Apple

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:

Pages

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

Numbers

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

Keynote

  • 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.

About

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...

49 comments
DavidHarrisLH
DavidHarrisLH

No mention of Softmaker! There's a free version that is quicker and easier to use than other software. And it's European so spelling and syntax is correct!! It's certainly one of my favoUrites

jeigenbrode
jeigenbrode

I used the MS Office suite for years, since it was the choice of my employer, however I personally prefer the iWork suite. Pages and Numbers have all the functionality I require and Keynote can create a much cleaner presentation than PowerPoint and has some features that are not available in PowerPoint. So far there has been not a feature of the MS Suite that I have to been able to solve creatively in the iWork suite.

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

For the last three and half years i have been using iWork for all of my personal productivity needs while working on my Master of Science in Computer Science, not because I do not have access to Office but to start with because of the synchronization with the iPad & iPhone. After a year I removed Microsoft Office from my Mac because I never used them. It has suited my needs that these apps provides. I have realized that i did not need the functionality of Microsoft Office most of the time. There could be times when I would have liked to take advantage of the extra features, but I think that I will find other ways to fullfill those needs than through Office. There are times when people send me Microsoft documents that are formatted in such a way that do not conform to Microsoft's published document file specifications, but that is rare. Suffice it to say, I am done with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Now if I could just get the workplace to ditch Microsoft as well!

OccultusErfordensis
OccultusErfordensis

Thank you for the article. since I've to work with MS Office it happens often enough that I'm frustrated because of any hidden feature which was quit clear to use in a previous version and now it's hidden somewhere else. I supported EDMs but most of questions I got according missing knowledge about Office. Even if it is the used tool in business.

And last bot not least in time of more and more keeping files for a long time. Did anyone try to open an Office 95 file with the most current version of Office? It happen it's necessary having OOo/LO in place, open the old file there and save it again as a MS Office file. I don't call such a behavior a standard.

KlausJW
KlausJW

I'm using Android, Chrome OS and Linux MINT on several devices. My 1st choice is Google Apps (Drive , docs etc.) but I still have a copy of LibreOffice on my Linux machine. Soon I will add an iMac to my zoo and I will take a look into iWorks.... but there is no chance for MS Office. I havent used it for about 4 years now. And I don't miss it.

sbr
sbr

iWork - when possible.

Sometimes a document will not open correctly in Pages (especially pictures tend to cause problems), so I use Office on those occations, but I do not like how the Office suite feels like a set of windows programs, shoehorned into the mac.

comdr
comdr

Lets hope you never have to use a sixth feature to complete your work in Pages.... oops 

Mark A. Stewart
Mark A. Stewart

MS Office because it is one of the leading office programs that money can buy. :D Have played with iWork but don't really see any advantage with it.

skris88
skris88

Google Drive.  Can't beat it's ease of sharing and collaboration. Unless you are a lawyer preparing contracts, Google's apps are hard to fault. Maybe there is an extension already available in Google Chrome that will do the legal fancy footwork for you!


Unlike iWorks, Google Drive is cross-platform.  PC, Mac, iOS, Android. It's also Free!

jqbecker
jqbecker

OK everyone, you heard it here first. Tell your organizations to dump office and switch to iWork. Even if you have thousands of users, even if you don't have any Mac's. It won't be hard to re-train everyone, iWork is so superior and so easy, all you users will just "get it" right away and love you for it. If the CEO rings you up to complain, tell them you read it here that iWork is better. And you should switch the whole corporation ASAP.


Right.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

Open / free office apps for desktops are not user friendly to the non-tech people. For the sake of simplicity, I'd rather use Google Drive. For full functionality, I prefer Microsoft Office. I'm not a big fan of formatting the entire document as I pretty much manually set my own formatting in Word but in Excel and PowerPoint, formatting works almost flawlessly once you get how it works.

Bruce MacDonald
Bruce MacDonald

open office libre office or vi and nroff all better than ms office

anil_g
anil_g

Who are these office fan bois in the comments who just state 'office' but give no reasons? Are we just expected to 'believe'? Sorry, we've already experienced the grind of reality.

MS Word is legendary in it's ability to combine it's formatting commands SO intractably that you can't undo them.

How many of us have been called in to help an admin staff member who's been working on a Word document for a number of hours and they can't get it to format correctly? It won't line up or space correctly in part of the document or you can't get the headers to work consistently because of sections or something like that.

The best solution is to remove all formatting and start again. If necessary, save as text and then reload and format the whole document from scratch. When I start a MS Word document I apply NO formatting, and finish all the text first, then format it once at the end, to minimise (not avoid) problems. It's like windows itself: you need to reboot every now and then or you're in trouble.

Better still, don't use Word in the first place. Let other people use it so you can feel the freedom and laugh. Use Open Office or Libre Office or change your document generation workflow completely (RST or something).

I'm loving the spectacular view we are getting in the 21st Century of the long, slow, gradual collapse of the Microsoft edifice as it slowly dawns on the world how remarkably poor Microsoft software actually is. The slaves are gradually being set free.

Mike.Scheerer
Mike.Scheerer

iWorks all the way for me.


Office is just too bloated with obscure functionality that is not used by 98% of its users...


Add to that the annoying practice of Office insisting on thinking it knows WHAT you want to do and almost always getting it wrong.


iWorks just allows the user to do EXACTLY what they want to do, easily and effectively!

Damon Palovaara
Damon Palovaara

OpenOffice is better than both not to mention that it's free!

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

As a novelist, blogger, newsletter writer and Lion's Club member, I tend to use the iWork applications across the board for their simplicity and ease of use. They have everything I need to create the documents and presentations without the complexity and often confusing detail-oriented 'features' included in Office. Over the years I have consistently performed the same tasks as Office users more quickly and to the same level of 'finish' that my compatriots have while using Office.


At 1/4th the cost, why do I need all the junk stuffed into Office?

RBDP
RBDP

I have watched, and sometimes used. Microsoft Office since it was invented. Quite surely, Microsoft Office lost track of its purpose and became bloatware of ghastly proportion, poorly programmed to say the least. When a program tries to become and "end all, be all" which strays from its base purpose, more than "bloatware" becomes viable in terms of negativity.


I expunged Office from my computer years ago, using the much more purpose centric, lean by comparison, but document for document, indistinguishable or better than Microsoft Office, iWorks for most of my documents. When it comes to pre-press, I use Abobe InDesign and Photoshop  CC. Quark has long lost its luster, though I am a registered non-user.


When I MUST open an Office document in an Office-like interface, I use Open Office, which is free. Then I convert it to whatever is needed.


Way back when, we had Calamus, which had more button clicks in it than Word+Excel+Powerpoint+Pages+Numbers+Keynote+InDesign+Photoshop+After Effects COMBINED all in a program fiercely dedicated to ONE THING: desktop publishing. Nothing since has even remotely touched the power of that program, but time moves on.

cpguru21
cpguru21

I would imagine that for most everyday tasks (creating basic document or excel spreadsheet) and even some more advanced it is a matter of preference.


MY main purpose for staying with word or office (besides the fact that is a standard for business) is the large merges we complete annually and throughout the year.  I have yet to find a product that handles merges better than word and excel.


We are a predominantly Mac environment.  My predecessor hated Microsoft (for no good reason that I could discern, just hate them) and we searched for a few years for an alternative.  Despite the annoying changes and differences from version to version, we endured.


I have not ventured to another office app in a while.  It is time to review again.

ebeckeritsys
ebeckeritsys

After a year with Mac, I prefer iWork tools.  I use Office too but prefer iWork tools.

DebbiLawson
DebbiLawson

I suspect this may be a case similar to that of video formats (VHS vs. Beta). Technically, I understand that Beta was considered "better," but since VHS had the most marketshare, it eventually won out.  In many business sectors and in the government - Office is the standard.

fugtruck
fugtruck

@dogknees I agree with you about needing specific features; however, I couldn't disagree with you more about wanting an application that alters its behavior trying to predict your needs.  I personally cannot stand it when an application tries to predict my needs, especially when I am trying to do something different.  That's the reason I hate Word so much because I have to fight it to get it to format the way *I* want, not the way it thinks I want (Excel on the other hand I love).


An application needs to be predictable and consistent, not try to be smarter than me.

Sabrin Islam
Sabrin Islam

lol, the title of the article should be more like "Why iWork is much much better than everything out there" Seriously wayy too fanboyish here, no mention of OpenOffice nor LibreOffice nor Kingsoft?

John Warren
John Warren

I run osx/win/Linux, LibreOffice puts the two mentioned to shame.

Julian White
Julian White

I smell a fanboy for the article author.

dogknees
dogknees

Pretty much every Word document I create or work on has multiple level numbering schemes and complex formatting and every Excel file uses VBA code in some way or uses things like pivots tables/charts and links to corporate data sources.


When the "replacements" can do everything the Office apps do and more I will be interested in them. I don't want less options, but more. I don't want dumber applications, I want smarter ones that learn my habits and preferences and change their behaviour accordingly. Apps that use strong AI are what I'm waiting for.

Trentski
Trentski

Using any idevices is way too slow, the productivity loss just isn't worth it

SeanPConrad
SeanPConrad

iWork is free with any new Apple device, and once linked to your iCloud account you can use it on any other Apple devices. That effectively means it's free for an increasing % of users as they get new Macs, iPads, and iPhones... just one and you get iWork for free. All my iWork documents and content are immediately available on all my Apple devices and that is very valuable. iWork is also available on the web on Windows - so no real need for Office for most of us.


I've used Office for a long time, but I'm planning on replacing my Windows laptop with a new Macbook - and with iWork being free I sure won't be paying the big bucks for Office.


Office has 1 thing still going for it - corporate IT. Corp IT is not normally comfortable with iCloud for storage and will roll out Office as a standard. Microsoft will retain that market for now, but I can't see the consumer market shelling out that kind of $ for Office going forward.

zooeyjfp
zooeyjfp

And the templates are so much more aesthetic. I would be embarrassed to use most of PowerPoint's backgrounds.

bigsteve666
bigsteve666

All wordperfect files are backwards and forwards compatible. As an attorney there is no comparison WordPerfect is far better.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

@skris88  Actually, the non-cross-platform comment about iWork isn't completely true.  While I do believe it's true you have to have a Mac to have iWork, you can access your iWork apps via browser on a PC.  Additionally, thanks to the new "share" feature in some of the iWork apps (Pages, Keynote & Numbers), you can collaborate with other users who are on a PC via their web browser (who obviously do not have iWork installed).  And, iWork comes free on new Macs (and has for a little while).  And upgrades are free as well.

So, while it's true you do have to have a Mac to install iWork, you don't have to be on a Mac to access the "work related" apps... and it's free.  Kind of somewhere between Office and Google-Drive.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

@jqbecker You do realize this article was posted in the APPLE section of TR don't you?  I think a fair assumption that could be made is that an article written in the APPLE section regarding comparisons between iWork (which is basically only available on Macs) vs MS (or anything else for that matter) is so that people who actually have Macs can be informed from a Mac user's point of view.

In my former position in a company that uses MS-Excange, as a Mac user I found that much of what this article says was completely true (with one exception for me which was that I prefer Excel over Numbers, mostly because I'm very familiar with Excel and haven't invested the time to get to know Numbers).  So, for that company it would be a silly thing to say  drop Office across the board, BUT for the Mac users in that environment (which I was) I would highly, HIGHLY recommend Pages over Word (any day of the week), and the same goes for Keynote as well.  Now that I'm an independent business person I use Pages and NEVER touch Word (other than to check formatting after exporting from Pages as a Word document) or PowerPoint, though I do still use Excel (still haven't taken the time to get to know Numbers).

Seems to me from reading the replies to most articles in the APPLE area of TR, is that people who come here to the APPLE area to read articles are one of two types... 1) Folks who have Macs, or 2) Those who come to bash everything APPLE.

dogknees
dogknees

@fugtruck The problem is with the way current apps learn, or don't. If we get some serious AI technology into the apps it could work as promised. Not a generic auto-text type thing, but one that is specific to the type of documents I create and work on. For example, it might recognize the "tone" of my text and not offer suggested spellings when I'm using conversational language, but do so when I'm using more formal language.


That said, I've found over the years that a lot of the "helper" features are useful provided you are prepared to invest a little time in making them suit your particular needs. Things like auto-text, a pet hate of a lot of people, work as long as you maintain the substitution list and update it when it doesn't do what you want.


Another point is that nobody should expect a product to work in a way that suits their specific needs. The first thing you do is go through the settings/options and configure it to suit.


How on earth do people think MS, or any other vendor, can make an application suit their specific needs? Do they really believe that everyone else in the world likes things the way they do? Do they really believe they are the most effective users in the world in every application they use? The way some commentators sound, I can only think that they do.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

Again, why do people come to the APPLE area of a site and respond to articles written for folks who have Macs, from a Mac user's point of view and then cry "fanboy".  It's ridiculous.

OccultusErfordensis
OccultusErfordensis

@bigsteve666 You are right. But the only problem is, there is no WP for Mac OS. What a pity. I used WP for a long time but since I switched to Mac OS it's over.

info
info

@BBaldwin803 Because this article was just presented to some of us as a newsfeed. No idea which 'area' it was from. But even for being in the Apple section, this article was pretty much, "iWork is so much better than Office, I don't even going to talk about any Office features! Cause Apple. It also has less features, so it's easier to use..." I'm an Apple supporter myself, and I actually see what the author is trying to say. For a Power User, it's a no-brainer, but the Average User that I have to support will have issues with ANY deviation from the 'mainstream'. Also, the first time a user needs a feature/tool that iWork doesn't offer.


MS offered MS Works to Windows users back in the day for just that reason, basic functionality. THAT flew like a lead balloon...

wingnut1024
wingnut1024

Bottom line is that I, like others, don't think this was balanced because of lack of comparisons. If it's just about the number of icons then that's not that much of a comparison.

I'm not going to say fanboy so you can't hold that against me BUT not enough meat for a real analysis.

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