Office vs. iWork: Which performs best in the real world?

Mac users typically choose either Microsoft Office or Apple iWork tools. Erik Eckel explores which app is best for completing most real-world tasks.

Office vs. iWork

Most Microsoft Office users tap only a fraction of the productivity software's capabilities. The most basic, commonly accessed functions — such as those used for text formatting, inserting elements, and file formatting — can quickly become lost among a myriad of other functions. Consider how many times a day a business user reaches for such commonly used functions, and it's easy to understand how confusion and frustration arise, not to mention production inefficiencies.

I believe that's why Apple's worked to create such simple, yet capable, software. Take Apple's Pages for example. The basic Pages interface features just a dozen icons. That's it. Microsoft Word? Almost 50, by my count. Apple's Numbers and Keynote boast the same advantages vs. Microsoft's Excel and PowerPoint.

Normally, I'd be inclined to believe the iWork suite's lack of complexity would make it difficult to format attractive documents, build compelling spreadsheets, and create arresting presentations. But I've used Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for almost a decade, and I've never encountered trouble.

The iWork tools provide ready access to frequently used features. The simplicity makes it easier to create and format documents, build information-rich spreadsheets, and create, share, and present powerful presentations. Ultimately, that's the business goal for these applications.

Consider the most common actions users are likely to complete using iWork Office-counterparts. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote make it easy to access all the following functions:


  • Text formatting
  • Bullet and numeric list formatting
  • Image placement
  • Table and chart insertion
  • Header and footer editing


  • Cell function editing
  • Table and chart manipulation
  • Text formatting
  • Header and footer formatting
  • Grid line and border formatting
  • Row and column sizing and adjustment


  • Slide creation
  • Slide formatting
  • Text formatting
  • Image, table, and chart insertion and editing
  • Slide animations and transitions
  • Audio and video integration
  • Presentation playback

Like Office's programs, the iWork productivity apps — Pages, Numbers and Keynote — all include attractive templates, integrated cloud-synchronization features, integrated spell-checking, multiple standard export and Save As options, plus tablet and smartphone compatibility. The true differences are in ease of use and price. While Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Business costs $219.99 (USD) per Mac, the purchase price for Pages, Numbers, and Keynote totals just $59.97 (USD).

The Word vs. Pages (and Excel vs. Numbers / PowerPoint vs. Keynote) comparison reminds me of the Pepsi Challenge. Blind testers frequently prefer the sweeter, less-harsh flavor of Pepsi vs. other colas. The iWork office productivity apps (to be fair to Apple, the entire iWork collection also includes iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand) are similar. Once you try them, you may well find you prefer the alternative's refined operation.

Which do you prefer — Microsoft Office or Apple iWork — and why? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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