iWork vs. MS Office?
April 8, 2005 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I have recently purchased an iBook (G4, 512 Mb RAM, 60 Gig HD, Superdrive) and now I need a software package equivalent to MS Office and can't decide between iWork and MS Office (Mac version). Help me?

I'm leaning towards iWork because its cheaper and seems equivalent but I'm not sure that its suitable? I'm a grad student who would need to make presentations from time to time and may be transferring files (mostly pics but some docs) from our lab machines (which are PC) to my iBook. Any suggstions/advice from the Mac-loving MeFites is most appreciated!
posted by LunaticFringe to Computers & Internet (24 answers total)
As much as it kills me to say this: I'd go with Office. Many of your professors (like mine) will be heavily invested in the Office suite and it'll be easier for you if you're completely compatible.

And you'll probably need Excel for something - to my knowledge there isn't an Apple equivalent.

However: If you're only interested in opening Word docs that you receive from time to time, the free TextEdit app that came with your Mac will handle this just fine.
posted by aladfar at 7:48 AM on April 8, 2005

I've been using iWork and haven't run into any serious file-compatibility issues yet, in terms of moving Word and PowerPoint files to/from Pages and Keynote, but then the documents in question have been relatively simple -- manuscripts, for example. You might run into trouble with extremely weirded-out page formatting. But, when I was a graduate student, I didn't need complex formatting -- then again, I was in history, not biochemistry, so your case may be different.

Most of the features that, say, Word has and Pages doesn't are probably not relevant to your case: for example, tracking changes is good for office environments with many people working on the same document, for example.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:50 AM on April 8, 2005

Links to reviews of Pages (self-del.icio.us-link).
posted by mcwetboy at 7:52 AM on April 8, 2005

Thanks for the helpful comments and links! I have another question: If I make a graph in excel (say on the lab computer) can I export it to Pages (as an image possibly)? I only need Excel for its graphing capabilities, not for it's statistical uses.

The part of pages that I liked was the template for the "research paper" with Table of Contents and bibliography. I find Word's ability to make a ToC extremely limited and the process is an aggravating one. Has anyone had experience with the bibliography function in Pages?
posted by LunaticFringe at 8:04 AM on April 8, 2005

I don't know your budget but the student and teacher edition of office:mac is typically discounted about 70% (around $149) plus you get three installs (you might find another grad student who has an extra install.
posted by Duck_Lips at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2005

Keynote can handle graphing functions, and you should be able to import from Excel without a problem. And Keynote looks a lot better than PowerPoint, even if it doesn't have as many bells and whistles. That said, I use Macs at work and home, and Office figures in at both places, to my chagrin.

Did you iBook ship with AppleWorks? It's old, but still useful for filling in some functionality holes if you decide to go with iWork.
posted by hwickline at 8:40 AM on April 8, 2005

How is the stability of iWork on OS X?

When writing my BA paper last year, the tendency for Word to spontaneously quit was maddenning. I tried AbiWord, which is lame, and considered investing in iWork. I hate MS programs and would prefer them off my computer.
posted by scazza at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2005

Look, not for nothing, but if you're going to use Office files a lot, or going to write a lot, you want Office.

Keynote is a very nice program, and it outshines PowerPoint in a lot of areas, so that's a strong consideration. Pages is very much a 1.0 version, and it is no replacement for Word 2004. To understand Pages, think, "Wow, Keynote has a really strong way of placing and aligning objects on slides. What if Apple used that same engine for a page-based program, and added in all of Mac OS X's powerful typography?" Apple did - it's Pages.

Pages simply does not have the writing chops that Word has. You can do the job in Pages, but it will be more frustrating and take longer, especially if you're going to work on other computers at the same time.

Now, that said, Pages and Keynote both have quite useful charting and graphing tools, so if you have numbers at hand, you may not need to export graphics from Excel. Pages is going to make page layout a lot easier than Word unless you have templates from somewhere - while Word 2004's page layout is improved over, say, Word 5.1a, it's still not as easy as Pages. Keynote probably edges PowerPoint in presentations unless portability is an issue (Keynote presentation "documents" contain copies of all the themes and graphics and can be quite large).

But for writing, Word flattens Pages. The real question is how much money you can spend. If you have $200 to spend, you're set - get both. iWork is only $49 at the Apple Education Store, or at any Apple store (and many if not most Apple resellers) with student ID. Microsoft Office 2004 Student-Teacher edition retails for $149, and can be had more cheaply online (Froogle lists it as cheaply as $123).

Based on those prices, I'd start with iWork, especially since all iBooks come with AppleWorks. It doesn't have Word's writing chops either, but it's simpler and faster than Pages's text engine because it's not Unicode-savvy, etc. (Word 2004 is.) Just don't be surprised or dismayed if you want the full Office suite later, because Pages is a young product, and its text chops just aren't mature yet.
posted by mdeatherage at 9:15 AM on April 8, 2005

More or less a "me too" post, but I'd make a loud sighing sound and just buy Office. The student discount makes it less of a hit than it could be, and the sad fact is, to much of the world "Computer Documents" are MS Office files. The Free/Cheap alternative will handle 80%* of what's in a typical Office file, but when you run into that 20% it's a big old PITA.

Office for OS X isn't half bad, as MS products go. I can't say why, but I prefer using it to the PC version.

*where 80% is a made up number, meant to imply "most of the time, but not always
posted by alan at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2005

Have you considered trying OpenOffice for Mac? I've been using OO for PC for two years now and I've found that it's been very usable. Can't say what the Mac version is like, but it's free.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:27 AM on April 8, 2005

It would be helpful if I told you that OO is available at openoffice.org, I guess
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:29 AM on April 8, 2005

I wanted to replace Word with Pages, I really did. But Pages's exporting just didn't assure me that the documents would look right when I sent them to editors -- at least if there are pictures.

OO on Mac is OK. I used it for a couple years and was surprised, when I installed Word, at the relative misery I'd been subjecting myself to.

Pages is at least more fun than OO.

If you don't need to work on your files in collaboration with others, Pages is pretty cool. One grad student caveat: I couldn't figure out how to get it to do endnotes. Footnotes, yes.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:07 AM on April 8, 2005

Another possible solution is to use iPages for creating files, and OpenOffice for reading files. OO has a terrible interface, and is a pain to get running, but is awesome for opening files. They look exactly as they do on a PC running Office. And, of course, it's free.
posted by Sibrax at 11:21 AM on April 8, 2005

Your university might have a licensing agreement with Microsoft or Apple. My school (Indiana University) has an agreement, and I can get a copy of MS Office on a CD from the bookstore for $5. I could also download it from them for free.
posted by billybunny at 11:36 AM on April 8, 2005

There's a custom Open Office build for OSX called NeoOffice. I've got it on my machine and it works pretty well - much more fitting with the Mac HCI than straight OO.

Have you considered LaTeX?
posted by unixrat at 11:47 AM on April 8, 2005

Another free word processor is AbiWord.
posted by D.C. at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2005

I also hate to say it, but if you need to share documents easily or need to do more than just write papers with very simple formatting, Word is the way to go.

I probably sang the praises of Pages earlier, but that was before I tried to write multiple 15 + page papers on it. It's not terrible, and it can be done, but Word is just better at handling large documents with lots of formatting and foot notes and tables of contents and cases. And it's quite the pisser that my MS Word using classmates can download this nifty little plugin from West Law to automatically create a table of authorities while I have to muddle away at it by hand.

The import/export feature is a bitch. You can open .rft and .doc files directly, but they open in as .pages files and to save them, you have to export back to .doc or .rtf. It's likely to the point of being a surety that the formatting changed somewhere in those imports and exports so there's no guarantee that what you see is what someone else will get.

Then again, I haven't broken down and bought Office X, but it may be that I'm suffering from Mac martyrdom. Or that I hadn't really considered that as an option before right this moment.

Anyway, as much as I want to love Pages as my only word processor, it's just not worthy of my exclusive devotion quite yet. My previous experience w/ OO on Mac was painful to the extreme. I like the advice to sigh heavily and just buy Office X.
posted by jennyb at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2005

Get the student version of Office for mac.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:38 PM on April 8, 2005

I've done some very large documents with OpenOffice and on the Mac I use NeoOffice. The one weakness I see in OpenOffice is probably the spreadsheet, it's not quite as polished as Excel yet and at least the last time I tried couldn't open Microsoft spreadsheets with locked cells.
posted by substrate at 2:05 PM on April 8, 2005

Just a little note:
There is no guarantee that formatting and characters (particularly characters) will be conserved when opening a PC Word produced document in Mac Word. This applies to Office X, not 2004 (which I have never used). I am considering a switch to iWork myself.

Does Pages require more than a couple clicks to output a .doc file?
posted by Corpus Callosum at 3:06 PM on April 8, 2005

Consider an alternative to both? There are more options with OS X than you might think. Nisus Writer Express is cheaper than both, and to my mind, a better writing tool than either. Mellel is well-regarded for academic stuff, though it's more arts/soc-sci orientated. For your lab stuff, you may be better off climbing the LaTeX learning curve... and looking at Ulysses, which has a nice stripped down interface for long, multi-part documents and exports to LaTeX, which is likely a format that your favourite journals accept with relish.

If you're even thinking of writing your doctoral thesis in MS Word, stop right now. It's a recipe for disaster. Keynote for presentations? Sure. But for journal articles and your thesis, you don't want to be faffing about with WSIWYG.
posted by holgate at 1:22 AM on April 9, 2005

These are all really helpful comments! Thank you everybody!

I was planning on writing my thesis (someday!) as well as a couple papers in Pages (if I get it) and its good to know that it may not be able to handle a large document with pictures and graphs. Most papers run around 30 pages of text plus figures and references. I have heard of LaTex (which I thought was Latech...) and have not ruled it out. I hear its really excellent for including references as you go (I like this option). Our campus computer store sells Office in "component" form so if I decide to get iWork and Pages doesn't suit my needs then it is possible to simply go and purchase Word without having to purchase the entire Office suite. I would really like to avoid microsoft as I am sick of their programs and all the bugs/spyware that come with it (former XP user).

I think I may try out Pages and see how it works. My iBook came with a demo of office so I can fire up one of my older papers and try them out that way. Thanks again for all of input!
posted by LunaticFringe at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2005

I concede up front that many people will find this flatly insane, but I write nearly everything in HTML and, where necessary, import into Word (and then sometimes into InDesign). But not everybody can just type out HTML by hand (aided by a well-oiled machine known as BBEdit).

This would not work for a paper with footnotes, but it would work for a wide range of other documents. It does for me.
posted by joeclark at 12:34 PM on April 9, 2005

Well, as your personal stalker, I think I'll recommend Office. The Powerpoint program is unmatched in the market, and I personally find it indispensable while making business presentations to the row of stuffed animals on my bedroom shelf. Gooooo Office!
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2005

« Older Is it a bad idea to hire a co-worker to clean your...   |   Practical Jewelry Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.