Business-like, isn't he?



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    Apple's iWork gunning for Microsoft's Office

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver May 17-23, 2005; issue 812

    High Tech Office column

    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 graphics.

    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.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan