Mossberg reviews Apple’s iWork ‘08: Elegant but ‘wimpy’ compared with Microsoft Office

“Last week, Apple brought out a new spreadsheet program called Numbers, thus completing one of its least-known products: a productivity suite called iWork. The iWork ‘08 suite, which competes with the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office, also includes a word-processing program called Pages and a presentation program called Keynote. The two were upgraded last week. IWork costs $79, about half the price of the lowest-cost version of Microsoft Office, which sells for $149,” Walt Mossberg reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“iWork ‘08 is a nice product, capable of turning out sophisticated and attractive word-processing, presentation and spreadsheet documents. It can even read Microsoft Office documents, whether created on the Mac or on Windows computers, and can save documents in Microsoft Office formats so they can be opened in Office on the Mac or on Windows,” Mossberg reports.

“But iWork simply isn’t as powerful or versatile as Microsoft Office, especially when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets. And it suffers from a design that places far more emphasis on making documents look beautiful than on the nuts and bolts of the actual process of writing and number-crunching,” Mossberg reports.

“If you’re a Mac user with basic word-processing and spreadsheet needs, and a strong emphasis on design, iWork is good choice, especially if perfect compatibility with Microsoft Office isn’t a high priority. But for office-suite users more concerned with function than form, I’d recommend sticking with Office,” Mossberg reports.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: What Uncle Walt fails to realize – or perhaps just forgets to mention – is that the vast majority of Mac users (and all computer users, for that matter) would do far better with iWork ’08 than Microsoft Office.

This is a point we are not willing to cede to Mossberg or anybody else because it goes just the same for the Mac vs. Windows PC: the vast majority of people would do far better with a Mac than with Microsoft Windows.

If people used iWork instead of MS Office, they would be faster, more productive, less frustrated, and create far better output. If you need MS Office’s esoteric, obscure features you are in the minority. If you need “perfect compatibility” with MS Office, then you are a victim of lock-in or you’re dealing with someone who either doesn’t know what they are doing, are victims of Microsoft lock-in themselves, or who are, again, in the minority using obscure features.

You should not need Word to read/write a word processing file. You should not need Excel to read/write a spreadsheet file. And, if you have a Mac, you should not even be using PowerPoint.

All of our Excel spreadsheets, including functions (admittedly, they are relatively normal expense, billing, etc. spreadsheets) have been flawlessly converted to Numbers. We do not use Excel. All of our Word documents (admittedly, they are relatively normal business letters, invoices, etc. documents) have been flawlessly converted to Pages (long ago). We do not use Word. And, Keynote wipes the floor with PowerPoint.

We email .pdf first and only bother exporting .xls, .doc, or .ppt files when requested (such requests have all but dried up over the last few years).

Again, while we do respect Mossberg’s opinion, you have to weigh a product’s value based upon the typical user’s needs, not the needs of a relatively atypical few.

Does Apple have more work to do on iWork? Yes, of course. That’s unending. But, Mossberg’s review comes off limiting iWork to too small an audience. Too many people will take Mossberg’s “perfect compatibility with Microsoft Office” comment and “wimpy” hyperbole and mistakenly conclude that iWork won’t work for them. In more cases than not, iWork will work “perfectly” with Office files and perform better for Mac users than Microsoft Office.

iWork is more capable and will work for more users than Mossberg’s review implies.

Hey, don’t take our word for it, iWork can speak for itself. Give Apple’s free 30-day iWork ’08 trial a try and see for yourself.


  1. Most of the people who use Office use only the basic features and only buy Office for themselves because they are used to using it and know a few shortcuts. Mossberg is reviewing iWork as if it was trying to fill every ‘hard core’ business need out there, not what 90% of people actually use every day.

    Getting the majority of people away from using Office will be just as difficult as it is to get them away from Windows. Maybe even harder, since a lot of people do all their work on their PCs in Office programs. The sooner we get everybody over to the Mac, the sooner they’ll see they don’t really need Office either.

  2. Mossberg is right. All it takes is someone to send you a reasonably sophisticated Word or Excel file that you iWork can’t convert properly, and you’re screwed. Same thing if you’re trying to send somebody somethey THEY can’t open. If it’s a customer, then you’re really screwed.

    The Pages program…still de-emphasizes some writer-friendly features. For instance, its auto-correct function is much weaker than Word’s. Another example: In Word, to see how many words your document contains, you just glance at the bottom of the screen. In Pages, you must dig down into a submenu to find the answer. The command for showing invisible formatting marks also is harder to find than in Word.


  3. I think Mossberg feels he needs to give a negative review for at least one Apple product to appear credible for all the positive reviews he has given for other Apple products. Too bad he has to misinform to be credible.

  4. Give it a rest!

    Many people think they need MS Office, when they don’t.

    However, some people do need it. As Walt said, <i>”But iWork simply isn’t as powerful or versatile as Microsoft Office, especially when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets.”

    So leave us power users alone. I’ve tried the new Pages demo – it doesn’t make the mark for me. I’d like to see the opinions of heavy spreadsheet users on Numbers.

    The wonderful thing about the Mac environment now is that there is such a great choice of software – tools, really – available. Let people freely choose the one that fill their needs.

  5. “… Numbers, thus completing one of its least known products”. Who says iWork is now “complete”? I suspect Apple is hardly done here. There’s still no database, still no Outlook or Entourage counterpart. And Numbers is just at 1.0.

    Apple first took MS on in the multimedia arena, with Quicktime and iTunes. Then Safari took on IE. Then Keynote against Powerpoint, Pages against Word, and Numbers against Excel. Anyone else see a pattern here? With Apple firing on all cylinders, there’s clearly more to come.

  6. I like iWork and just converted from the Trial version to the paid version but I have to agree with Uncle Walt.

    I’m trying to use iWork as much as possible, but there are a few things missing. Especially proper grammar checking in Pages.
    That should be a minimum requirement for anything to be used in business.

    Numbers has to look at doing some basic tables with sorts and filters such as Excel. If someone sends me a document with a simple table with filtering, I’m dead in the water. Numbers doesn’t even come close to anything that resembles Pivot Tables.

    It’s a great start but if Apple wants to be a contender, they have to do a little more than basics. If people are going to need a copy of Excel on standby in case they get a document that has a few slightly advanced features, it makes it harder to justify buying Numbers.

    As for the “MacDailyNews Take”: Guys, I love the site, and love the info that you bring us. But you have to start getting a little more objective and not bash anyone that criticizes Apple.

    Until that happens your credibility is going to keep going downhill.

  7. Most of what Apple does in software is aimed at selling more Macs (and iPods and iPhones). If the user has already made the switch to Mac, who cares if they are using iWork or Office. Who cares if they are using Excel in a basic way that would all them to use Numbers instead. They are using Macs; that’s the important thing.

    While it is fun to make fun of Windows Vista and Zune, I support any development effort on the Mac platform, including the work of the Mac BU at Microsoft. If Microsoft decided to kill Office 2008 for Mac now, it would definitely hurt the Mac platform.

  8. I am really starting to like Numbers,

    My big problem, I was converting excel work sheets to Numbers , then trying to spiff them up with the different layouts.

    I now realize for me (I am not a power user) the best route is to cut and paste into Numbers.
    Another thing I like about it, is I save as PDF and with iWeb add as a web page, I think I will have a pretty nice web site for a little project I am doing with out having to learn alot about web design
    I was playing around and did this in about 30 minutes,

  9. Raymond from DC-
    Why would Apple develop *another* database? Apple already owns FileMaker, Inc., and FileMaker has been available for years. It’s already a strong competitor to MS Access, even more so with the latest release.
    For Outlook/Entourage, wouldn’t Mail/iCal/Address Book be the counterpart? Granted, the OS X Tiger versions aren’t as well integrated as they could be, but that appears to be changing once Leopard is out.

    I’ll probably give iWork a try at some point, but probably not until I start having problems with Office 2004. Why spend money to “fix” something that is working for me? I don’t use PowerPoint much, so Keynote doesn’t buy me much. And I’ve only had some minor issues with Excel and Word. Not that I feel they’re the best products possible, but I doubt that iWork makes significant enough changes to make my tasks more efficient enough to justify the purchase price and the time to convert all the various documents I have.

  10. I’m heading for iWorks. Office is fine for Word but I have NEVER been able to have a lengthy session with Entourage before it crashes. The other two I don’t give a flying fuck about. Once I get iWorks I’m losing this Microsoft Bloatware offa my Mac.

  11. What the hell is a pivot table? Again, most people won’t need the power features you speak of. That’s not to say that Apple may boost the feature set later on down the road. iWork does the job now for the average user.

  12. My husband and I run a multi hundred million dollar business we’ve never used MS Office in our business. Appleworks always suited our spreadsheet needs just fine. We’ve been using Keynote before Apple launched iWork, Pages does more the Word and creates perfect PDF documents for electronic distribution. We are converting to Number now from AppleWorks. I see no reason or need to buy MS Office. We converted to Liquid Ledger as our account software package from Quickbooks Pro a few years ago because it became too Microsoft Office centric. It also allowed us to streamline our accounting and reporting. From what I’ve used of Numbers it’s a very solid and robust spreadsheet application that will only get better with each release. So as a Business User I can tell you straight up you do not need MS Office for your business. I’m thinking of writing a book about running a business without using a single Microsoft product be Windows, Money, Project, Visio or Office, let me what you think.

  13. For anyone who has to do a lot of redlining, the first version of Pages was basically useless. But I’m looking forward to trying out the “comments” function in the new version.

  14. Typical consumers don’t need MS Office now. Period. iWork ’08 is more than powerful enough for the typical consumer. Business users, especially those that need to work with very complex spreadsheets however will definitely want to stick with Excel (and Office) for now.

    Apple isn’t trying to get big business to switch over to iWork yet anyway. iWork ’08 is a consumer class product, and typical consumers don’t need the bloat of a business class suite of applications. iWork ’08 is more than enough for those people.

  15. Chrissy-one is correct if all or the majority of all you do is tied to MS Office. Writers, business and corporate officers plus a few others I’m sure would fall into this category, but the vast majority would not. The endless functionality buried and hidden within the creases and caverns of Office bloat-ware may be of value to some but of little value to most.
    I work with several word processors and other text creating software as well as spreadsheet programs in order to do the page layout and design work that I create. Trust me when I say there are much better programs for doing page layout and formating than MS Office and other software of this type.

  16. Ahem, I’ve been using plain old Appleworks for years in preference to Excel.
    Nothing wrong with either actually, and my accountant and I swap between the two seamlessly.
    The new goodies in iW seem made for the likes of me — a creative who has to crunch the numbers as well, but preferably at the end of the day!!

  17. I think he gave a pretty fair review. Word is a much more robust word processing app than Pages, however, Pages is a much better page layout program. I think Apple would do best, though, to do whatever necessary to make it 100% compatible with Word. Until it is, I’ll use it as much as I can, but I still need Word.

    Numbers is great, but it’s just a 1.0 release, so it’s got a lot of catching up to do. The ability to easily print your document is a huge step ahead of Excel in my book – worth the price of admission for that alone!

    Keynote, however, blows PowerPoint away in every way. There’s absolutely no contest. PowerPoint has barely changed since it’s initial release. Keynote version 1.0 was better than PowerPoint is now.

  18. Uncle Walt is right. While iWork is undoubtedly elegant, many Mac users out here need MS Office, both for features lacking in its alternatives, and for the need to work in close collaboration with Windoze-using colleagues.

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