ups ante in Microsoft Office suite competition
by Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First
published in Business
October 2-8, 2007; issue 936
High Tech Office column
A high-tech-office memory
from almost exactly a decade ago: Apple Computers was not yet a media
darling; instead it was most often being described as “beleaguered.”
The assembled Apple faithful see a giant talking head of Microsoft’s
Bill Gates telling the stunned crowd that his company would continue
development of the Mac version of Microsoft Office and would invest
$150 million in non-voting Apple stock.
In 1997, Apple needed
Microsoft’s “blessing.” (And Microsoft needed a viable Apple to
demonstrate to the U.S. Justice Department that, yes, there was
competition in computer operating systems. Besides, it later sold its
Apple stock at a profit.)
A decade level, Apple is far from
beleaguered, with massive sales of iPods, Mac computer sales up 30%
over last year, the new iPhone and more. Less attention is being paid
to Apple’s August release of software aimed squarely at Microsoft
The new iWork 08 ($79; $99 for a five-licence family
pack) is the second generation of Apple’s office suite software. The
previous version included the company’s Keynote presentation software
and Pages, a word processor with strong page design features. The new
version adds Numbers, a spreadsheet. All applications can open and save
in the corresponding Microsoft Office file formats.
hardware, these programs are not simply warmed-over copies of PC
standards. Each offers a stylish alternative, allowing users to
flexibly move text boxes, tables, charts and graphics around a
document. The applications share a toolbar with icons featuring
drop-down icons and a formatting bar that varies according to what is
selected. All applications also share a very slick “instant alpha”
feature making it easy to remove the background from images – an effect
that formerly would have required adjusting the image in Photoshop.
graphical approach may seem foreign to users raised on Microsoft Word
or Excel. Instead of a typical spreadsheet grid with rows and columns,
Numbers presents users with a blank canvas, ready to be filled with
tables, charts, images and text frames as desired. Multi-page workbooks
can be created as in Excel, but may not be needed. It’s easy to manage
multiple tables of data in a single Numbers page.
makes it easy to set up a spreadsheet so users can choose data from
drop-down lists or by dragging a slider. That’s doable in Excel, but
only with much more effort. Advanced users may, however, miss all the
functions that are available in Excel or that program’s PivotTables.
Templates for budgets, return on investment and more are attractive,
but don’t offer a wide range of business-oriented pre-fab solutions.
And if you rely on Excel macros, Numbers won’t do what you need. But if
you’re looking for a way to present numerical data its 3D charts are
fun to create and much more attractive than the competition’s.
Pages word processor runs in two modes: one for word-processing the
other for page layout. The new version adds revision tracking, needed
by many business users, which is retained when files are exported to
Word. Footnotes, endnotes and tables of contents are supported. Mail
merge, however, is crippled, working with data from Apple’s Address
Book, but not from spreadsheets – not even iWork’s Numbers.
offers a strong set of presentation bells and whistles, including
improved animation effects and a set of templates that offer a
refreshing change from the overused PowerPoint standards.
Microsoft Office versions for Mac and Windows include e-mail and
personal information management software (Entourage and Outlook,
respectively), iWork ignores these areas because it’s designed to work
with Apple’s Mail, iCal and Address Book programs bundled with every
Mac. And for many that will be the catch: while iWork is an
attractively priced, innovative, graphically sophisticated alternative
to Microsoft Office, it’s only available for Mac users.
version of Microsoft Office for Mac is due out this fall; it will be
interesting to see how it responds to Apple’s iWork 08 challenge. •