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Study Recommends Gnumeric Over MS Excel 86

Posted by timothy
from the me-too dept.
Jody Goldberg writes "A recent study of analytic quality, and responsiveness to problems strongly preferred Gnumeric in place of MS Excel. With new problems popping up in Office XP the case for spreadsheet users to migrate is only getting stronger. In some related Gnumeric quickies, a new stable version 1.2.6 was released, and Open has done an interview with the Maintainer."
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Study Recommends Gnumeric Over MS Excel

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  • Gnumeric 0wns (Score:4, Interesting)

    by albalbo (33890) on Monday February 23, 2004 @08:59AM (#8361306) Homepage

    In a recent interview [open-mag.com], Jody said a W32 port was the priority. I think that could actually start pushing it over the top and make some real headway, I can see why it would be a priority.

  • Gnumeric is great! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SkeptiNerd75 (85087)
    The most recent release of Gnumeric is amazing. The only downside is that I often have trouble deciding between OOcalc or Gnumeric, and often flip back and forth depending on my mood. Both are worthy competitors for Excel.
  • by wowbagger (69688) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:08AM (#8361345) Homepage Journal
    I love that one of the "failings" of Gnumeric was that the random number generator function RND was *too* random - Gnumeric uses the /dev/urandom device that generates random numbers from noise sources in the system (noise diodes, interrupt events, user input, etc.) rather than using a psuedo-random number generator with a predictable sequence.

    True, there are times it is nice to have a "random" number generator that you can re-run for testing, but having a really random number generator is better for a host of problems.
    • Err... (Score:4, Informative)

      by 0x0d0a (568518) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:19AM (#8361695) Journal
      /dev/urandom is not /dev/random. When the entropy pool is exhausted (which will happen extremely quickly if producing a large set of random numbers for statistical work), instead of blocking it will use a hash algorithm. /dev/urandom varies unpredictably between being unpredictable and being very unpredictable.

      On the other hand, when doing a study, frequently you *do* want to be able to use the same seed to produce exactly the same results. This is a legitimate failing in gnumeric. Not all random numbers are created equal. :-)

      For what it's worth, I did (simple) analysis of a large set of random number generators for a high school science fair project. The Microsoft RNG (which has been used ever since at least early QBASIC days) is pretty decent, at least from a uniformity standpoint.
      • Re:Err... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hadean (32319) <hadean.dragon+slashdot@gmai l . com> on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:57AM (#8361991)
        I'm honestly curious, what kind of study would require you to use pseudo-random numbers? Shouldn't any valid study require truly random numbers to be proven accurate?
        • Re:Err... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by haystor (102186)
          Basically while you're working on it, not when you're working with it. You'd be interested in using a set of known "randoms" so that you can test that same set for accuracy against something else.

          Of course, this kind of complaint seems fairly weak to me, since you have a whole spreadsheet at your fingertips. You could just capture a whole lot of the numbers onto one sheet and use those over and over as input instead.
        • Re:Err... (Score:2, Interesting)

          by 0x0d0a (568518)
          Okay, "frequently" may be overkill. :-) I was trying to drive home the point that it's not unreasonable.

          Say you want to do up a spreadsheet containing some tables that contain data based on random data. You *could* either include fifteen megs or whatever of random numbers, or you could just include a random number function with a seed if your spreadsheet uses a standard RNG. As long as the variability with different seeds isn't significant for your work, you shouldn't have a problem. However, you *may*
          • I think poster was confused about the term "pseudo-random" (as opposed to genuinely random).
            • No, I understand the difference, one being random numbers generated from a set seed, which would therefore be the same everytime you run the test, while the other type ("real") would literally be random, and so you can never know what you'll get.

              Thanks to the replies, though, I can understand why having a known set of "random" numbers could be useful.. It's just nothing I would have ever used, so never even thought of. Maybe I was just more thrown off by the word "study"...
        • Like Douglas Adams said ... Bistromathics ... the only way to process "awful" numbers :)
        • Re:Err... (Score:3, Informative)

          by Hasie (316698)
          I once had to compare two genetic algorithm implementations, and genetic algorithms use LOTS of random numbers. The algorithms were supposed to produce the same results, but the one was faster than the other. To ensure they really gave identical results I used the same sequence of "random" numbers in both algorithms by using a fixed seed to the random number generator.
        • No, often you just need numbers that meet statistical criteria of randomness (e.g. bias, spectral characteristics, etc). They don't even necessarily need to be unpredictable.

          Cryptographic random numbers set the bar somewhat higher, in that they need to unpredictable too. It would be fatal for many applications if an attacker could guess the next few pseudorandom number given a little history.

          E.g. a LCG is very predictable, but may be statistically random-looking enough for many applications.

          To use *reall
  • Jumping the Gun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peorth (719504) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:09AM (#8361347)
    It seems as if they're moving way too prematurely on this. In the article it said they posted to a Microsoft newsgroup and didn't receive a reply, and that this means that Microsoft will never fix the bug. Obviously there -may- be some tech support people roaming the newsgroups, but it would've made much more sense to simply contact Microsoft's technical support department and talked with someone directly about this error.
    This is similar to having your car found defective, and then placing a flyer downtown to ask the company to contact you about options instead of picking up the phone and dialing the correct number.
    I'm not a fan of Microsoftian ideals, but wouldn't that have made more sense before going all this way?
    • by jalet (36114) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:11AM (#8361358) Homepage
      Did you ever try to get a knowledgeable MS technician over the phone ?

      I think not.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:00AM (#8361587)

        I've e-mailed a well-informed and helpful Microsoft developer, whom I first encountered on this very forum, on several occasions. I'm told a number of bug reports have been filed against the application in question as a result of my e-mails, and some of the things I've mentioned to him have certainly been fixed in a later version of the product.

        Some people at Microsoft do listen, you just have to make a bit of an effort to find them. Curiously, a comment from the developer in question was that the dev teams love direct contact with customers prepared to give them helpful information about bugs or feature requests, they just wish the PR people would stop getting in the way. :-)

        • You may be right. My last (of many unsuccessful) experience with them was in 1996, so it's possible it's better now. What is sure is that I won't call them to verify, this is not needed anymore.
        • by Spoing (152917) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:51PM (#8362978) Homepage
          1. Some people at Microsoft do listen, you just have to make a bit of an effort to find them. Curiously, a comment from the developer in question was that the dev teams love direct contact with customers prepared to give them helpful information about bugs or feature requests, they just wish the PR people would stop getting in the way. :-)

          ...a perfect example between the difference in OSS and closed source.

          I've worked both sides of the fence, and realize the differences. There are base motivations that drive each to do things differently. Still, I was stunned when I asked Theodore Tso a question in email a few years back, and he not only responded quickly but even sent a patch for me to try out!

        • Fixed in later versions means the customer had to buy a new version to get the bug fixes. That isn't support that is sales.
          • Fixed in later versions means the customer had to buy a new version to get the bug fixes.

            Not necessarily. You don't pay for MS service packs, you have to pay little or nothing for new versions of several MS products, and those who've bought a support contract from Microsoft get a lot of the serious stuff for no further charges, too. I don't agree with a lot of MS practices, but your comment is simply wrong.

    • Bear in mind, this is Woody's Office Watch, not some pseudo-random bunch of reviewers. I've been subscribed to WOW for 6 years now, Woody Leonhard's a M'oft 'MVP', has written a slew of Office and Windows related books with M'oft endorsement, and the history of WOW raising serious problems in Office apps and seeing M'oft sit on its hands and do nothing is all too long. The Office 97 Excel Recalculation Bug went something like nine months and a whole Service Pack before M'oft issued and withdrew a flawed p
  • I use excel all day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HMA2000 (728266) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:11AM (#8361362)
    I use excel at work all day and I have to say that no Open source solution comes close to providing what I expect a spreadsheet to do.

    The idea that one should switch from excel to an open source solution because of a small set of statistics problems cannot be properly solved by excel seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. (unless you do nothing but statistical modelling all day)
    • by perrinkog (536087)
      I'm in the same boat.

      None of the open source alternatives can do what I need - VBA. That alone shoots down anything non MS (afaik).
      • by Y Ddraig Goch (596795) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:34AM (#8361463)
        If you are using VBA in your spread sheet you need to move to a better solution - a dbms and a decent programming language. You are doing the equivilant of using a table knife for a screwdriver. I've used spread sheets in the fashion that you state. I've also written dll's to be called by said spreadsheet. It's MUCH faster (performance wise) to use a programming language (Delphi, Kylix, C/C++) and a dbms to achieve your results. The learning curve of programming is a language is a little steeper but the payoffs are well worth the effort.
        • by Spoing (152917) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:50AM (#8361537) Homepage
          I like your analogy, though most spreadsheet users can't program in VBA let alone more serious languages. Moving to a dedicated development environment is too scary for most of the VBA users.

          If you do heavy VBA, though, switching to a better tool is a wise choice.

        • by blenderking (324269) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:51AM (#8361948) Homepage
          That sounds great, but I live in a world of a locked down PC controlled by my IT division. I'm a power user in Excel, using pivot tables, mild VBA, mostly for automation between linked files, and in general using the 80% of the features most people don't use at all.

          True - VBA shouldn't be used for extremely complex items, but for my use, and other power uses - it's tremendous in it's automation abilities.
          • ...I live in a world of a locked down PC controlled by my IT division.

            You and I need to talk. I posted an Ask Slashdot about what steps people in our position have tried and what successes they've had in getting policies relaxed for legitimate "power-user" needs.

            It was Rejected of course. But anyway, I was going to post the same comment - I have to use VBA because I have no other options. Although I do all my VBA in Access (forms are way better with VBA and a control table to handle DAO lookups!).

            I'v

            • I've been thinking that business areas could make use of a person that would be the equivalent of a "tools developer". There seems to be a gap between what can (or should) be done with excel/access and what requires a full blown development team.

              As far as the post saying anything that uses VBA should instead being using a dbms and real language, I can only laugh. The subject matter experts need the freedom to work and do their job, which is to be experts.

              Now if one of those spreadsheets grows to the poi
        • Ah, bollocks (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Insightful my arse. Spoken like someone who has never used Excel.

          Do you know what Excel is for? It's for secretaries to knock up pie graphs for the boss to bore the rest of the staff to tears with, and keep track of the office 'dead poool' comp.

          The whiners fall into a few categories.

          'Wah, won't hold enough data' - Store the data somewhere else then. Go use SPSS or Access, Oracle etc. Excel will handle OPAL cubes.

          'Wah, Excel is M$' - Fuck off and use Gnumeric then.

          'Wah, Excel doesn't have some bloody o
        • by kannibal_klown (531544) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:42PM (#8362897)
          "If you are using VBA in your spread sheet you need to move to a better solution - a dbms and a decent programming language. You are doing the equivilant of using a table knife for a screwdriver."

          However, you're suggesting we use a bulldozer when a shovel will work just fine.

          I work for a Pharmaceutical company as a software developer. Our scientists use Excel spreadsheets as reports; they enter in some raw data (or it's streamed in from an external program) and a combination of VBA and Excel formulas do the rest. These spreadhseets summarize data, predict flows, highlite trouble data, etc.

          THEN, in some cases (at least those that are needed), we have the ability to export the data stored in the Excel spreadsheets into Oracle tables.

          The spreadsheet acts as an intermediary for the scientists. It gives them something visual. They can modify things themselves, look at graphs for select data, etc. In some cases, they've even written their own VBA code to perform certain tasks. It's a horrible language, but simple enough for someone to pick up.

          Try writing software to allow them to do all of this, and to work with about 150 different macros that were written in the past. A biologist is not going to try to learn C++ or Java, because it's too time consuming and overkill for what they need. And any application, as simple as you make it, will not be as customizable and visual as Excel. You'd be robbing them of that important aspect.

          Sure, VBA is a pain in the ass; I wish it would go away forever. But it's made its niche; it allows the non-computer-savvy to do complex things. Anything better would be overkill and would reduce functionality.
          • As I stated earlier I'VE USED SPREADSHEETS IN THAT MANNER. I wrote several dll's for Quatro Pro back in 1995 (Excel was a POS at that time), used dbIII and alot of macro programming to get my job done. BTW it took 45 min. for the spreadsheet to recalculate on a 386DX33 with a math co. All of this in a process that ran once a month. It would have been much better if I could have used the proper tools. I understand that management ties the hands of the users and insists on using the tools that THEY provi
        • Responses in line :) Before reading, please not the tone of this response: Amused but not angry/flamethrowing.

          "If you are using VBA in your spread sheet you need to move to a better solution - a dbms and a decent programming language."

          I'm not in an IT department. I just make my life (and my co-workers lives) easier with some code here and there.

          "You are doing the equivilant of using a table knife for a screwdriver."

          I'll use the same metaphor. In a lot of cases I'm using 30 lines of code to copy files, m
      • by Trelane (16124)
        FWIW, StarOffice/OpenOffice has StarBASIC, which is very similar to VBA.

        Gnumeric is scriptable with Python.
    • by KeyserDK (301544)
      Have you actually tried gnumeric 1.2.x?

      Other than VBA stuff i don't think there is anything excel does that gnumeric can't.
    • by nempo (325296)
      May I ask when the last time that you used an open source alternative was ?
  • A leiomyosarcoma is a rare malignant tumor consisting of smooth muscle cells and small cell sarcoma tumor.
    ref [nih.gov]

    A less than flattering release name.
    Thought it might have meant "cancer of my flower necklace" or something.
    What of the programmability? The killer feature of MS Office isn't the applications themselves, but VBA.
  • by bruthasj (175228) <bruthasj.yahoo@com> on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:42AM (#8361495) Homepage Journal
    Someone had to pay for this [slashdot.org] little Gnumeric study! Get out the torches ... oh, wait.
  • by biodork (25036) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:43AM (#8361501)
    The reason people won't switch away from MS Excel has nothing to do with technical specs and everything to do with the very large number of Macro's and templates already written. There is an awful huge installed base for whom Excel works fine, and they don't see the problem. Most of the financial services sector for example. From there point of view, it's not broke Why fix it?

    If TODAY everything was equal, there would still be a 10 year lag until a change happened, as that is the roll out time, and the time to convince people they 'want' to change. It better have some kick butt feature that they don't have in Excel, or they are going to resist change. That is just the way people are
    • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:05AM (#8361611)

      If I weren't posting on this thread, I'd mod that up as Insightful.

      Advocates of new software, particularly OSS, often seem to forget that market share counts for a huge amount. Some studies we looked at back when I was in academia suggested that you need the "10x factor" to force a switch from an established product: your alternative must provide 10x the perceived benefits, or be 1/10 the price. That's a very big barrier to entry, and having a product that's only just become a challenger on technical merit and reliability is nowhere near it. (It's a good start, though!)

      • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:12AM (#8361659) Journal
        Keep in mind that inertia works both ways. Yes, there's a lot of folks that don't want to move. However, it's equally difficult (possibly worse) for Microsoft to regain any customers that do move. Also, actual movement tends to lag decision-making for a while, so visible market share lags actual inertia by some amount.

        Finally, keep in mind that even upgrading from one version of Excel to another can break compatibility. The office world has very strong backwards-compatibility requirements. Gnumeric may not fill those requirements, but we also know that Excel doesn't do so.
      • "you need the "10x factor" to force a switch from an established product: your alternative must provide 10x the perceived benefits, or be 1/10 the price"

        Since it would be difficult to build a spreadsheet that has 10x the features of Excel and still call it a spreadsheet, obviously Gnome should start charging $10 a copy for Gnumeric if they want to increase their marketshare.

        Quite frankly, I'm more inclined to say that Gnumeric doesn't have the feature matching needed to get most users to switch. The chart
        • Since it would be difficult to build a spreadsheet that has 10x the features of Excel and still call it a spreadsheet, obviously Gnome should start charging $10 a copy for Gnumeric if they want to increase their marketshare.

          Sorry, I think you misunderstand. The 10x doesn't have to be feature count; in fact, typically it's not. It could also be, for example, due to usability improvements that make staff using a product at your company more productive, or better support for automating existing features, p


      • Doing correct computations seems to me to be a huge benefit.

        If I had to use MS-Excel to manipulate serious figures, for instance huge budgets, I wonder how well I would sleep. And if I had people under my responsability who manipulate serious numbers, I would ask them to prefere accuracy to spectacular pie-charts. Am I that weird ?

        By the way, if your business goes into troubles because of MS-Excel bugs which have been well known for years, can you sue MS ? Of course, the EULA tells you you can't, b
        • If I had to use MS-Excel to manipulate serious figures, for instance huge budgets, I wonder how well I would sleep.

          Hopefully if you were manipulating serious figures, you'd be using serious tools and serious techniques, starting with redundant cross-checking of any calculations. It doesn't matter whether it's Excel's RAND() function, Pentium's inability to divide or Pentium IV's inability to calculate sines properly, you're always at risk of a numerical error when using computers, and much more so if yo

          • Hopefully if you were manipulating serious figures, you'd be using serious tools and serious techniques, starting with redundant cross-checking of any calculations.

            For many people, MS stuff is serious.

            If the bug's been known for years and you still let your business depend on its non-existence, it's your own fault if you kill the business. Risk management is a key skill in running any commercial organisation, and you failed at step one: doing your homework.

            And if the bug has been known by people wh
    • It better have some kick butt feature that they don't have in Excel, or they are going to resist change.

      One can always make it easy for employees:

      The hace have Gnumeric/OpenOfice or they can have Excell.

      If they choose Excell - they an two exrea features:

      1) Clippy.
      2) Their pay docked by the purchase price for Excell.

    • Oh please - 90% of the people who use Excel don't even know how to SPELL macro or template. It's called 'laziness' and 'ignorance' - people buy a computer with MS Office installed, and that's what they use because that's what it came with. Most couldn't tell you the difference between hardware and software if you held a gun to their heads. Fortunately, for the most part, these people can be easily identified by their email addresses. :)
  • Get garnome! (Score:3, Informative)

    by MooKore 2004 (737557) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:16AM (#8361677) Homepage Journal
    The easiest way to get new versions of Gnome software is via garnome!

    Garnome 0.30.1 was just released and it features the latest version of Gnome (2.5.5), The new, non ugly file dialog (but not all programs use it yet) and of course, Gnome Applications, including Gnumeric 1.2.6.

    It is designed for IA-32 Gnu/Linux, but it should work on most OS's. Download it now [gnome.org].
    And if you liked the power of garnome, you may be interested in the power of Gentoo Linux [gentoo.org], which is like garnome for your entire distribution!
  • Finally, some sense! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redelm (54142) on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:45AM (#8361902) Homepage
    I've been using spreadsheets for over 20 years, since Lotus-1-2-3 ver1A on a 128 KB (sic) 8088. I think MS-Excel is unsuitable for any serious use. Aside from ease-of-use issues (regression and other stats not easily accessible) there seems to be serious defects in the core calculation engine.

    I've seen spreadsheets where MS-Excel would miscalculate results by 20%. MS-Excel also has enormous problems handling circular spreadsheets. Both are probably related to defects in the order-of-calculation algorithm.

    • by mschaef (31494) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:40PM (#8362876) Homepage
      Excel also has (had? this might be fixed in 2003) some problems with things like standard deviations, etc. Run a standard deviation of 666666666123, 666666666246, and 666666666369, and you won't get the expected value of 123. Rather, you'll get 0. The high absolute values of the three numbers causes rounding problems by pushing significant bits out of the mantissa of IEEE numbers.

      Despite the fact that this has an easy fix (mean center the data before computing the deviation), Excel has had this problem for years.
  • Maintainer? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chromodromic (668389) on Monday February 23, 2004 @11:50AM (#8362445)
    Can we please not capitalize "the Maintainer"? It's a bit too "Logan's Run" for me, or for anyone I think. Geekness has overstepped boundaries when Those Who Are In Control of Software are afforded the same nobility in print as the King, the President, and the Messiah. Let's remember that software engineering is a discipline, a job, and that we, as a group, can't produce bugless office software, much less achieve such status in society that we must be addressed by our titles, that those titles must be honored, that the masses must gaze upon us and tremble ... which, by and large and not incidentally, they do---but only geeks would assume that it's in awe of our deep knowledge of C++ and Java ...
  • Stupid Rant (Score:5, Interesting)

    by j-turkey (187775) on Monday February 23, 2004 @11:55AM (#8362480) Homepage

    I didn't read all of the linked article -- so whatever...however, I will say this: Anything that makes Microsoft Office look bad and (insert cheaper solution here) look better, I like.

    For a $1000 computer, I pay ~$400 per license for MS Office Professional -- that's 40% of the cost of the computer. If I could convince management and our user base, I'd change to anything else because anything else would be cheaper (Star Office, Lotus Smart Suite, OpenOffice, whatever). I checked out Open Office with one of our accounting guys, and it worked just fine with all of his macros. Peace of mind against FUD just isn't worth that much. MS Office is a fine product, just not worth the price. If there was anything with a remotely competitive amount of market share, I'm sure that MS would drop their prices to stay competitive.

    • Re:Stupid Rant (Score:2, Informative)

      Fortunately, for home users, we can get the Academic version for about $150. It comes with everything except Access (which I could care less about anyway... I use MySQL).

      Granted, you can't use it for commercial purposes, but it's fine for home users that just need to read / write Word and Excel files. The Academic version in retail outlets no longer requires you to provide proof-of-acadmic-status. You just pick it off the shelf, and pay for it at the register.

      However, I can't justify a constant upgrade
      • Fortunately, for home users, we can get the Academic version for about $150. It comes with everything except Access (which I could care less about anyway... I use MySQL).

        I appreciate the advice, but since we're in a corporate setting, I can't do that. Furthermore, I consider managing software licensing part of my job...ya' never know when a disgruntled employee (or former employee) will call the BSA and start an audit.

        I probably wouldn't have the same problem if the license costs were only a one-tim

  • Solver:? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rangek (16645) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:52PM (#8366697)
    The only thing I use Excel for is Solver. Solver turns Excel into the worlds easiest to use linear/non-linear optimizer for ANY function you can put in a spreadsheet. I use Gnumeric a lot, but I always have to go back to Excel for Solver...
    • Re:Solver:? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jody Goldberg (61349) <jody@@@gnome...org> on Monday February 23, 2004 @10:09PM (#8369338) Homepage
      Gnumeric has both goal seek and solver. Indeed it has several variants of solver included.
      • Re:Solver:? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rangek (16645)

        As of gnumeric 1.2.1 the solver i gnumeric is not nearly as capable as the one in Excel. I am not bashing gnumeric. It has come a long way, and is probably great for 90% of what 99% of people do with their spreadsheets. But the only thing I really do with spreadsheets is use Solver, and I can't do it with gnumeric the way I can with Excel...

        If I had the time and energy, I would help you guys write a solver work-a-like, but grad school, work, family, you know...

        Keep it up though...

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