Many Mac users were happy to see a new “AppleWorks” when iWork was first introduced, only to be somewhat disappointed of the lack of features. While it was nice to have DTP-like qualities that Word lacks in Pages, it remained geared towards the more casual user.
The same was true of Numbers, Apple’s answer to Excel. You could do the basics and the tables created with Numbers are certainly visually appealing. But it simply was no match for the number crunching power of Excel.
iWork ‘09 is actually a considerable step towards a full-fledged office suite. It adds many features that were dearly missed in the previous version and poses the question if this is finally the version of iWork that will make you think twice about purchasing Microsoft’s rather expensive Office suite.
I’m going to focus on Pages and Numbers in this review. Keynote is definitely worth a look too, it’s just that I think that most of us don’t actually do that many slide presentations, whereas virtually everyone, at least occasionally, creates some sort of document and/or does some household budgeting.
Mail Merge with Numbers
The addition of Mail Merge with Numbers is probably one of the most useful features added in Pages ‘09. Previously you could only do a Mail Merge with data from Address Book. But since you won’t always want to add all the addresses you want to use for a Mail Merge to Address Book, and there are more uses for the Mail Merge function than actually creating letters, you can now use any data from a Numbers table to create Mail Merge documents.
When you’re working in a fairly large document, it tends to get pretty difficult to maintain an overview of your document’s overall structure. Dynamic outlines to the rescue. Outline view lets you organize your document structure from a birds-eye view. Collapse the document down to only the headings and sub-headings and reorganize them via drag and drop. Elements take their sub-elements with them when dragged to a new spot.
Apple has apparently taken the cue from shareware apps such as WriteRoom, Scrivener and others, and implemented a full-screen view to minimize visual distraction while you’re working on your document. Enter full-screen view, and everything but the document you’re working on disappears.
You can still access the menu bar and toolbar by moving your mouse pointer towards the top of the screen. The page thumbnails are also available by simply moving your mouse to the left of the screen.
Integration with MathType and EndNote
Pages ‘09 integrates with MathType, which lets you create and insert mathematical equations, and EndNote, which makes it easy to insert references and a bibliography into your document.
New formula editor
Entering formulas in Numbers has become even easier with the new formula editor. Cells referenced in a formula are automatically color-coded and can have names instead of the usual alphanumerical cell reference. This makes it much easier to understand what a formula does at a glance.
Row and column freezing
This is one of those features you only really get to appreciate once your tables get fairly large and you have to start scrolling around to see all the data. Excel has had the ability to freeze a column and a row so that they always show, no matter how far you scroll around in your sheet. That way you always had column and row headings in view.
Numbers ‘09 finally adds this feature no serious spreadsheet user can do without. It works a bit differently than in Excel, but it’s just as useful and looks prettier too (it adds a nice little drop shadow beneath the frozen row/coumn). In Excel, you can designate any row or column to be “fixed”. In Numbers, the row or column you want to freeze has to be a header.
With table categories you can automatically group rows of data by the values in one or more columns. Simply select the column by who’s data you want to group the rows and select Categorize by this Column from the contextual menu. You can define sub-categories simply by repeating this procedure with additional columns.
If you want to use charts from Numbers in your Pages documents or Keynote presentations, this feature will make it much easier to ensure that you always see the latest version of a chart when you make changes to the underlying data in Numbers. Linked charts automatically refresh when the data they are based on changes. So now you can pull a chart into a Pages document and, when you adjust the underlying data in Numbers, there’s no need to embed the modified chart again.
More templates, new chart options
Numbers ‘09 also features a dozen new professionally designed templates to choose from and some nice new chart types, which allow you to mix different 2D charts into one mixed chart.
New sharing options in iWork
Some of the changes in iWork ‘09 reflect in both Pages and Numbers. The most notable are new sharing options and the introduction of iWork.com. The new sharing options let you import and export Pages and Numbers documents to/from Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. You can now also email a document directly from within Pages and Numbers in either Word/Excel or PDF format using Mail.app.
Apple have apparently learned their lesson from the launch of Mobile Me and decided to launch their new web-based document sharing service iWork.com as a public beta. iWork.com lets you share Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents on the Web with Mac and PC users. These users can’t edit the documents you share, but they can add notes and comments using their Web browser and download any document in either the native iWork format, or as Microsoft Office or PDF files.
While most people are more excited about the new iLife package, I have to admit that I’m very happy to see Apple making serious efforts to deliver a full-fledged office suite. I currently still use Microsoft Office:mac for some of my work, especially in areas where iWork ‘08 fell short (e.g. Mail Merge with Numbers). But I’ve already purchased iWork ‘09 and will be migrating more and more of my office documents to Pages and Numbers to see if they can finally take the place of MS Office on my Mac.
If iWork can replace MS Office on your Mac depends first and foremost on your specific needs. iWork ‘09 still falls short of MS Office in terms of functionality. But if you’re one of those people who has been saying for years that you’re maybe using 10% of Office’s functionality, and you’d rather have something less bloated and easier to use, iWork is, now more than ever, definitely worth a closer look.
And if you use Word to create brochures, newsletters or any other type of page layout document, you’ll be happy you switched to iWork anyway. Word isn’t up to the task of page layout because it was never meant to handle these types of documents. Word is mainly a word processor, but Pages can handle both very elegantly. And you also get a stack of really nice-looking templates with Pages, and there are third party templates available too.
iWork available for free and comes as a built-in apps package for Mac OS Yosemite 10.10 or later.
To check out iWork for yourself or get any help check Apple website.