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. @Chrissy-one is a hottie:

    I agree with you for the compatibility thing, but I like the spel check that the new Pages has. I remember when I couldn’t even change the Spell Check language in iWork, and now, with Pages, I can, and I am pretty satisfied with it. It’s true that it does not measure to the Microsoft Word Spell Check, but you should give it a little time in order to pick up in that area. I am sure that it will eventually catch up as people send comments…

  2. I just got a new max’d out 24″ iMac. I still think of it, for me, as an upgrade from my quad core G5 running a 24″ Dell monitor. I made a vow to try and keep it M$ free, oh, except for the copy of xpee that I have running under parallels, really just for IE6 on closed websites and those times when you get something that is completely non Mac.

    To that end, I am going to try my hardest to make iWork work for me rather than use office. I figured now was as good a time as any to try since I was going to have to re-install some kind of productivity suite.

    A few examples so far, though:

    – I just got a “deck” from a very, very large OEM in a very, very large industry. If you’re not hip on the lingo as I wasn’t, a “deck” is a set of power point slides. I went to open it and while it looked the same as in the WebEx (another time where parallels is a safer bet) where it was shown, one of the errors that came up was some missings FONTS. One of them was a MS Office standard font that the company uses as their standard font in a certain setting. I didn’t have it so Keynote couldn’t show it. Should I re-install office for mac just to get have a few fonts in the system? Maybe…especially if I ever need to make a document using that (simple) font. Or do I go and try and buy fonts or install them piece meal one by one? What if the whole “deck” had been in that font and lost its look and feel?

    – I have a few monthly reports that I do that up until now I have done in Excel for Mac. I tried opening them in Numbers and while they looked mostly correct there are a few conventions that are going to have a bit of a learning curve. Heck I might even get one to one or pro care or whatever it is to give me a jump start. While I’m not sure at first glance how to try and make some of my graphs work to add on what will soon be August results I can say this: just by converting the plain old standard Excel graph in to the same type of graph in Numbers looked SO much better. If you are trying to sugar coat not so great numbers or make great numbers look even better Numbers will surely do that. I don’t want to make it sound arts and craftsy as uncle Walt kind of did, though. Kind of like Keynote, however, even if you just use the stock templates in any of iWork you’ll look different than 98% of what you see.

    – I did open up one document in Pages that was total simple text and it looked the same and had no errors or anything.

    I think that iWork like so many other things by Apple is intuitive out of the box. I do think based just on a few examples in a couple days’ time that if you’re trying to do the same things in iWork that you did in office that you’re in for a bit of a challenge and a small learning curve. But, I do think that I and anyone else that goes thru it will be the better for it.

    I think that for output as someone has said, PDF will get you by 99% of the time. Putting out interactive “decks” I’m not so sure. I am sure willing to give it a try, though.

  3. Hey guys, stop bashing Excel.
    Excel is a true product of the Mac and is one of the applications together with Aldus PageMaker that helped make the original Mac a success.

    I tried importing a “real business” Excel spreadsheet into Numbers and it churned out about 150 import errors. …such as input validation settings as an example.

    For a large number of Mac users, Numbers is a nice addition to the iWork suite making it even more attractive, but for many business users, it simply won’t cut it (yet).

  4. Most the reviews I’ve read list the lack of pivot tables as one of Numbers better features. A lot of people really hate pivot Tables. I think they only really work for the person creating the document and not for those reading it.

    And remember folks you can save Keynote presentaions as Quicktime movies (beautiful quicktime moves) no need for PowerPoint ever.

  5. What can I say?

    I hope you Nancy-boy MAC lemmings enjoy using your elegant but wimpy iWork software while I pound out the “This refrigerator will be cleaned out every 2 weeks—NO EXCEPTIONS!” sign for the lunchroom here at work.

    I’ll be doing it in Microsoft’s robust and mighty PowerPoint.

    If you MAC girls can’t keep up with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Sissies.

    Your potential. Our passion.™

  6. shiva 105:

    I have been hoping that the next step for iWork is that Apple does integrate a new database application that is not FileMaker Pro. I have used FileMaker Pro for many years, and it’s a great mature application. And yet it still frustrates me to this day, because it’s as if it contains all this legacy code within it. There are so many parts of it that still looks like an OS 9 app! Have you seen the text fields with the vertical scroll bars? They still have OS 9 scroll bars! It drives me crazy!!!! I want an OS X database! I don’t want to have to deal with OS 9 scroll bars everyday that I’m entering data in my database.

    I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the fact that FileMaker is also a Mac and Windows application. This has caused FileMaker great success as a full featured cross-platform database, but it many ways I believe it has stifled its development to take advantage of OS X-only technologies.

    I am not trying to be negative about FileMaker Pro — it is a successful product on the Mac and Windows side and has it’s place in the marketplace. But I’m HOPING that Apple will develop a new database application for iWork “for the rest of us”.

    What would this new database — probably called “Data” or “Cards” — be like? First, it would be easier for newbies to set up a database than FileMaker. It’s templates for starter databases would not be as bland-as-Windows’-templates as FileMaker but rather would have the panache of all the templates in the iWorks package. Second, it would have the power of FileMaker but a completely different layout design engine that would take advantage of the OS X interface.

    Have you ever tinkered around with Interface Builder? How about RealBasic or SuperCard? These programs make it soooo easy to lay out an OS X-looking interface, the way an OS X application should look. But that’s where the fun stops with building an application for a non-programmer like me. These programs are for programmers.

    I see this new database application in iWork to have the power of FileMaker but the ease of interface building like Interface Builder, RealBasic or SuperCard. And that you can put together a quick and easy but powerful database that has the look of an OS X application, something FileMaker cannot do without jumping through hoops, and even then such an OS X look is clunky. In many ways, I see “Data” or “Cards” or “iCard” be the new generation of HyperCard.

    This is the one application I long for. A database for the rest of us. A powerful but easy to design database with OS X interface building. Something you don’t have to be a programmer to use.

    MW: involved as in “sorry this post is so involved.”

  7. @ Zune Tang

    Wow Zune, normally you would chime in with your comments the moment this news would have been posted. it took you over and hour to respond. Thats real sloppy. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

  8. Don’t ya just love a great discussion!

    I have been a Mac proponent for many years. I’ve also run a multi million dollar business with around 60 networked Macs all linked to a relational database and used for everything from accounting, to production control even had them hooked up to our electronic scales to capture production data on the fly.

    I know very few people that actually use Excel for home use. I don’t use Excel for home use. I use Quicken.

    Every time a friend has a Mac question, they tend to come to me. Their question to me is always more or less the same: “Can I use a Mac for the Word files and Excel spreadsheets that I bring home from the office? “

    The point is you don’t have to be a “business or power user” to need to read an Excel spreadsheet that might have a few not-so-basic features. Try opening an Excel spreadsheet that has a basic macro.

    Unfortunately, with Numbers in it’s current version, these people are not going to be able to use all of their spreadsheets from the office.

    For those who have been using Apple Works, Numbers is a great replacement and a leap forward.

    For those who have have been using Excel, Numbers is an interesting alternative but not quite a replacement for Excel (yet).

    As I said previously, I bought Numbers and intend to use it as much as possible. I as well love where they’re going and can’t wait for Numbers 3.0.

    P.S. to Journo: You’re right MDN did not bash Uncle Walt.

  9. Petra said: I’m thinking of writing a book about running a business without using a single Microsoft product be Windows, Money, Project, Visio or Office…

    It would probably be a great time for a book like this, considering that Apple is reappearing on the corporate radar. Let alone that Macs have been increasingly popular with college students for at least the last three years…

    Also, in a recent quest for personal finance managing software, I found that many recent switchers are looking for a replacement for MS Money. Any info on personal finance managers would be welcomed as well…

  10. The 80/20 rule seems to be the rule which Walt has ignored.

    For fun, I wrote an Excel spreadsheet to solve Sudoku puzzles. It was an intellectual exercise. It does not convert to Numbers, but who cares. Clearly such an exercise belongs to the 20% camp.

    The 80% camp includes switchers who believe they need a word processor and a spreadsheet (like MS Office?) to feel happy switching. Now they have it.

    If you really need MS Office, you will know who you are and buy it.


  11. With “Uncle Walt” showing up so regularly on Apple’s Hot News page, he’s in danger of being dissed as a Mac fanatic if he doesn’t find some way to distance himself. It’s sad reality facing most software reviewers that they simply must pander to the Windows crowd to make them feel better about their all-too-often lousy software.

  12. Anyone that needs Word for grammer checking is an illiterate idiot in my opinion.

    Office is the same old stuff that was appropriate for the mid-nineties. Then it had a wow factor. Now it’s past it’s sell by date.

  13. I have a lot of experience in this area in that I am an “Excel Expert” at my place of work and a writer in my home life. I have also used cross platform versions of all of these tools since Word 5 for DOS was king and Claris Works was on the Mac.

    My take is this:

    – Keynote, which is a presentation tool is already yards better than Powerpoint ever was in it’s wildest dreams. This is hardly a surprise when you consider what Apple’s strengths are. Keynote is an “advanced user” product, and the best of class while remaining usable for beginners.

    – Pages on the other hand is just not very good at all as a word processor. Ask anyone who writes for a living. The problem here is that 90% of everyone I have had occasion to teach Word to, or troubleshoot Word problems with users of Word, uses it as a word processor. Pages is just *not* a word processor, it’s a page layout program that masquerades as a word processor. It’s closer to something like MS Publisher in terms of the way you use it and the market it’s aimed at. There is a big functional difference and a big metaphorical/usage difference.

    Pages is IMO a “mid-level” product, but even if it had more advanced features it could never replace a word processor for people who’s heads are still using that paradigm. It requires a complete shift of how you do everything and that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon for the millions and millions of older writers out there, sorry.

    – Numbers is surprisingly good in 1.0 version and I would describe it as not good for the pros, but good for everyone else. Not using pivot tables or validations on formulas does not indicate a “basic” user IMO, it indicates the average user. Only the advanced users could not get by with Numbers instead of Excel. Numbers is again, IMO a “mid-level” product with the potential to take over the whole ball game with a few more features added.

    Lastly, I would like to agree with those that are saying that the MDN folks are going a little overboard with the “fan-boy/girl” stuff. I like the site, I come here every day, many times a day and read all the stories and comments and then read the actual linked stories, so you can’t say I am not familiar with things.

    That being said, the kind of “OMG! Everyone that doesn’t like Apple products is an idiot!” stuff like we see above just makes for an unprofessional and silly experience. It puts this site in the same category as sites like Engadget or Gizmodo, where the content is interesting but you get the impression that the mind behind the site is about 14 years old, and the editors regularly stoop to criticising both the tech community and the contributors to their own web site.

    Apple is great, (fantastic actually), but no-one is perfect and no-one is all things to all people. Let’s get a bit more mature and wow everyone with our cool intellect and composure. Arguing every little criticism just makes one look desperate and unsure of oneself. If one truly believes in the quality of one’s work, there is no need to defend it every minute of every day and from all comers.

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