iWork ’09 vs Office for Mac 2011


iWork '09 vs Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 image

One question that people often ask when they first move to the Mac platform is what is the better  Apple’s iWork ’09 or Microsoft’s Office 2011 ?

The purpose of this article is to look at the 3 main applications in each suite and discuss the key differences between them, and how that might influence your decision, based on what you intend to use the apps for.

Apple’s iWork ’09 (released in January 2009), consists of 3 applications, Pages (word processing), numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (Presentation). The cost (as at June 2013) is $19.99 for each App on the Mac App store ($59.97 for all 3)

Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 (released in Oct 2010), consists of Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheet), Powerpoint (Presentation) and Outlook (email/calendar/contacts). The cost (as at June 2013) is $139.99 for the single license Home and Student version (which does not include Outlook) on the Microsoft Web Store. The version for Home and Business which does include Outlook is priced at $219.99. Pricing may be lower at other websites like Amazon.

Office Compatibility

One of the key reasons that should influence your choice between the two suites is whether or not you need to collaborate on documents with  Windows users. iWork ’09 has the ability to both read and write documents in Microsoft Office format, but it  is not perfect. Conversion accuracy might be acceptable with simple documents, but can lead to formatting errors or even loss of document functionality when files are converted.

For example, a simple Keynote table that looks like this;


When exported from Keynote to a Powerpoint format and opened in Powerpoint, the same table looks like this;


You can see that the conversion has changed not only the number justification, but also the conditional colouring of the negative numbers.

The different document structure in Excel (having multiple tables on the same page) can cause problems exporting Numbers files to Excel. For example  the ‘budget’ template in Numbers looks like this;

Numbers Budget template

But when exported to an Excel format and opened in Excel, it looks like this;

Microsoft Excel numbers Budget

As Excel does not support multiple tables on a sheet in the same way that Numbers does, the conversion has to put the tables on separate Excel tabs, thus destroying the layout of the original numbers document.

If you are in an environment where you need to regularly need to collaborate with other windows users then Microsoft Office is the best suite to buy.

I should mention that if you only need to send out documents to other people who you are working with and they don’t need to edit the documents that you send them, iWork can generate pdf files, which are readable with Adobe reader in  Windows.

Office 2011 is the best release of Office Microsoft has released for the Mac in some time. Compared to Office for Mac 2008, it is much faster, and has better compatibility with the Windows version of office. The latest version of Office has collaboration support, allowing multiple users to edit a document on Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud-based storage or on a Sharepoint Server. The latest version also includes support for Visual Basic for Applications.

Word Processing (Pages vs Word)

Word and Pages are good word processing applications. Both applications are just as easy and capable to create, edit and do basic formatting to text. Pages has a superior user interface that is simpler and easier to use.

Pages Design Template

Pages Design Template

Both Pages and Word provide great looking templates to get you started. Word does provide more templates than Pages, however there are a number of websites where you can obtain additional templates if you need them (free and paid).

Although Pages has fewer templates than Word, unlike Word all of the templates have multiple layout styles for different pages, all based on the same design theme. For example in the Design Newsletter template page styles include cover, 3 column with slider, table and 3 column etc.

Word 2011 'Advantage' Newsletter Template

Word 2011

Word 2011 also contains themes – customisable selections of fonts, colors, and paragraph formatting, which can be applied to multiple document types to make different documents visually consistent. Pages does not have an equivalent function.

When it comes to inserting and manipulating images and other objects such as tables, Pages manages this better than Word does, however both applications give you access to the Mac Media Browser. The Mac Media Browser gives you easy access to your photos in iPhoto or Aperture, music in iTunes and movies in iMovie.

Both Word and Pages allow you to add charts and tables into your documents. These can be created from data held in spreadsheets.

Word is better at handling long documents with extensive footnotes and endnote capability (you have to choose one or the other in Pages) , complex Table of Content handling including automatic updating and Bookmarks. Pages also lacks  a citation manager, which can be found in Word.

Word Processing Summary

Word has more business oriented templates and the themes function can be used to give all your documents a consistent look, and perhaps has the shortest learning curve if you familiar with Word for Windows.

Pages is quicker, has a better user interface and simpler to use , all of the templates have multiple page styles and manages photo’s and other graphic elements more easily than Word.

Pages is probably best suited to shorter documents, particularly those with high graphic content.

Word is more suitable for longer, more complex documents that require the additional functionality like advanced Table of Content and footnote/endnote management.

Spreadsheets (Numbers vs Excel)

Numbers has a tough act to follow as Excel was actually first released for the Mac in 1985, before it was released on the Windows platform in 1987. Numbers was first released in 2007 and in iLife ’09 is only in its second iteration.

Numbers 'Personal Budget' Template


Numbers spreadsheets are built on a free form page, where you can create multiple tables, charts, graphics and text and easily move them around the page. This makes Numbers a great application to produce stunning reports. As tables are resized, objects automatically adjust to fit around them. The layout of each table on a page is independent of each other and can be changed without affecting the others. Anyone who has designed a form in Excel will see the advantage of this, as you often had to merge cells or use border formatting around multiple cells to produce forms. In Numbers the different form elements could be made up of separate tables, and indeed some of the included Numbers templates uses this concept to create great looking forms.

However the different approach taken by Numbers on spreadsheet construction means that exporting a Numbers spreadsheet to Excel with multiple table elements will put each table element on a separate spreadsheet tab, and breaks the concept of having multiple tables on the same sheet.

Numbers spreadsheets look better than Excel. The combination of tables sized to fit the data, and the easy customisation of fonts, colours and styles is a winning combination.

While numbers is a great program for creating good looking charts or small simple spreadsheets it cannot match the number crunching power of Excel. Excel is much better at data analysis, with tools such as Pivot Tables. Pivot tables are a data summarisation tool that can automatically sort, count, total or give the average of the data stored in one table or spreadsheet. Numbers has a function called Categories to summarise data, but it is not as powerful as Excel’s Pivot Tables. Numbers also lacks the ability to create look up lists and is it not possible to link with external spreadsheets, which are supported features in Excel.

Excel 2011 'Budget' Template

Excel 2011

The new version of Excel for Mac can display Sparklines next to data elements. Sparklines are small trend line graphic elements shown in one cell. Numbers does not have an equivalent function.

Microsoft Excel Sparkline

Microsoft Excel Sparkline

Excel has roughly double the number of built in calculation functions that Numbers has.

With additional functionality and the ability to support linked spreadsheets, Excel is much more capable at handling large complicated financial models than Numbers.

Spreadsheets Summary

Numbers is a great simple to use spreadsheet program for home use, or for creating great looking documents or charts. However if you need to produce large complicated financial models, need sophisticated data analysis tools like pivot tables, or create linked spreadsheets then the additional functionality that comes with Excel makes it the better option.

Presentation Software (Keynote vs Powerpoint)

The focus of the iWork suite has always been to produce great looking, easy to read documents and it will perhaps not be surprising that Keynote, the first application that Apple developed for iWork is arguably Apple’s strongest application in the suite.

Keynote 'Editorial' Theme


Both applications come with a number of great looking templates, although I prefer the templates in Keynote, as they have superior quality and typography. They just retain an elegance and minimalist design that is typical Apple.

Both applications make it easy to work with graphic elements and both support the use of the Mac Media Bowser to add photos or movies. Powerpoint does have several hundred pieces of clip art, which keynote does not provide. However I loathe using standard clip art in my presentations.

In keynote you can use a feature called Smart Build to arrange a series of graphics, including animations and reorder them by drag and drop, but it is not as powerful as Powerpoint’s new Reorder Objects command which displays a 3D view of all objects on a separate layer and lets you drag the layers to reorder the objects.

Both applications come with features that let you remove unwanted backgrounds to imported graphics, Keynote’s Alpha Transparency feature is easier to use, and works well with backgrounds with a uniform colour. Powerpoint’s Remove Background works better with more complicated backgrounds.

Both applications have a wide variety of 2D and 3D transitions and animations. Keynote has an effect called magic move that enables a repeated object such as your company’s logo to apply a transition to automatically change its location and scale to provide a smooth and effective transition from one slide to the next. Powerpoint does have a selection of dynamic content transitions, but not a simple to use as magic move.

Both Applications let you animate objects on a slide, although Keynote gives you slightly more control of the speed of the animation between points on the animation path, and Keynote is the only application that will let you animate the contents of a table.

Powerpoint 2011 Smart Art

Powerpoint 2011 Smart Art

Powerpoint contains Smart Art, a collection of templates for producing flowcharts and organisational charts in just a few clicks. Keynote does not have a similar function, and these elements would need to be either created from scratch or be build using a 3rd party application such as Omnigraffle and copied into your Keynote presentation. If you frequently have to build long presentations that use a lot of these types of elements, Powerpoint’s Smart Art could be a real time saver.

Presentation Summary

Powerpoint has a greater range of animations, transitions, comes with a library of clip art and has Smart Art. However Keynote’s animations and transitions are more flexible and more visually appealing. Keynote is also easier to use and has a cleaner user interface than Powerpoint. I can remember the first time I used Keynote ’09 to present a monthly ‘team talk’ to around 80 employees and could hear ‘Ooohs’ as the staff saw some of the slide transitions (cube) and the magic move feature. This never happened when I used Powerpoint!

Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft Office 2011 also come with Outlook, an program to manage e-mail, calendar, contacts and to-do lists. Apple has similar functionality in its separate OS X Apps – Mail, Contacts, and iCal. I am not going to compare Outlook here. All I will say is that Outlook 2011 is an improvement from Entourage that used to be bundled with prior versions of Office. I personally prefer to use the separate OS X apps, but I can see Outlook appealing to those who are familiar with the Windows version of Outlook.


I don’t think there is a clear winner here as both packages have their strengths and weaknesses and it really depends what you want to use them for. What I have attempted to do is to highlight the areas of strength that will help you decide which one is right for you. I will say that if you need to collaborate with other Windows Office users, get Office. Yes iWork can read and write files in Office format, but conversion differences are likely to come back to bite you.

Microsoft Office for mac 2011 can be purchased as a direct download from Microsoft.

Office for Mac 2011 direct from Microsoft UK Download store

The Apple Apps are available on the Mac App Store and are relatively inexpensive. iOS versions of the Apps are also available on the App Store.


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