Is iWork '09 an Office Competitor?

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I work across platforms, but I've never bothered with productivity software beyond Microsoft Office. It always seems like it does a good enough job, plus everyone else uses it, facilitating easy file sharing. Although I'm embarrassed having typed that out; can't I pick productivity software that I actually... like?

At the Macworld Expo, Apple released its latest productivity suite, iWork '09. A few of its new features have grabbed my interest. I'm still skeptical, but I'm going to try out this Mac-only software over the next week or two to see if it can actually replace my Office use.

One potential drawback is that it's Mac-only. So I'll be relying on its compatibility with Office files; the word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation software can save in Microsoft's ubiquitous formats. However, I was warned that some of Apple's features wouldn't carry over in Redmond's formats. That caveat aside, a few of the new features look good.

Pages seems like a streamlined word processor, including a simplified view to block out all distractions from other applications. Its template features look designed for Mac fans--in a good way--so I'll dabble with some of the letterheads, newsletters, and other styles.

Numbers may have finally matured into a competent spreadsheet application in this release. Some simple, quick re-sorting options look good. Plus new chart tools and formulas could provide enough power to many Excel users. Still, Numbers seems like the weakest direct Microsoft matchup, but maybe it has enough abilities for casual use.

Keynote mostly seems to add new animation features and themes, but its previous editions already created simple, attractive presentations. I'm most interested in the iPhone and iPod touch remote application that can control your deck. It previews the next slide, shows notes for your talking points, and otherwise helps your performance. simply shares files and allows annotations through a web browser. (I mistakenly thought it looked like a Google Docs competitor, but it's a not an editing tool.) It's free for now, in its beta period, although Apple says it'll charge for the service at some point in the future. I doubt I'd pay for it, but I'll take a closer look in its current state.

I'll be dabbling with these tools, anecdotally seeing how they hold up against the Office behemoth. And I'm feeling inspired to check out Open Office and any other alternatives to see if they can substitute in small office environments. I'll let you know what I find.

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