iWork as a creative tool

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Over the last few months I have been looking for a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office on my Mac. This really has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Mac user—which means that by law, I must hate Microsoft products, right?—but more to do with the fact that the cost to upgrade is fairly high for the small amount of use I get out of it, and that the current version runs like a dog on my Mac Pro. The reasons I must have an office suite are varied, but even as designers and content creators, we are in a world that lives on Office, so we need something on our Macs that lets us live in that world.

My main needs were finding a replacement for Word and PowerPoint, since I have to be able to open Word and PowerPoint files. After looking at several options to replace Word, such as Bean, BBEdit and a few other shareware and freeware apps, I found them all to be either under-featured or otherwise unsuited for what I needed. I finally settled on Apple’s recently upgraded iWork office suite. And, with the newly released iWork ’08, I think I have finally found a solution that fits my needs.

Pages as a simple layout tool


Pages has brought the one thing I felt was missing from the previous version, which was putting all the most used features (for me anyway) on to the toolbar instead of buried deep in the single “catch-all” Inspector palette they were contained in before. Things such as font, style, point size, color, alignment, spacing, columns, list options and more are now always visible and accessible right where you need them without cluttering the screen unnecessarily. It’s perfect for writing my articles for CreativeGuy, the Creative Notes blog you’re reading now and most other simple journalistic needs. But where it really shines is the page layout features.

As a professional designer, I work in Adobe InDesign. But sometimes I need to provide page layouts in applications my clients and my family can open. Adding images, audio and video to Pages is drop-dead simple either via the iLife integration or by simple drag and drop. A quick test using one of Pages’ many built-in templates shows that the document I created in Pages looked virtually identical when opened in Microsoft Word, requiring little fussing to clean up. You can see the comparison below.

comparison of Word and Pages output

It’s certainly not perfect, and if you’re doing a lot of work back and forth with clients, you would be better off owning a copy of Microsoft Office. But for the occasional need, iWork fits the bill just fine.

PowerPoint ≠ Keynote


PowerPoint in general just defies everything we as designers are used to doing and how we do it. Keynote just fits right in to my workflow. The ability to export your Keynote presentations as a Quicktime movie, PowerPoint presentation, Flash file, HTML file, or PDF ensure that even those without Keynote will be able to view your presentation. This makes it perfect for building a digital portfolio to distribute on CD or DVD, or for creating presentations when you have your laptop to hook up to the display and can use Keynote to power the presentation.

You can export your presentations to PowerPoint, but it’s not really something you want to do for anything more than the most simple of presentations. Transitions and animations really don’t convert to PowerPoint very well. Again, if you have to do this on a regular basis—to create a branded presentation template for a client, for example—you’ll be better off with a copy of Office.

Both Pages and Keynote have been running very smoothly and have proven to be quite stable no matter what I’ve thrown at them. I don’t want to sound like an Apple fanboy, so I will say that there is room for improvement in both applications. Minor tweaks here and there will eventually come, and the apps will continue to get better. But for now, they’re all I need and more.

You now get a spreadsheet application with iWork ’08, called Numbers. I’m not a numbers kind of guy, so I haven’t even opened the application, but my wife has already used it and tells me it’s not up to snuff to replace Excel on the business level. She also tells me that it is quite capable for most home needs.

At only $79 for a single-user license and $99 for a 5-pack, Apple has priced iWork ’08 aggressively and I expect that it will stay that way. For a freelance designer or even a small design firm, it’s a sweet deal.

[James Dempsey runs the Creative Guy blog, which offers tips, tricks and opinion on a variety of design topics.]

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