF or Word for word processing
and Excel for spreadsheets as a form of future-proofing.