iWork '08 - no Office killer 'cause it's not supposed to be

iWork '08 - no Office killer 'cause it's not supposed to be

Summary: I picked up a copy of iWork '08, the new update to Apple's productivity suite, the other day and have been noodling around in it since I installed it on my MacBook and my wife's iMac. It's a worthy upgrade for two principal reasons in my opinion: the significant improvements made to Pages (document processor) and the addition of Numbers, a new layout-oriented spreadsheet application. I'm not going to do a full, feature-by-feature review here – there's plenty of those already on the tubes. I just want to address the notion that this signals some throwing down of a gauntlet by Apple in front of Microsoft. It doesn't.

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iWork ‘08 - no Office killer Â’cause itÂ’s not supposed to beI picked up a copy of iWork '08, the new update to Apple's productivity suite, the other day and have been noodling around in it since I installed it on my MacBook and my wife's iMac. It's a worthy upgrade for two principal reasons in my opinion: the significant improvements made to Pages (document processor) and the addition of Numbers, a new layout-oriented spreadsheet application. I'm not going to do a full, feature-by-feature review here – there's plenty of those already on the tubes. I just want to address the notion that this signals some throwing down of a gauntlet by Apple in front of Microsoft. It doesn't.

I thought we'd gotten past this but apparently not. Even venerable tech journalist and unabashed Apple fan Walt Mossberg fell into the trap of trying to compare iWorks '08 to Microsoft Office calling iWork "elegant but wimpy". It's a bad idea because they're simply not the same thing. Walt goes so far off track as to slam Apple for not including an Outlook-like PIM in one sentence and them almost immediately points out that, well, Apple really doesn't need to make an Outlook clone because, well, they already have a very nice set of applications for e-mail, calendar, and contacts built right into every Mac they ship. So why, oh why make bones over this. Why not just say so?

This, my friends, is a classic case of fomenting controversy where none needs to exist.

iWorks is not an Office "killer". In fact, if you take Apple at their word, that's never been their intent in producing the suite. According to a very lucid quote in an analysis piece at MacWorld from Apple's Rob Shoeben, the raison d'etre behind iWorks is pretty simple:

“One of the things that you’ll see in some of our materials is, ‘Productivity the Mac way,’” said Rob Schoeben, Apple’s vice president of applications product marketing. “That means, ‘I bought a Mac on purpose. I bought into the idea that things should look right and be well-designed and really easy to use.’ They want to enjoy the way they work, they want their work product to look great, and [they want to be] fundamentally integrated into iLife. If you buy into all that, that’s going to be appealing.”

And if you don't, because you need (or want) the compatibility and feature full Microsoft Office experience then you go buy Office. Office:Mac is a decent product, if a bit long in the tooth. Even though the new Universal Binary Office 2008 for Mac has been delayed until sometime next year, the current version works pretty well. And it's very compatible with it's cousin on Windows. If you want compatibility with Office and don't want to go the Microsoft route, you still have options. NeoOffice, a Mac-friendly version of OpenOffice is available at the nice price (free). You can also use ThinkFree Office which comes in both web-based (free) and desktop (commercial) flavors and will soon offer real-time sync between documents in the cloud and on your desktop with their Premium offering (disclaimer: I'm an adviser to ThinkFree).

It is what it is – a decidedly different approach to constructing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets nicely integrated into the Mac OS experience. Gee. Thinking different. From Apple. Go figure.

Update: Thanks to the MacWorld review of Pages I just learned that the Track Changes feature in the new version is compatible with the MS Word feature of the same name. Because Apple does not make this clear in their marketing messages or the small manual that comes with iWork '08, I assumed it was a proprietary approach to change management. This is huge for me as that's one of the gating factors for me preventing me from seriously considering using Pages in more of my work. Sweet!

Topics: Apple, Collaboration, Hardware, Microsoft, Software

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5 comments
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  • Two different markets for two different products

    I agree with your assessment, Marc. The fact is, iWork is an $79 package aimed at
    home users with occasional need for page layout, word processing, presentation, and
    number crunching. Even the templates are geared toward this. Comparing it to
    Microsofts $399 Office:Mac (or their $399-$679 Office 2007) is a bit silly.
    BlogWatcher
  • Different Approach... but...

    I totally agree that iWork is a different approach compared to Microsoft Office. However, this doesn't mean these two products don't compete with each other and one should not compare these two products together. It is not likely that one will want to buy and use both iWork and Microsoft Office. It is more likely customers will compare these two and choose a side. Why buy iWork when I have Microsoft Office? or Why buy Microsoft Office when one thinks that iWork is more efficient and enough? Maybe it makes sense for Apple Fans to buy both of them, but for the rest of us, we prefer one.
    mechengit
    • I see where you'e coming from but...

      I'll reference my ZDNet buddy Dan Farber and say that it's not a zero-sum game. There are dual-use scenarions, switcher scenarios, and "I'll stick with what I've got" scenarios. Let me give you a perfect example:

      I have a license for Microsoft Office:Mac 2004. It's installed on my wife's iMac. She's generally used it primarily to read Office docs sent to her by people she does business with (a bunch of artists BTW, not classic business users). Lately, she's been inundated with .docx files as a number of her friends and colleagues have taken the Office 2007 plunge and don't understand that Mac users have been unable to open these files (unless they know about and are willing to run a beta converter utility).

      Yesterday she received one of these files. I told her to drag it onto Pages in the Dock on her Mac. It opened and she looked at me and asked, "why do I need the Microsoft stuff on my machine?"

      I told her she didn't. The iWork '08 apps will open Word, PowerPoint and Excel files just fine - including Office 2007 formats - and the minor formatting issues she's likely to encounter don't prevent her from reading and responding.

      Me? I'm an entirely different case. I need Track Changes and other more advanced capabilities in Office so I'm running both on my MacBook. But for my own authoring, I'm really enjoying the new version of Pages (I hated the last one) and Numbers is a much more useful tool for me than Excel as I tend to build a lot of list and report sheets which is where this new app really shines. I'm not a spreadsheet monster - don;t use macros or even Pivot Tables. And I switched to Keynote because it does everything I need in a presentation program and has always done a good enough job converting .ppt file when I need to rework an existing presentation in that format. It's a classic YMMV scenario.

      So I think there are some (like me) who can build a case for using both and others (like my wife) for whom iWork '08 is all that's needed.
      morchant
  • The price will hurt it

    The $79 price will cause it to be viewed as a ?toy?.

    Clarisworks/Appleworks (pre version 6 when Apple blew it) had the same problem. It was actually a very powerful suite, but nobody bothered with it because it was ?just a toy that kids use in school?.

    People didn?t even know that it had a presentation feature (slide show from the word processing function). It had page layout via multipage draw documents which put anything that Word could do to shame. The database, sort of Filemaker light, was superb. The spreadsheet allowed you to create one with only the number of rows and columns necessary and had all necessary functions

    Again, it was viewed as toy, all because of price.
    j.m.galvin
    • Good question

      I think the world is a little different than when AppleWorks/ClarisWorks were the Apple suite offering. There's so much open source and other free software out there now that has been accepted as suitable for business work that I don't think the same attitude applies.
      morchant