iWork '09 vs. Office 2008 vs. Google Docs - Page 2

By Ryan Faas
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While Numbers focuses on being easy to use, it also provides fairly extensive and intuitive function and formula support. Numbers ’09 includes 250 functions, including many that are commonly used in Excel. Likewise it supports importing and exporting files in Excel formats, though files that have extensive use of Numbers formatting can be a bit challenging to reformat for easing viewing in Excel (even though all data including non-table data is included).

The spreadsheet feature in Google Docs definitely has a much more Excel-like feel to it. The interface is actually very similar to Excel. It supports a fairly broad range of functions and formulas (including some Google-specific ones). One major area where Google differentiates its solution is in its ability to integrate with other Google and web-based tools like gadgets and web-based data entry forms. While these may not be applicable to the majority of users, they do offer unique data entry and output capabilities.

If long-time Word users may feel out of place in Pages, hard core Excel users are definitely going to have some similar opinions about Numbers. With such a different approach, even with similar features, Numbers is going to require more than a little retraining. It also does not perfectly match the feature set of Excel. Two notable exceptions are support for macros (which are essentially stripped from imported documents) and pivot tables (though Numbers does perform feats similar to pivot tables with the new tables categories feature).

Overall, the Excel vs. Numbers question comes down to the question of what features are important to you in a spreadsheet tool and how much of an Excel jockey are you. If you want a functional tool with a visual approach or are a relative spreadsheet novice, Numbers is a great solution. If you’re an experienced Excel user and are more data-oriented, you may find Numbers doesn’t really feel like a good fit or doesn’t do everything you need it to do.

Presentation Animation

PowerPoint and iWork’s Keynote both offer a range of features for developing presentations (as does Google Docs but with such limited support for slide and theme templates and formatting that it really isn’t anywhere near the capability of either PowerPoint or Keynote).

Keynote, however, offers a much broader range of animations and special effects that can be applied to both images and texts. Animated transitions between slides as well as for text and images within a single slide run the gamut from the generic dissolve through 3D visual animations that look more like Hollywood movie effects than transitions in an office suite. The new Magic Move feature enables an amazing level of complex animation of elements from one slide to another, with almost no planning or complex mapping of the effect.

If you’re looking to create presentations with a lot of visual interest, Keynote is a hands down winner. It’s also probably the easiest of the three iWork apps for long-time Office users to adapt to. The basic interface is largely similar to PowerPoint and offers the same features for creating slides, working with templates, editing and viewing presenter notes, and so forth.

Keynote also offers a range of export features including the ability to export to PowerPoint, QuickTime movie, direct upload to YouTube, and export to Apple’s Garage Band for packaging as a podcast. A final great new addition to Keynote ’09 is an iPhone/iPod Touch app that can control a presentation and display both slides and presenter notes on the device.

This allows presenters to present with all the resources that they would have on the Mac and run the presentation regardless of their location, provided they can connect to a WiFi network and thus the Mac in question.

Built-in Templates

Both Office and iWork come with a range of templates and themes for various projects. Those included with iWork tend to cover a broader range, however, and they also tend to have a more professional look to them. By contrast the Office templates tend to look, well, like templates or clip art. Both products also offer the ability to create your own templates or purchase additional third-party ones.

iWork’s templates also function almost as demo projects – each tends to provide sample art, photos, text, and even formulas and charts. This can be viewed as both a pro or con depending on your point of view.

They do provide a lot of starting points for projects and can help you learn how to make use of each application in ways you might not consider. But it also means that to customize many of the templates, you’ll need to replace a lot of existing sample or place-holder elements with your own images and text. Thus, it can help to create your own templates based on the original Apple templates.

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This article was originally published on February 04, 2009
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