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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

To the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft

posted by on February 27 at 0:19 AM


Custom error bars are gone?! I’m a scientist. I use Excel for a terrifying amount of my data analysis. Error, you know, comes up on occasion in the real world. Reviewers have this annoying tendency to force us all to recognize reality. I need error bars; we all could use some error bars. And, with all due respect, I might know how to calculate the error for my data better than a program that routinely fucks up counting.

You removed custom error bars in charts
. This is terrible. Horrifying. You removed one of the few, the very few, essential features in Excel for my work—a program that hasn’t had a useful feature added since the mid ’90s. Hell, this is a deal breaker for anyone doing any sort of scientific or engineering work with Excel.

I, one of the six graduate students stupid enough to pay for a copy of Office 2008 rather than pirate, have to downgrade to 2004. Fucking Rosetta!

Boo! A pox on all your houses! Boo, I say! Boo!

RSS icon Comments


I was thinking about making a snarky comment about how Matlab is superior to Excel, but Matlab has its own set of issues to deal with.

Good luck...

Posted by Emily | February 27, 2008 12:40 AM

The error bars are still there, they are just infinitesimally small due to a rounding error.

Posted by also | February 27, 2008 12:43 AM

Dumb-ass. You use a mac and you expect software to be useful?


Posted by max | February 27, 2008 12:47 AM
"They are still there, just not very easy to find. After you make your graph, click so the whole data series is selected. Then right-click and hit "Format Data Series" and error bars is an option in there."

Is this helpful? They aren't custom, but I thought I'd post it anyway, from here.

Posted by obamatron | February 27, 2008 12:51 AM

The new MS Office is the worst piece of shit ever written. Those responsible should go die in a fire.

For added irony, there will be emergency exits to escape this fire, but they will not be where you remember them, and you will not be able to find them in time.

Posted by Mahtli69 | February 27, 2008 12:52 AM

SERIOUSLY! WTF! I went to write up my lab report the other day and I was seriously about to go find Bill Gates and punch him in the face.

Posted by markinthepark | February 27, 2008 1:13 AM

do not upgrade MSoft products.

Never. Ever.

Each upgrade is just more and more bloatware and less and less functionality.

I stopped at Office:Mac and will not upgrade again until they actually commit to lean, mean, effective software.

Posted by gnossos | February 27, 2008 1:15 AM

upgrades are iffy in many products - if it is working perfectly and you can't read about something new you must have - pass

we are marketed like the herd of good conforming consumers that we are massively programmed to be

and in software "upgrades" you can spend weeks of turmoil and spend tons of money for NOTHING

remember the word function - is it functioning OK, if you say YES with a rousing sense of the world in harmony, make no changes

And remember it feels really good to drop the non functioning printer, CPU, etc. in the alley from the roof just before the garbage truck rolls over it. Leave the debris there for a week while you gloat to friends and the ether gods.

(love Macs, but new PCs for the net are very damn good, and cheap, just sayin')

Old Mac Fan, who learned windows a year ago

Posted by John | February 27, 2008 1:54 AM

Bloatware. Microsoft. Huh.

I used to work with someone who once temped @ MS. One day she asked me, "So have you checked out the flight simulator in Excel yet?"


By pressing the right combination of keys when you were running Excel 97, the program suddenly started running a flight simulator. No shit!

"Oh yeah, we used to add stuff like that all the time. We added photos of ourselves, all kinds of stuff. Why do you think these programs take so much memory?"

So I wrote my brother and told him to try out the flight simulator in Excel. His response:

"Don't EVER send me shit like that again! That thing crashed my computer and it took me hours to fix it!!"

Caveat emptor, kittens. Like we have a choice.

And some people wonder why so many of us hate Microsoft. Nice (and nicely ironic) that this post comes on the same day that the European Union slaps MS with a $1 billion + fine.

I'm just sayin'.

Posted by MichaelPgh | February 27, 2008 4:05 AM

If I may inquire, why not use SPSS? I find it far superior to Excel or Office for statistical analysis.

Posted by Science-y Type | February 27, 2008 5:09 AM

if you're using a Mac, just stay away from Microsoft Office to begin with. Try NeoOffice, or use X11 to run OpenOffice. They are free and wonderful, like most open-source software ^_^

Posted by paul | February 27, 2008 5:54 AM

Well, it's Office specific; not Mac Office specific. Apparently, they did it across the board. Oddly enough OpenOffice plans to add that functionality into their program in version 3. Yea, that may be some time away and you need it, now, but OpenOffice is as good as you pay for it.

Posted by B.D. | February 27, 2008 6:09 AM

Yeah, the new Office sucks even harder than the old one.

I wonder if the graphs in Pages can display error bars?

Posted by violet_dagrinder | February 27, 2008 6:15 AM

Not Pages. . . Numbers.


Posted by violet_dagrinder | February 27, 2008 6:15 AM

Yes, the new MS Office is bad. Very difficult to work with even the most basic features. It was explained to me that when Word and other programs were first developed the menus and stuff were not placed in the optimal places so they completely changed the layout of the programs for 2007. I hate it! Why should I ever upgrade anything if I am already happy with the program I am using. Although I have been happy with the change to Internet Explorer 7.0

Posted by Gay Seattle | February 27, 2008 7:09 AM

I hate the new visual format. I don't want to look through all these new buttons. Stop it stupid MS.

Though i love the fact I have have millions of rows now.

Posted by BassSinger | February 27, 2008 7:32 AM

Why the hell would you use excell, rather than Matlab or Kleidagraph, or a variety of other software that WANTS to let you do what you want to do? Seriously I don't understand why there are still scientists using microsoft software when there are such better alternatives out there. Its not just Excell either, I don't understand why mathematicians and computer scientists seem to be the only people using LaTex. LaTex is designed to make everything pretty for you, and to make your equations look right, rather than word that just likes to yell at you for spelling errors.

Posted by Andy | February 27, 2008 7:35 AM

They got rid of (or hid) the freaking "File" menu in Word! Who does that?

Posted by Henrietta | February 27, 2008 7:37 AM

What #3 said.

Posted by Mr. Poe | February 27, 2008 7:37 AM

REAL scientists use LaTEX

Posted by umvue | February 27, 2008 7:50 AM

i thought the only scientists that used macs were in movies...

do google docs ( or openoffice allow you to do custom error bars? the latter is close enough to office usually and the former doing it might be enough to scare the pants off microsoft such that they put the feature back...

Posted by kinkos | February 27, 2008 7:54 AM

Excel is not serious data analysis or graphics software. Take this as a sign that it's time to learn a new software package. The latest version of Stata is almost user-friendly and its graphing interface has been thoroughly upgraded to allow wysiwyg tweaks.

Posted by josh | February 27, 2008 7:54 AM

Just to be clear... I use R for most of my serious data analysis and Illustrator for my final graph preparation. Hence the need for "custom error" as I do the calculations in a different program (that knows how to do a proper T-test.) And yes, I know LaTeX. Matlab would be stupid for what I do.

The problem? I live in the world, the world where virtually everyone uses MS office for their work as well. I *have* to use Excel.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | February 27, 2008 8:17 AM

Oh, and for Expose alone, OS X is vastly superior to Windows for most scientific work. Linux is ok, but the GIMP sucks relative to the adobe products... so OS X it is.

If it's any consolation, I do some of my work on a HackInTosh.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | February 27, 2008 8:22 AM

I think it is clear that Office 2008 is one of the largest, longest-in-development clusterfucks we have ever seen (second only to Vista itself).

My GF just got a MacBook (first Mac), and I bought 2008 knowing how much she relies on Office. Not wanting her to have to deal with the added memory requirements/slower speed of Rosetta-translated programs, I installed it over 2004.

Horrible idea. It's buggy (doesn't play with exposť correctly, screws up zoom in excel, lacks unlimited undo in Powerpoint), and the UI is a complete mess (a palette, menu bar, toolbar, and some other ribbony like shit all on the same screen?!? What the FUCK?).

I have convinced her to use Pages or Numbers in all but the most difficult cases (when she really needs some obscure Excel feature, or is sharing documents with other Office users).

One problem though: even when sharing with Office 2007 users, the Mac still displays some things differently.

Oh, and Jonathan, if you think you're fucked, think of all the business users who need VB (totally removed).

I think pages and numbers are far superior to word and excel (and keynote CERTAINLY beats powerpoint); their UI is cleaner, exposes useful functionality, etc. They are also semantically correct with regard to things like explicit denotation of section/page/column breaks and styles (yes, word has these things, but they're often ignored).

One problem: my gf likes to make posters (for research) in powerpoint. While common, I disagree with this use. Powerpoint is not a layout program, it is a presentation program. Making a presentation with one 4x5 foot slide is absurd. Use Quark or InDesign or something.

And here's my point: you too should be using the proper tools; if Excel isn't cutting it, give SPSS or some other statistics package a try.

And if that fails, there's always VMWare + Office 2007 :'(

Posted by Jason Petersen | February 27, 2008 8:27 AM

Oh, and to those who say "Use LaTeX"?

What the fuck? The reason "only Computer Scientists and Mathematicians" use LaTeX is (a), because (for mathematicians), it's the only thing that does its job perfectly, and (b) many CS departments require its use when submitting papers (many engineering, biology, etc. just accept word; hell, NIH does, I think).

It's no longer acceptable to expect your users to learn a whole goddamn language just to use your program, even if it IS the best of class.

I love LaTeX, but I understand its lack of ease of use (hell, I still use it with a 200 page "Intro to LaTeX" PDF open in Preview, search bar ready).

Also, are you really suggesting Jonathan do all his graphing work in LaTeX? That seems a bit odd to me. Excel is more powerful than LaTeX in this regard (LaTeX is essentially for layout; I'm not even sure if you can say "give me the average/stdev/whatever of this data" in LaTeX, at least not without some writing on your part (I suppose it is Turing complete, so anything is possible).

Posted by Jason Petersen | February 27, 2008 8:34 AM

Dudes! Hold on - stop telling Golob something he probably already knows, you condescending bunch of nerds! We know he's a smart guy (and like he said above) he knows that other stats programs do a better job.
I'm a science grad (read: also a nerd) too at UW and I also know that just are forced to use Ex-fucking-cel.
So the tragedy here is that it just lost one of its only redeeming values. Sure, SPSS, R, even Minitab, and the fancy-pants graphing programs (which are reallllly expensive for grad students without advisors who buy that shit) etc kick its ass. We ALL know that.

Posted by onion | February 27, 2008 8:36 AM

I use Excel all the time for my job -- I practically lived in it for the fist few years out of college. There is so much that it doesn't do, that half of my job involved creating work-arounds. I actually think it's sort of fun trying to figure out how to get it to do something it doesn't do (of course, it would be better if the program just, you know, did what its users needed it to do).

I haven't encoutered the custom error bars issue (I don't run 2008). But, if your issue is that the standard choices (Fixed Value, Percentage, Standard Deviation) don't allow for different (+) and (-) errors, you could create a duplicate data series, and put the (+) error on one of the series and the (-) on the other.

If your issue is you have a different error for every data point, then, you could just created a Data Series for your actual data points, one for the data + error, and one for the data - error. Play with the formatting and you could get it to look just like error bars.

Maybe this helps, maybe it doesn't, but, as B. Clinton used to say, I feel your pain.

Posted by Julie | February 27, 2008 9:00 AM

I don't know about 2008 but in the olden days one could make a sensible plot in R and import it into Excel.

Posted by umvue | February 27, 2008 9:04 AM

In my engineering program we were all about the epic Excel spreadsheets. (Fortunately, however, they were using a somewhat older copy of the program on the lab machines, and it mostly did what we needed without too much trouble.)

Yeah, the new version of Office blows chunks, but the previous Office for Mac was pretty bad too. The sad thing is that I can't get OpenOffice to work on my machine. Right now, I do most of my composing in TextEdit.

Posted by Greg | February 27, 2008 9:17 AM

But - but - but with Excel 2007, you can sort by COLOR! Isn't that more important than error bars or accuracy? Hee hee hee...

Posted by Shmallow | February 27, 2008 9:32 AM

Anybody else finding it horribly slow to load? I can't even figure out why because neither are my cpus or my memory being tapped, but they take FOREVER to load. Especially powerpoint.

Other irritations:
- Weird issue with switching windows (doesn't always seem to respond, or will take me to the wrong window) - This the expose issue someone was talking about?
- Apple key + a does not work!!!! Holy shit, select all is such a standard operation and its not working (at least not in the excel sheet). Seriously annoying.

... and uh yeah, I'd love to switch but I'm already rocking the collective boat by using a Mac on my current gig...

Posted by Ryan | February 27, 2008 9:55 AM

Jonathan, I was wondering about what #21 said about scientists only using macs in the movies. I'm a mac user and my impression is that macs are pretty widely used in the sciences, but there seems to be a stereotype in the public mind that scientists would be using PC's because PC's are "real" computers and macs aren't serious enough for science, or something. I would think it would be the opposite as PCs are flaky and hard to keep running, prone to viruses, and primarily geared towards business and consumer use, etc. So let me Ask Science here: is there a widespread platform preference in the scientific community?

Posted by erika | February 27, 2008 9:55 AM

Hey Jonathon,

I too experienced the odiousness of no custom error bars. For my thesis, I wound up using a coworker's linux box to make graphs, then copy them in EPS format, then upload them. It SUCKED and made it super super hard to keep track of my work and understand what the hell was going on.

I've heard there are linux-like graphic programs, like GNUplot, that work for MAc though, so you try that.

Posted by Tia | February 27, 2008 10:26 AM

Just go to Open Office. Nobody uses Microserf products anymore in the scientific community, they just get in the way.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 27, 2008 10:26 AM

Back in the early 90's all the (gov't employed) scientists I knew used unix -- everyone at the USGS, everyone at SNL, everyone at LANL. Through the 90's everything switched to PCs. While I've never bought the mac line of "as PCs are flaky and hard to keep running, prone to viruses", I don't think macs were really given a fair chance (in that community). Perhaps that's changing now though, I've been removed from that community for a while.

Posted by fweee | February 27, 2008 10:38 AM

@33 My buddy does electron microscopy for the Mayo Clinic in MN, and his whole lab uses Macs. He especially likes them for the video/graphic capabilities.

Posted by drewl | February 27, 2008 10:46 AM


The answer is, it depends. Vector NTI (for molecular cloning)? Better on the PC. FlowJo (for FACS analysis)? Mac. Editing and assembling documents? Mac, because of Expose. Heavy duty bioinformatics? Linux. And so on.

The net result? Mac OS running VMware fusion.

I have vague intentions to write up a review comparing OS X, Vista and XP. Perhaps this is the proper inducement to actually finish it.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | February 27, 2008 11:00 AM

Actually, we use Mac web servers to do biochem structures for the beamline measurements of Xray diffraction.

Is that scientific enough for you? The work was in Science and Nature ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 27, 2008 11:28 AM

upgraded to 2008 last week. no problems. i enjoy the interface a ton better. Entourage plays way better with Exchange, that was my biggest beef.

on a side note, if you hate excel so much try google apps or zoho - both free and online.

Posted by bobcat | February 27, 2008 11:56 AM

Another scientist here who uses a Mac and Office 2004. Some of us are stuck by cost, and what we have site licenses for. Some of us poor sorry users can't get our agencies to spring for even a single copy that a bunch of us could share. So we make due, because scientists are nothing if not inventive.

Posted by Tlazolteotl | February 27, 2008 12:07 PM

Honestly, Office 2000 is about as far as I'm willing to go. 2003 sucks ass, and I've had only a brief look at 2008 -- no freaking way. It's the idiotic Internet Explorer 7 interface trying to take over the world -- they decided that menus are counterintuitive, and everyone in the future will click on mysterious icons instead. Boo hiss.

Posted by Fnarf | February 27, 2008 12:15 PM

I just had to go back to a previous version of the Windows Media Player, which I use for working with transcripts, because in the latest version they've taken the timestamps off. Why? Even if someone is using it just to listen to a song, mightn't they want to know how far through the song they are? Why take away a feature that's useful?

You can access it in a different "skin" but you can't use the speed-up slow-down features in that view. I just can't figure out what they were thinking.

Posted by terry | February 27, 2008 3:09 PM

Fwee wrote:

Back in the early 90's all the (gov't employed) scientists I knew used unix [...] Through the 90's everything switched to PCs. [...] I don't think macs were really given a fair chance

You should know that since the release of Mac OS X in 1999, Mac OS is Unix.

see also: A Brief History of Mac OS X

Posted by Phil M | February 28, 2008 7:36 AM

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