Damon Cortesi's blog

Musings of an entrepreneur.

Quick Comparison of Numbers vs. Excel/Google Spreadsheet

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Being the Apple neophyte that I am, I’m always looking to compare my ability to achieve things in the Mac world as opposed to other worlds. My challenge this evening - creating a spreadsheet in iWork ‘08’s Numbers application from an HTML table.

Source Data: Music sources from episodes of This American Life. I love the background music on TAL and was in search of some of the songs. I this metafilter post, which ultimately led me to the Wayback Machine as the TAL site has been updated since that post. I then wanted to get the list into a format I could use for some scripting goodness in the future.

This is a stunningly simple task in Microsoft Office.

  1. Open the web page in your browser of choice.
  2. Highlight the table in question.
  3. Open Microsoft Excel.
  4. Paste - the table is automatically formatted into two columns

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

I tried the same thing in Numbers tonight, figuring it would be no more difficult. Well, it was. Instead of pasting a table, it just pasted the two columns as one, each column one under the other. I looked around for a way to convert data to columns. No luck. I tried to paste it into Pages, do some find/replace magic and export to a csv file. Too much trouble. I tried copying the HTML source. Definitely the wrong thing to try. I tried searching the help. Yea right!

I finally got so frustrated (and I don’t have Parallels reinstalled yet as I reinstalled my MacBook today), that I opened Google Spreadsheets and decided to see if I would have any luck there. Using the same process as in Excel, I instantly had exactly what I needed in Google Docs. Color me impressed! Not only that, I was able to extract the data I wanted using the provided formulas. This really makes me want to implement that Firefox Google Docs encryption plugin I’ve been thinking about…

In any case, for the curious - here’s the finished product. Now I just need to work on that script. ;-)

I’m somewhat disappointed in Numbers. There was another simple task I was recently trying to accomplish where Numbers just wasn’t up to the task. It’s a great app, but it definitely needs a few more features before I can use nothing else.