PCs

Apple office software seems likely

IGG Software has dropped the name "iWork" from its product lineup. Is Apple about to pick it up?
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By Ina Fried
CNET News.com

A small Macintosh software developer has renamed an application it had been calling iWork, lending credence to rumors that Apple plans to introduce office software of the same name.

IGG Software, which has marketed a time-billing application as iWork, has changed the program's name to iBiz. The change, which is reflected on the company's Web site, follows reports on rumor sites that Apple plans to offer its own suite of word processing and presentation software.

Enthusiast site ThinkSecret reported last week that a product from Apple called iWork would include an updated version of Apple's presentation software, Keynote, and a new word processing program, which the site says will be called Pages. The site predicted Apple would unveil the product at next week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.


Photo: Ina Fried
At a conference in June, Apple
showcased a Mini Cooper with an
iPod adapter--and displayed posters
that knocked Microsoft.

Such a program would be an interesting move for Apple, which has for years kept its office software ambitions limited, counting instead on Microsoft to produce a Mac version of Microsoft Office.

Having a version of Microsoft Office for the Mac has been a key selling point for Apple as it tries to convince people who use Windows-based machines at work to have a Mac at home. In fact, Apple's Web site lists the Mac version of Office as reason No. 8 of 10 to switch to a Mac.

Apple's relationship with Microsoft--at least publicly--has run hot and cold. At times the companies have moved closer, though in recent months Apple has taken a number of shots at its rival, ranging from its Switch campaign, which targeted Windows users, to posters at last year's developer conference that suggested that Microsoft's Longhorn version of Windows would be a copycat of Apple's Tiger release this year.

For the time being, Microsoft appears to be sticking by its Macintosh products, and the company says it is already working on a new version of Office for the Mac.

"Our relationship with Apple remains productive and strong," said Scott Erickson, group product manager for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, in a statement to CNET News.com. "Ninety-two percent of Mac users tell us they need native file compatibility between Mac and Windows--we deliver that with Office for Mac. We're committed to delivering this critical level of compatibility to customers and are well under way on the next versions of Office and Virtual PC for Mac."

Apple representatives were not immediately available for comment.

IGG Software representative Ian Gillespie said in an e-mail that the name change to iBiz "better reflects the direction in which we see our product going, toward business management and not just time-billing."

Several Macintosh enthusiast sites spotted the iBiz name change, including MacDailyNews and MacMinute.

The productivity arena, which includes word processing, database and spreadsheet software, is not new to Apple. Apple has offered a separate program, known as AppleWorks, that offers basic capabilities in all of those areas. However, updates have been sparse in recent years, and the software appears primarily targeted at the education and consumer markets. The company tiptoed more into the high-end arena with the debut in January 2003 of Keynote. The presentation tool, which is able to import and export documents in Microsoft's PowerPoint format, has fewer features than the Microsoft program, but it aims to provide snazzier graphics and transitions. Still, the program has gotten only modest tweaks since its debut.

The name iWork may seem a natural for Apple, which already bills its iLife suite as being "like Microsoft Office for the rest of your life." But the term is already used by many others. Sun Microsystems, for instance, uses the name for a program that allows its employees to work remotely.

IGG Software applied for a trademark of the term in March 2003. In August 2004, Apple also filed for a trademark on "iWork." IGG's application is currently suspended, while Apple's is listed as newly filed and not yet assigned to an examiner. Other trademark applications are also pending for both "iWork" and "iWorks."

It is unclear what effect an Apple product might have on Microsoft's long-term support for the Mac version of Office. The company, which at one time had a five-year pact with Apple to provide Mac versions of Office and Internet Explorer, now says that it evaluates new products one version at a time.

"We'll continue this business as long as the business case makes sense," former Macintosh Business Unit head Kevin Browne said at an April 2002 event.

Indeed, Microsoft announced it was halting development on the Macintosh version of Internet Explorer in June 2003, after Apple released a final version of its rival browser, Safari.

Microsoft still offers Mac versions of its MSN Messenger and Windows Media Player, though both programs lack some of the advanced features of their Windows counterparts. For example, Microsoft does not sell music through the Mac media player, as it does on the PC side.

Microsoft released its latest OS X version of Office--Office 2004 for Mac--in April. The company was among the quickest of the large software makers to move its products to Mac OS X--readying an OS-X-only version of Office not long after Apple released the first version of Mac OS X.

Initially, Microsoft executives expressed some disappointment with sales of the Mac OS X version of Office, but more recently the company has said it is pleased with Mac Office sales.

"We've seen stronger sales in the past year than in the first year," project manager Jessica Sommer said last April. "That's pretty obviously due to OS X adoption."

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said that although iWork is still just a rumor at this point, it would not be surprising if Apple released such a product, "once again trying to make sure that their desitny is in their own hands and not in that of a third party."

That said, Gartenberg said Apple likely would not want to lose Microsoft Office for the Mac as a result.

"There's no doubt having a version of genuine Microsoft Office available for the Mac that is regularly updated is one of the reasons that Apple is still popular in a number of markets," he said. "I don't think Apple wants to do anything that would affect that relationship."

One of the key questions would be how Apple positions such a product--whether it is pitched as a low-end successor to AppleWorks or as a high-end product that can rival Microsoft's Office. Gartenberg noted that other rivals to Windows, such as Linux, suffer from not having a program that's fully Office-compatible.