Office 2008 vs. iWork ’08: Can they get along?

Can iWork ’08 really replace Office 2008? That was the question we sent out to answer in last week’s series pitting Pages ’08 against Word 2008, Numbers ’08 against Excel 2008, and Keynote ’08 against PowerPoint 2008. We had each pair take on the same task (the same word processing document, spreadsheet, and presentation), to see how well each handled the job.

That approach turned up some interesting and important differences between the two suites. But it didn’t address one of the biggest questions on readers’ minds: What about compatibility?

Apple has long touted the fact that iWork can open and save documents in Office format. And, indeed, it works pretty well: You can open documents created in Office 2004 in iWork without major mishap. That compatibility means you could use whichever tool you want and still share documents with co-workers, regardless of the tool they chose, as long as you used that common document format.

But along with a bunch of other new features, Office 2008 introduced new, XML-based default document formats for its three main programs. The question on many readers’ minds: Can iWork open those new files?

It’s a tricky question. Word documents can include all kinds of stuff in addition to text—graphics, charts, and more. Will all of those elements present themselves exactly as intended when opened in Word? In our experience with previous versions of Office and iWork, the answer is: Usually, but there are no guarantees. You can open simple text documents saved in Office 2008’s .docx format. But we don’t yet know the limits of that interoperability.

We didn’t address file-compatibility in our iWork vs. Office series. But we plan to in future coverage; stay tuned to for more.

In the meantime, what’s your experience? Have you tried working with both iWork ’08 and Office 2008 files? What were the results? Have you shared files between earlier versions of those suites? Did that work? Let us know in the comments below.

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