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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Isn’t using Keynote moot if you are designing presentations for clients that don’t have Macs, and use Powerpoint? They need to constantly update the presentations.

    I mean, that’s the only reason I even launch a lame-ass app like Powerpoint in the first place.

  9. I have been using MS Office for many years. It’s been wonderful for me both in business (on PeeCee’s), and at home on my Macs.

    With the type of work I do at home on my Mac, and after trying iWork ’08, I made the switch. It’s too elegant, easy, and productive. Also, and this is a big one for me, I do NOT want to spend another $275 to upgrade MS Office whenever it comes out. I love my iMac 24″ (white model), and the more Apple software I use on it, the better it runs. Just superb from day one!

    I wish I had it that easy at work!

  10. iWork is not MS Office. It is not trying to be. The best part of this is for a mere $79 more you can have the best of both worlds. If iWork was expensive well then you could compare the two side by side. For many iWork plus NeoOffice or some Open Office product will get the job done. For others you will want MS Office just so you don’t have to screw around with documents that have be exchanged within a group. For very little extra cash I get to create better looking documents in less time when I don’t have to share the document. A real bargain.

  11. ndelc…

    Good stuff. If you don’t know what pivot tables are, then you are considered a basic spreadsheet user….go buy iWork for Pete’s sake!

    If you do need pivots, and let’s face it, I can do things much faster with Pivot Tables than even our DBA can do with his tools, it makes it tough to jump wholly over to Numbers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where they are going….and they will get there.

    Apple’s target market has not yet aimed itself squarely for business users. It’s goal is to conquer the home first and then the work place. Much like MS did. And they are doing a great job. For instance, the templates are for personal use, education, or small businesses.

    When Apple DOES turn towards the business crowd, expect the iPhone, and iWorks apps to take on the professional polish and features that their film editing software has. Translation, iWorks may work for some business users but for Power Users, comes up short on handling complex documents and spreadsheets.

    Still, I just love where they are going…..

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