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iWorks or Office 365: Choosing a Mac, iOS suite

Apple rebooted iWorks early in 2014 with versions for both OS X and IOS. The software runs much the same on Macs and iPads although there are feature differences.

iWorks is free if you buy a new Mac or iPad. If you have older devices, you can buy the apps — Pages, Number and Keynote — from the app store.

Although iWorks is a suite in the sense that the individual apps play nicely together, Apple sells the components individually: the Mac apps are NZ$25 each while the iPad versions are $13.

Mac Office 365

On a Mac, Microsoft’s Office 365 means the four-year-old Office:2011. Microsoft promised a new version of its OS X software in 2014, at the time of writing it is overdue. I’m now told to expect it in the next few months.

Microsoft sells Office 365 subscriptions. There’s a NZ$119 per year personal subscription which buys just one copy of the software. A better deal is the $165 Office 365 Home which gives you the right to put the software on up to five computers and five mobile devices.

There are iPad versions of Microsoft’s main Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Although they are free to download, you need an Office 365 subscription to unlock them for serious work.

Apple Pages, Microsoft Word

Although Apple’s Pages is often described as a word processor, it is also a page design tool. In some ways it is like having Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher in the same package.

Pages comes with lots of layout tools. All the formatting stuff displays in a context-sensitive Inspector panel taking up the right-hand quarter of the screen. You only get to see the things that you need immediately.

As you’d expect, Pages does a great job of making words look pretty on a page.

Word processing purists will consider Pages lacks the power of Word. Lawyers and people needing to create complex documents may find Pages can’t meet all their needs.

Moving smoothly from Pages to Word

As someone who writes for a living, I like Pages’ simplicity. I hide everything and work on a big blanks screen hiding the Inspector screen and the tool bar from sight. That way the software stays out-of-the-way.

Many of the keyboard commands in Word work in Pages. In fact I can move smoothly between Pages and Word barely missing a beat.

Most of the people I work for expect to get Word documents from me. Pages can save in Word format, so that’s easily done. I’ve never had a problem with this, nor do I have a problem loading Word documents into Pages for editing. However, not everything comes across from complex Word documents, so you may run into problems if you are, say, asked to use Word’s tracked changes feature to edit someone’s work in Pages.

Numbers, Excel

Word may have more features than Pages, but there’s not a huge conceptual or practical gap between the two apps. In comparison there’s a huge gulf between Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet and Excel.

In the same way Pages has fewer features than Word, Numbers offers less complexity than Excel in terms of calculations. But what it lacks in computational power, it makes up in layout flexibility. You can have multiple tables on each spreadsheet tab, then move them around to make things look great on the display.

Because Numbers lets you mix text, graphs and numbers on each page, you can quickly create attractive-looking presentations based on your numeric information. Numbers is a great tool for business planning and even better for presenting plans to others.

Keynote, PowerPoint

Apple’s KeyNote and PowerPoint each have their fans. The two apps are more or less on a par in terms of what they do. KeyNote is the more flexible and some people find it easier to use than Microsoft’s presentation tool. It has some great features including the ability to mask out image backgrounds without the need for Photoshop or similar, expensive apps.

Mac users who rarely create presentations might do better with Keynote than PowerPoint thanks to the sample slides and layouts provided with the app. The Microsoft templates are so familiar to many of us that inexperienced Keynote users get a creative head start with the less familiar images, clip art, designs and backgrounds.

iWorks ahead for now

To get the most from iWorks, you’ll need an iCloud account. It’s the only way to store iWorks documents from an iPad, on a Mac you can store locally or in iCloud.

Office 365 and iWorks were both showing their age at the start of 2014. Apple’s suite now has the edge, but that could change when Microsoft refreshes Office. The iPad Office apps are excellent so are the latest Windows apps. This bodes well for the next Mac version.

If you only need some office apps, say, just a word processor, then a one-off NZ$25 — or possibly nothing — for each iWorks app is a better deal than the NZ$119 a year for the most basic Office 365 subscription.

Microsoft Office 365 has the edge if you work with Macs or iPad and Windows devices. And Office makes life easier if you need to work with others who are on Windows devices. If you are committed to Apple, you may prefer iWorks. As a bonus, it integrates nicely with other Apple software like iPhoto.