Office 2008 vs. iWork vs. NeoOffice vs. OpenOffice

The more I use these, the more I really don't care for iWork. Sure, Keynote makes some darned pretty presentations, but NeoOffice (and OpenOffice for the matter) cuts the mustard quite handily.
Written by Christopher Dawson on

The more I use these, the more I really don't care for iWork. Sure, Keynote makes some darned pretty presentations, but NeoOffice (and OpenOffice for the matter) cuts the mustard quite handily. For real polish, you still can't beat Office 2007/2008, as much as I hate to admit it. What do you think? Oo.org 3.0 looks to rock out loud too. Is iWork irrelevant, or is it just me? Reread the repost below and I'll give this some more thought next week when I'm back from vacation.

Last week, I posted a few thoughts on Apple Pages. As I noted there, one of my real goals in buying a Mac was to see if this platform really did make it easier to focus on teaching my classes, rather than on creating the electronic materials my students expect to support those classes. I'm especially interested in features that make it easy for the average teacher to crank out documents, presentations, web content, and multimedia.

We can all use Word (or, at least, most teachers can) and PowerPoint is fairly straightforward as well. As we slowly migrated schoolwide to Office 2007, many teachers began using OpenOffice, both for a familiar look and feel to the Office 2000 they left behind and for compatibility with the majority of students who use the free suite.

On the Mac, we now have Office 2008 (which, at first glance, is a bit less intimidating to users of earlier versions of Office than Office 2007); NeoOffice (a port of OpenOffice fully integrated into OS X); OpenOffice itself, which runs in OS X's X11 windowing environment; and Apple's iWork suite. Choices, choices, choices! Click here for a gallery of their most interesting features and interface particulars. Read on for a teacher's perspective on ease of use and productivity in each.

To test these suites, I completed a number of simple, day-to-day, teaching tasks in each.

  • To evaluate Word and its moral equivalents, I created a worksheet to lead one of my classes through an activity in Geometer's Sketchpad.
  • For Excel and its ilk, I created a spreadsheet to track book numbers and generate a pie chart of book conditions
  • For PowerPoint, et al, I shot a few video clips giving directions for an activity and created a presentation around the video.

It should be noted that the latest version of OpenOffice (2.3.1) is unavailable currently for OS X. OpenOffice for X11 (essentially a port of the *nix versions of the suite) is up to version 2.3. NeoOffice is at version 2.2.3 (2.2.2 was evaluated here). Functionally, this has little impact; Sun has also thrown considerable effort lately into improving support for the Mac platform.

Here are the highlights (and "lowlights") from each suite as I completed the activities above: OpenOffice

  • The autocomplete feature picks up commonly-used words and completes the word for you; once you get used to this feature, it can be a real time-saver, especially if you are not the fastest touch-typist.
  • Not yet compatible with the latest Microsoft XML formats; this is a problem if students are turning in work in these formats since they invariably forget to save them to other versions.
  • Familiar look and feel for Windows users; anyone comfortable with Office 2003 and below for Windows will feel comfortable in OpenOffice after a few minutes of poking around.
  • The use of X11 is actually a larger problem than I expected. It requires a small amount of extra overhead and means that users will not see a completely consistent interface with other applications as they do in the competing suites. More importantly, I also noticed considerable loss of formatting pasting from the Web and other native OS X applications into OpenOffice; an example appears in the gallery. The deal-breaker finally occurred for me when I couldn't cut and paste images out of Sketchpad directly into OpenOffice. Quitting OpenOffice also required the extra step of first exiting OpenOffice, then exiting X11; a simple Command-Q in OpenOffice just kills X11 directly without the usual prompts from OpenOffice.


  • As with OpenOffice, NeoOffice completes words you have already used in your document (or use frequently).
  • Compatible with all versions of Office, including the latest XML formats (.docx, etc.).
  • Complete integration with OS X; this looks and feels just like any other OS X application and I have yet to find any cut and paste problems like those I encountered with OpenOffice.
  • Like OpenOffice, this is largely a comfortable and familiar interface; while this will probably not be a problem for kids or in emerging markets, many teachers will be happy to see toolbars and menus that look a lot like their pre-Office 2007 counterparts.
  • Impress can't insert the m4v movie files created by default in iMovie; it can handle Quicktime and AVI, but the m4v format is quick, small, and, as noted, the default. If we're looking for easy, then only Microsoft Office and Keynote handle this.

Microsoft Office 2008

  • Well tied-together and slick, Office 2008 isn't as radical a departure from previous suites as 2007 was for Windows suites. The interface is fairly easy to navigate and context sensitive menus and strips appear handily. However, as the gallery shows with the chart and PowerPoint formatting interfaces, floating toolbars/palettes can quickly become cluttered and overwhelming.
  • Still no compatibility with any OpenOffice formats. What was they they were telling European regulators about interoperability?
  • Inserting media is very easy and works quite well in PowerPoint; click the multimedia template, insert a movie file, and go.
  • Users familiar with Office 2007 will also not feel like they are taking a step backward; the suite does a fairly nice job of balancing the features found on the Windows side with usability and familiarity. Honestly, there aren't any surprises here; this is a full-featured, mature suite; the only real concern is the near PhotoShop feel of the floating palettes.

Apple iWork

  • Creating charts in Numbers was a complete no-brainer. Worst-case, a video tutorial is a click away. While it was possible to create similar charts without too much effort in the other suites, creating attractive charts and interacting with formulas was almost too easy in Numbers. Anyone familiar with spreadsheets will feel right at home, while those new to them will learn the intuitive interface very quickly.
  • Not compatible with OpenOffice formats (Gasp!). It imports and exports to the latest Microsoft formats without a hitch (although a simple Save As isn't sufficient; one must actually export to Office formats), OpenOffice is not to be found in the export wizard; trying to open OO files simply yields grayed-out file names.
  • The templates built into Keynote are extremely professional and eye-catching and can be resized for a variety of resolutions (great for smartboards vs. LCD projectors vs. laptop screens, etc.).
  • Keynote is where the integration with iLife really shines. Any movies, music, or pictures that you have stored in the iLife applications is readily available for use in the presentation.
  • The graphics, as might be expected for a Mac application, are fairly extraordinary, especially for charting, presentations, etc. It is very easy to turn out professional quality documents and presentations with a minimum of fiddling around.

The bottom line: iWork is very slick and integrates well brilliantly with iLife. It's easy to use, but powerful enough for serious users. However, it's lack of compatibility with open file formats is of concern. Office 2008 is also slick and highly functional but not nearly as effortless to navigate. Even with academic pricing (iWork is priced around $10/license academic versus almost $70/license for Office), Office is a bit pricey and hard to justify when cheaper or free alternatives exist. OpenOffice for the Mac really isn't worth a second look right now given its lack of integration and compatibility. NeoOffice has its niggles, but is generally a solid, easy to use office suite. Even if you choose iWork of Office, it should be installed on all of your users' machines to ensure compatibility with their students. It could certainly stand alone, as well, but the relatively inexpensive iWork is a hard bit of kit to pass up.


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