iWork '06 is Apple's latest update to the closest thing it has to a productivity suite. The two included applications, the slide-show creation tool, Keynote 3, and the graphical page layout program, Pages 2, aren't quite of the same ilk. Keynote 3 is certainly a pro-level tool, being a solid competitor to Microsoft's PowerPoint, but Pages 2 does not really go head-to-head with Microsoft Word, although it boasts new features and is a breeze to use. While Word is a kitchen-sink text editor, with a feature list that verges on bloat, Pages 2 does fewer things. In graphical layouts, it beats Word easily, but it doesn't include features that professional writers need, such as footnoting. You can't buy the applications separately, so you'll have to determine for yourself whether you need both Pages 2 and Keynote 3 or whether one is worth the price of both. Still, though this is no Office killer (no spreadsheet application--yet), iWork '06's combination of power and simplicity can be great for the home or SOHO user.
Upon launch, both Keynote 3 and Pages 2 offer a range of either templates (for Pages) or themes (for Keynote) that can set the overall look and feel of your project. If you want to stick with the provided themes or templates, without making many adjustments to them, either application can be used with the basic interface--little but the project contents will be visible. For advanced work, both applications offer toolbars with commonly used tools, a media browser integrated with the iLife applications, and a single inspector, which is a floating palette with tabs for layouts, tables, text formatting, charts, and more. Both also offer a transparent palette for adjusting photos, much like in Apple's professional photo adjustment and management application, Aperture. With its styles drawer, inspector palette, and main window, Pages can quickly overwhelm a laptop's screen real estate. Keynote's unified interface better fits the laptop screen of the mobile slide-show warrior. Pages could benefit from more keyboard shortcuts for common tasks.
Keynote 3 faces an uphill battle against the entrenched Microsoft PowerPoint, without which, it seems, most marketers and managers can't exist--to the distaste of some people. But Keynote has, from its first incarnation, done some things better than PowerPoint, such as offer clean templates, antialiased text, and the ability to save presentations as cross-platform QuickTime movies. Keynote 3 expands on its past strengths by offering new templates, new cinematic transitions, a Light Table feature that allows you to view and organize all your slides at once, and textured 3D charts that you can rotate to any angle. This revision also moves beyond what we think of as presentation tools, with drawing tools that include Bezier curves, which can be used as alpha-channel masks that can reveal or cover underlying images. This feature can give your slides effects that previously weren't available in a slide-show application. You can include images pulled from iPhoto and video files, thanks to Keynote 3's easy-to-use media browser. The photos can also be tweaked within Keynote 3 via the new iPhoto-like Adjust Image palette. In addition to exporting to a QuickTime movie, you can export your presentation directly to iDVD, preserving chapter breaks between slides. This is a nice feature, though tools for integrating audio are weak, in that they allow you to run only one sound file for the whole presentation, rather than assign different audio tracks to different slides. Also, though you can use a sound file as narration for your whole slide show, you can't record this narration directly in Keynote 3. And it's problematic that you lose many advanced features, such as antialiasing, when you export your Keynote presentation to the PowerPoint format.
Keynote 3 shares with Pages 2 the new tables functionality, which allows you to set up tables with basic calculations and sorting between cells; however, you can't link cells in different tables, and the feature could really use some extra functions, such as roots, powers, and financial tools. In addition to tables, Pages 2 gets new templates, 3D charts, basic commenting features (though not as powerful as Acrobat's and not compatible with Word's Track Changes feature), basic endnote functionality, custom shapes that can be used as masks, a thumbnail navigation tool, and integration with Mac OS X's Address Book. This last feature gives you some mail-merge capabilities, though we couldn't import comma- and tab-delimited files directly into Pages for a mail merge. These are all solid advances, but professional users would love the ability to count words in a selection; master and multifile documents; and have better leading, soft hyphenation, and styled cross-references. Also, Pages needs to be faster: it can lag behind your typing on midrange systems.
The iWork '06 suite doesn't come with dedicated tech support, though the two programs' help functions are relatively competent. If you're online, a menu item directs you to Apple's Keynote and Pages support Web pages, which offer articles on a good range of support topics and have links to community discussions. These discussions are moderated by Apple support employees, though when we visited these pages, the majority of issues seemed to be solved by civilians. One other issue with iWork '06's support is that there is no upgrade program; if you have iWork '05, you still have to pay full price to get iWork '06, and next year you will have to pay full price to get iWork '07.