When most people think about what they need a computer for, the answers are primarily email, Internet, and maybe some word processing of some kind. The majority of consumers aren’t sure what they’ll need. Obviously a Mac can do all of the things you want to do, it’s just a question of how. If you think there’s a possibility you might need to create or edit some documents, be it for work or personal, there are some questions you need to answer for yourself before deciding on your two main choices: Microsoft Office for Mac, or Apple’s iWork suite.
Clearly the first and biggest deciding factor on everyone’s mind is price. Microsoft Office for Mac Business edition retails for $219.99, and the Home and Student Edition retails for $139.99. They also offer a subscription based service called Office 365 for as little as $69.99 per year that gives you access to all Microsoft Office apps plus other features for as long as you subscribe, as well as the option to use version of the software on the iPad. See a comparison of the versions available for more information.
Apple’s iWork suite consists of Pages, Keynote and Numbers and is included free with all new Macs and older Macs that upgraded to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or OS X 10.9 Mavericks. They are also available for the iPad and integrate seamlessly with iCloud.
But which one do you need? Answering that question has to do with what you need, so let’s break down the differences. Microsoft Office has two main versions that apply to most people. The Business Edition is required if you plan to use it for commercial purposes and/or require Microsoft Exchange support. If you have no idea what that means, you probably only need the Home and Student Edition. The Home and Student edition allows installation on up to three personal computers, meaning if you have other family members who may want it, one price is all you pay for use on up to three Macs. Both versions include Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while the Business version includes Outlook . Another key difference is that the Home and Business version is not upgradable.
For those not familiar with it, iWork includes Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Pages is for word processing and is similar to Word. Keynote is a presentation program like PowerPoint, and Numbers is a spreadsheet application similar to Excel. That is the simplified answer. In true Apple fashion, each is easy to use, has powerful features, and integrates with other Apple applications and your documents seamlessly.
The main issues you will run into are compatibility. One of the major misconceptions people have when hearing the word “compatible” are thinking of it only as being between Microsoft and Apple. Compatibility is just as important between versions as it is between operating systems. Someone can email you a Word document made on a Windows computer with Office 2010 and if you have Office 2003 on Windows you may still have difficulty opening the file. Compatibility between Windows and Mac versions is not an issue, as both Microsoft Office for Mac and Apple’s iWork are capable of working with Office files created on a Windows PC. In fact, Apple’s iWork seems to have fewer difficulties working with Office documents than even Office itself does. Apple also incorporated into iWork a feature that allows you to create a document in Pages, for example, and export it as Word document. What this all means is that if someone emails you a Word document, you can open it with Pages, edit it, save it as a Word document, and send it back to them with full confidence they can open it.
Where you will run into problems, just as with a newer and older version on the same computer, is in the different features offered. Pages, for example, has templates, graphics, and other enhancements that will not work in Word, just as Keynote has slide templates and effects that are not available in PowerPoint. For basics, each application will work fine, but when adding effects and style you may run into compatibility issues. Simply being aware of this can often eliminate any problems before they start, and both Office an iWork will let you know about potential issues, allowing you to make just the changes you need to resolve the issues and finish working.
What does it all mean? Well, for quite some time Microsoft Office was the only show in town, and that reputation continues today. Many are unaware that iWork even exists. You can try both to determine what you will actually need. For the vast majority of people, those who do minimal document work or presentations, who don’t need advanced features like Excel macros, the answer should become clear.
Bottom line: Apple’s suite of Pages, Keynote and Numbers is the best choice for most people. It is free and in many cases does more, is easier to use, allows you to work with files created in Microsoft Office, and creates beautiful documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. In each category, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, it far outshines Office for quality and ease of use. For the majority of everyday users, there really is no need for Microsoft Office, not when you can pay nothing and get more with Apple’s iWork suite.