iWork: I, PageMaker?

Much of pre-Expo speculation surrounding iWork —the productivity bundle announced by Steve Jobs Tuesday as a replacement to the long-fallow AppleWorks—painted the forthcoming application as a productivity suite to rival Microsoft Office. The reality of iWork, however, turned out to be something far short of an Office-killer. Yes, the suite features an overhaul of Keynote, the presentation application that’s given Microsoft’s PowerPoint a pretty good run for its money. But the other iWork app—a word-processing program called Pages—won’t lead to a crush of Mac users consigning Word to the flames of hell (or, at least, the trash can) any time soon.

Then again, after getting a glimpse at Pages during Steve Jobs’s keynote this morning, I’m not really sure it’s supposed to.

Instead, if there’s one application that Pages seems primed to take out, it’s a basic page-layout program along the lines of PageMaker. Which is convenient and all, what on account of PageMaker already being dead. After all, the fewer awkward conversations Apple has to have with its major software suppliers at the next developer conference, the better for all concerned.

This initial impression could change once iWork actually ships on January 22, but the program Apple touted Tuesday seemed to put more of an emphasis on page-layout than word-processing. Indeed, in the brief time Jobs and Apple senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller spent talking up Pages, they focused on the program’s templates—predesigned menus, brochures, resumes, and other documents where all you have to do is swap out the supplied text and images for text and images of your own. True, Word offers those kinds of templates with its Project Gallery feature, but Pages seems to offer better flexibility and—more important—tighter integration with iLife apps such as iPhoto. Or, at least, it did from my vantage point in Moscone Center.

In fact, rather than act as a competitor to Word, I can see Pages as a complement to Microsoft’s word-processing app. Pages is compatible with Word documents, so I could very easily see typing up text in Word, importing it over to Pages, and using that program to pretty up the final product.

Of course, some people probably can’t see doing that—for them, a productivity suite without at least a spreadsheet app is not a productivity suite worth having. So they’re likely to take a pass on iWork in favor of some other Office competitor—OpenOSX’s suite, perhaps, or Write and Calc from Mariner Software. Or they’re likely to wait for some future iteration of iWork in the hopes that it adds an updated version of AppleWorks’ spreadsheet capabilities.

They could be in for a long wait. It’s hard for people to envision a world where Apple and Microsoft are’t going at it like cats and dogs, but I think the two companies have long since learned to peacefully co-exist and even profit from one another. Apple knows that it needs a Mac-compatible Office program to make its platform attractive to a healthy chunk of users—particularly those who might be inclined to snap up Mac minis. And if Microsoft feels like iWork is treading on its turf, it’s not letting on. The company announced today that it’s planning to add Spotlight support to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that will enable OS X 10.4’s searching technology to index and search documents from those apps; that’s hardly the actions of a company planning to go off and sulk in its tent like Achilles now that Apple has a brand new word-processing program of its own.

Of all the Expo announcements from Jobs today, iWork seems to have generated the most underwhelming response, largely because of what it’s not. Me, I like the app because I’d rather focus on what it is.

  
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