The Silly Warnings About iWork

April 26th, 2017

The silly things I read about Apple or an Apple product boggle the mind. The other day, I ran across a perfectly absurd piece suggesting there was something harmful or nasty about Apple’s iWork software.

I’m waiting for the mind to boggle!

Now in the real world, Apple has been producing consumer-level productivity suites for years. It dates back to the launch of AppleWorks for the Apple II platform. Mac and PC versions existed ClarisWorks before becoming AppleWorks.

Apple stopped selling AppleWorks in 2007, two years after its successor, iWork, was introduced.

iWork consists of three apps. Pages provides word processing and simple page layout functions. Numbers is the spreadsheet, and Keynote is the presentation component.

When iWork debuted for the iOS platform in 2013, the critics attacked Apple for releasing comparable Mac versions that lost some key features, such as multiple selection, linked text books, bookmarks, mail merge, the ability to import and export RTF files, page count, and, most important to some, AppleScript support.

Some features have returned, other’s haven’t, but there is also support now for real-time collaboration. Besides, the consumers for whom Apple caters with iWork may not care all that much. It’s not that there are no options for the Mac and iOS platforms. Even better, the three apps are free downloads from Apple’s App Stores. For a while, iWork was free only to people who bought new gear, and that changed recently. While there’s no Windows version, anyone with an Apple ID can use the free cloud-based version that offers a decent subset of features and good compatibility.

System requirements for the latest iWork apps are a little tight, however. You need macOS Sierra or iOS 10. Nothing earlier works. I suppose there’s reason to criticize Apple’s decision, although Macs from seven to eight years old can run Sierra; iOS gear as far back as 2012 can run iOS 10.

All told, the three iWork apps are actually quite decent overall. Keynote is actually superior to PowerPoint for some users; Apple uses it for their on-screen demos at media events, a fact that first became obvious years ago when Steve Jobs claimed that the app was originally designed for him.

It’s quite a good deal, since it means that people switching to the Mac, an iPhone or an iPad can get free productivity apps that offer decent compatibility with Microsoft Office. It’s not full compatibility, but since Office is available and regularly updated for Apple’s computing platforms, nothing stops you from choosing a paid and more full-featured alternative.

Speaking as someone who has used Microsoft’s productivity suite for years — and written a couple of books about it — I can tell you that I do not need all the features available in Office. Most people don’t, and even some businesses can survive on something simpler. By adding real-time collaboration, Apple has entered Google Docs territory without the privacy concerns.

Now long-time users of AppleWorks and ClarisWorks were concerned over the fact that their documents cannot be opened in the current versions of iWork. The compatibility scale is regrettably complicated. So you’d need iWork ’09 to open AppleWorks 6 documents, for example. That’s the reason why I’ve kept the older iWork suite around on my Mac all these years, though I’ve rarely needed it.

While I understand why Apple might want to keep the code base as simple as possible, opening documents from an app’s predecessor shouldn’t present a serious development issue. The ability to handle RTF documents, for example, was recently restored to the suite, but I suspect Apple isn’t paying much attention to the needs of people with older documents that can’t be opened without jumping through some hoops.

I use Pages to write my weekly newsletters for The Paracast. The newsletter is sent via a mailing list script, and the formatting is dead simple, so I can probably do it in TextEdit too, but having a working word count feature is a plus. But I am forced to switch to Word when I write a manuscript for an outside publisher, since that is the standard of the publishing industry.

If I had a wish list, it would be to see Apple explore the potential of iWork, perhaps make a greater effort to match or exceed the features of Microsoft Office. However, it’s still of critical importance for many people that Office be available in macOS and iOS versions. Maybe Apple, having gone through this before, isn’t really interested in testing Microsoft’s limits. Besides, there are many free and low-cost productivity apps in the App Stores. I was surprised how many are actually being offered. Key examples include such advanced word processors as Mellel and Nisus Writer Pro. There are also full-featured office suites for the Mac that are free of charge. A key example is LibreOffice, although it sometimes pays only passing adherence to macOS interface conventions due to its cross-platform development scheme.

Since iWork is free, you lose nothing if you decide not to use it. It’s not that you don’t have lots of potentially superior alternatives.

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One Response to “The Silly Warnings About iWork”

  1. DK Jones says:

    I’ve been using Apple’s iWork apps since 2007, and while I miss the linking text boxes, I’m mostly happy with Pages and Keynote gets some use for the creation of custom titles in iMovie projects as well as presentations. Since I had iWork 09 on my late 2011 13″ MB Pro, (via transfer from a MacBook) I was able to get all the iWork apps free upon their arrival on the Mac App Store. I’ve used Libre Office to provide a common-use/cross-platform for presentations at my church and found it to be quite capable, but neither it, nor MS Office have the cool transitions, effects, options and relative ease of use available in the iWork apps.

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