Apple iWork '08 - Mac review

4 out of 5
£55

For

Keynote animation options, Pages simple design, Numbers ability to paste images into cells

Against

Pages doesn't have Auto-format list from start, Numbers isn't as powerful as Excel

Apples are for graphics, PCs for spreadsheets and the office. That's how it used to be, but as the Mac becomes more popular and more and more people are starting to use them, Apple has had to service those who want to do office work without having to turn to Microsoft.

So we get iWork '08, the latest iteration of the software package for office types. Building on the first version which included the company's presentation software Keynote, and word package Pages, Apple has now added Numbers into the mix, a spreadsheet application to go up against the mighty Excel.

Keynote, the same presenting application that Steve Jobs, the company's CEO, uses to do his own launch presentations, is a simple to use package that offers a good alternative to Microsoft's PowerPoint.

Nice features include the ability to set slide sizes, even up to FULL HD 1080p settings and the speed with which you can add more slides and video at the click of a button.

We also like a new feature called Smart Builds that allow you to simply animate your images giving you a bit more pizzazz to your presentations. The application has 11 Smart Builds to choose from, including: dissolve, shuffle, spinning cube, swap, thumb through, and turntable. We especially like the thumb through option that makes it look like you are thumbing through your images on every click.

Another new tool is the ability to quickly remove the background from a product shot, something again useful if you are doing presentations for new launches. Selecting the Instant Alpha tool removes the background color from image so you don't have to waste hours using a photo editing package. Once done you can still resize the image and the mask stays.

If you're into your multimedia you can also add sound or voice recordings to the slideshow and this should come in handy for anyone who isn't able to make the presentation, or for those looking to turn the presentation into a Podcast for people to take away or for putting on the web.

Exporting options come in a variety of fields including being able to create a QuickTime movie, formatted for an iPod or as a HTML file. Those not so multimedia can create it as a PowerPoint file or PDF.

Moving on to Pages, and the interface like Keynote is simple and easy to use. The interface is clean and simple; a far cry from Microsoft Word.

New features for the package this time around include more templates from Apple (snooze) and a proofreading device that tries to get you write according to its style, although its very hit and miss as to its performance.

Like Microsoft Word, there is also the ability to look up highlighted words online but rather than restrict you to Encarta you can search for the word or phrase on Google, Wikipedia or on your own computer via Spotlight. However unlike Microsoft you have to be online for the first two options.

As if hearing the cries from office workers around the globe, Apple has also added the ability to track and monitor changes to the document if there are multiple authors.

What isn't included however is a autoformat and autocorrect feature and as a Microsoft Word user, typing this review in Pages something I've noticed a lot, perhaps down to my poor typing capabilities. In Word, type "thier" and it's automatically fixed to "their" without you thinking about it. In pages it just shows up as a spelling error. You can opt to manually add them via an Auto-Correction menu, but I don't want to have spend time doing that.

We also found that changing the dictionary to British English is possible, however, buried so deep that we only managed to find it after trawling Apple help forums.

Finally, and new to the iWork series is Numbers, a spreadsheet package. Completely new from Apple as a first stab it's pretty good with some nice features for the occasional spreadsheet user. While it doesn't offer the same extensive features of Excel it does do some things very nicely, like the ability to place media within individual cells and offering sorting options from each row or column rather than having to access it via a menu.

We also like the comment function, which while is in Microsoft's Excel has always been a bit of a bugger to use.

Apple being Apple, there are also a number of templates pre set for planning an event and the emphasis here isn't on using it to return your company reports for your £10 million turnover company, but for sorting out a rota for the cleaning in student digs or sorting out everything for a party.

Verdict

For the cost, iWork is a great package that will offer plenty to the user who just wants to write the odd letter or do the odd spreadsheet.

Keynote is brilliant, it's easy to use and the new features make it more interactive and compelling to use over Microsoft's PowerPoint. We especially like the animated elements and the Alpha tool.

Pages is simple but effective and would be even better for a UK audience if it actually supported our language. It won't offer you some of the more advanced features of Microsoft Word, but it will give you a great offering if you write letters occasionally rather than every day.

Numbers? It is the same thing. If you are an occasional user then it should be fine, but if you are looking to be able to split screen, do macros, or anything a bit more adventurous you will start to struggle.

Good for the price, but don't expect to not be irritated by some of its problems.