iWork gunning for Microsoft's Office
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First
published in Business
17-23, 2005; issue 812
High Tech Office
Apple's iLife '05 software gives Macintosh users tools to work with
music files, digital photos, video, and DVDs.
The company's iWork '05 software ($99; $129 for a three-licence Family
Pack) has a different goal: to wean Mac users away from Microsoft
Office. Apple and Microsoft have long had a love/hate relationship.
Apple has needed Microsoft's ongoing commitment to the Mac version of
Office. And it's rumoured that Microsoft got more income on average
from each Mac user than from each Windows user.
When Apple released its own Web browser, Safari, Microsoft announced
that it would stop development of the Mac version of its Internet
Explorer browser. And when in 2003 Apple released a presentation
package, Keynote, it seemed as if it were gunning at Microsoft's
Macintosh cash cow. This year's iWorks '05 release takes the attack a
couple of steps further.
iWorks '05 bundles an updated version of Keynote with Pages, a new word
processor. There's nothing to compete with Microsoft Office's Excel
spreadsheet, but I suspect that program has fewer users than Office's
Word or PowerPoint modules.
Both Keynote and Pages are built around visually appealing
professional-looking sets of templates, here referred to as themes. Not
surprisingly, both Keynote and Pages work well with Apple's iLife
components, with a Media Browser making it easy to pull in photos,
music or video.
Keynote can (usually) open existing PowerPoint presentations and can
export its files into your choice of PowerPoint, Flash or Quicktime
formats. It outdoes PowerPoint with its themes, transitions, handling
of graphics and its variety of builds: animation effects for text and
If you have a live Internet connection, you can insert Web pages right
into your presentation. At showtime, these will display the current
page, not a screenshot of the Web page as it was sometime in the past.
Many Mac users will be able to replace PowerPoint entirely.
While building a presentation around a pre-made template will seem
natural for most PowerPoint users, it may seem awkward for word
processor users. In fact, the bundled themes make Pages almost an
entry-level page layout program rather than simply a word processor.
Users can start off with a pre-made design. It's quick and easy to make
a pre-made design your own. Click on a block of dummy text and start to
type; the entire block is replaced by your typing. Similarly, click on
a placeholder photo, and you can quickly drag a replacement in to take
its place. The new graphic will be resized automatically.
While you can start with a blank page if you really want to, I still
find myself opening familiar Microsoft Word when I need to dash off a
simple document. Pages lacks a grammar checker and the
business-oriented collaboration, revision and security features that
Microsoft has been pushing in recent Word releases.
Pages can open Word documents and export to Word's .doc or .rtf formats
along with Web-targeted .html or Adobe Acrobat-style .pdf.
Despite some limitations, both these programs offer Word and PowerPoint
compatibility combined with a more visual way to work that many users
will find appealing, at a price that is much lower than Microsoft
Office's. If nothing else, they may push Microsoft to include similar
(though probably less attractively styled) features in upcoming
Microsoft Office releases.