Who among the Mac faithful has not come across a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet? For me, it’s been a few years, but mostly because I made the switch from Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, et al) to Apple’s own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (and Mail).
I mean, why pay for something– Office– that does most of what Apple gives away for free? No, Pages and Numbers are not Word and Excel (Keynote, arguably, is a good alternative to PowerPoint), and Apple’s trio isn’t Office Lite, but for many Mac users, not to mention a billion or so iPhone and iPad customers, what is free is very good and works very well.
It doesn’t matter. Spreadsheets are hazardous to your health. That’s what Robin Harris and others have said for years and my own personal experience through a few decades of spreadsheet use tells me they are correct.
Millions of Excel spreadsheets are used in medicine, science, economics, and finance. Yet up to 90 percent have serious – even life threatening – errors.
Spreadsheets are dangerous; whether Excel, Numbers, Sheets, or nearly anything else you use to calculate this or that with a degree of complexity, always remember there are lies, damned lies, and statistics; a human equation that must be considered when using a spreadsheet.
What’s the problem with Excel and Numbers?
First, copy and paste. We’ve all done this. We have copied and pasted the wrong formulas or the wrong data or both. But it all looks so official. A spreadsheet is just math. But it’s math made by people, and spreadsheets can be complex beasts, ripe with opportunities for a mistake here and there. And that means mistakes everywhere.
Second, hidden cells. Spreadsheets get their value by computational formulas which can be hidden within a cell but displayed as a value (based upon the aforementioned math). One error within the hidden cell may not be easy to spot, even during an audit, and that means the ripple effect comes into play.
Third, software. Put another way, bugs. All software has bugs, including spreadsheets with brand names like Apple’s Numbers and Microsoft’s Excel. Add faulty spreadsheet logic to faulty spreadsheet creator logic and the end result of the spreadsheet is, well, faulty.
Finally, the trust factor. We tend to trust spreadsheets as we once did textbooks, science, teachers, and news reporters. Today, fake news abounds, reporters and news outlets are widely discredited (although not as low on the respect list as, say, politicians or used car salesmen), but there is less skepticism over a spreadsheet’s results than there is over a tweet by President Trump.
If numbers are only as good as the people collecting and publishing them, then are not their underlying formulas and computations in need of similar skepticism? I’ve been around the block enough times to know that when I’m faced with a presentation filled with a spreadsheet and slides to do an item by item audit of both– including suppositions and formulas.
Even with all these wonderful tools from Microsoft and Apple, projects still take twice as long and cost twice as much; just like they always did.