Why Use XTabulator?

A well-known player in independent Mac developer circles recently told me he didn’t get why you’d use XTabulator over Excel for CSV, TAB, etc. I thought I’d share (the relevant parts of) my tongue-in-cheek response.

Come, now. That you would dare pronounce yourself a geek while suggesting using a spreadsheet application for comma-, tab-, pipe-, or anything-delimited file manipulation is anything short of torture is an insult to geeks everywhere! Attendez-vous, monsIEUR!

First, not everybody owns Excel. I do, but I admit it begrudgingly. Excel and other spreadsheet applications are expensive and mostly for accounting and busy-body executives.

Second, like using MS Access to power a multiuser web application, using Excel to manipulate tabular data files is the dirty secret to which one admits only when pressed (and plied with liquor, please). For the quick massage-the-data-and-use-it-elsewhere tasks usually associated with slinging tabular data files, this is a poor choice. I would personally be ashamed to admit resorting to such unsavory techniques. Just you try opening a CSV file, swapping first name and last name columns, then re-saving with Excel. Go on. I’ll wait. Dreadful experience, wasn’t it? Now try it with XTabulator. I trust my point is well-made.

Third, related to my second point, Excel reads tabular data as an afterthought. Worse, it writes it like a drunken, illiterate Texan, hell-bent upon somehow managing to muddle even the most mundane of file formats, whilst wildly firing his pistols into the air and shouting “Writin’s fer sissy boys!”. Like any Microsoft product, it makes a mockery of even the loosest of standards held by the most open format ever to grace the annals of computing history. A MOCKERY, sir! Other spreadsheets are somewhat better but limited in their function when it comes to these tasks. Again, for clarity: spreadsheets are for accountants and executives. MS Access, incidentally, is for dullards.

Fourth, any Mac developer or user worth his or her salt knows that a tool focused solely on a single purpose is far superior to a tool that half-asses everything under the Sun to add to its ever-burgeoning feature list.

On the “writes like a drunken, illiterate Texan” bit, Excel really does make a muddy god damned mess of tabular data files. It’s not that I have something against Texans. They’re merely a convenient target. My point is, using Excel, empty fields are often merely dropped (because that makes sense), and fields containing the delimiter are randomly quoted, or not. These two points alone make Excel’s CSV- and TAB-writing “abilities” mentally retarded at best.