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.
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!