The $79 iWork '08 is a solid deal for anyone needing an affordable office suite for the Mac. Apple has added the spreadsheet application Numbers, an elegant no-brainer for anyone migrating from Microsoft Excel. In the past, many Mac aficionados bought Microsoft Excel because iWork lacked a spreadsheet tool. However, with the addition of Numbers and the release of Microsoft's Office for Mac 2008 delayed until January, Mac users may stick to Apple's less-expensive option. We're also happy that Mac hasn't changed its file formats as Microsoft did with Office 2007. iWork applications can read Microsoft's new files, saving the work in the older format.
Setup and interface
The system requirements of iWork '08, thankfully, are gentle to users of older Macs. You'll need an Intel, PowerPC G5 or G4 machine with a 500MHz or better processor, in addition to a minimum of 512MB of RAM, running OS X10.4.10. Installation took about 10 minutes in our tests.
We like the sparse interfaces throughout the iWork package. Its features aren't as rich as those in Microsoft Office 2007, but iWork also hasn't changed radically from its last incarnation, unlike Office. iWork also covers much more than just the basic productivity tasks offered by online tools such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets or the Zoho suite, so it should be adequate for the vast majority of home and small-business users.
Apple seemingly tore a page out of Microsoft Office's book by creating a Contextual Format Bar that displays different features according to your task at hand. Select a block of text and the bar shows font options. Click on a picture and the bar displays image-editing features. Unlike the contextual formatting Ribbon interface within Microsoft Word 2007, however, Pages offers no live previews of font and image changes as you hover over them.
Pages '08 also adds Change Tracking, similar to the Track Changes feature adopted many years ago by Microsoft Word. We're glad that Pages gets this treatment rather than the often confusing revision and commenting history offered by the online Google Docs. Plus, Pages integrates tracked changes with those in Microsoft Word files.
Pages includes the usual must-have features for writers such as footnotes, bookmarks, dictionary, and thesaurus, as well as tables of content, in addition to integration with charts and functions from Numbers. Pages now detects when you're typing a list and formats bulleted points automatically. We just hope that this won't drive us batty, as it does sometimes in Microsoft Word. Plus, you can integrate Pages documents with an iWeb blog.
There are plenty of page templates for letters, resumes, reports, and the like to get started if a blank slate poses too much pressure. Page Layout mode lets you create relatively complex designs without software such as Adobe InDesign, great if you're throwing together reports for work. It lets you layer images on top of images too. The Instant Alpha feature, also found in Keynote and Numbers, lets you cut out backgrounds in images without dealing with alpha channels, a la Photoshop. And we prefer Pages' color wheel, crayons, and spectrum to Word's color options.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 may be richer, but Apple Keynote '08 adds some smart features that PowerPoint lacks. It's also a breeze to figure out from the get-go. Keynote offers 39 themes for whipping together a presentation.