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iWork ’09 Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Apple’s iWork ’09 ($79) is an excellent investment for Mac users who need a well-designed and easy-to-use productivity suite. Though iWork doesn’t offer an integrated business e-mail solution such as Microsoft Outlook, it does include a core group of apps– Keynote, Numbers, and Pages –with plenty of intuitive features like interoperability across apps to make that absence easy to overlook. Apple has significantly updated all three products to enhance and streamline workflow with numerous interface tweaks and feature enhancements. Like previous versions–to calm Windows-to-Mac switcher anxiety–iWork files are fully compatible with its Microsoft Office counterparts.

iWork ’09 also introduces iWork.com public beta, a new Web service. This fledgling sharing site lets you share documents online, invite viewers who can make comments, and allows for downloads in iWork, Microsoft Office, and PDF formats. Sadly, it does not let you edit online, so true online collaboration is unavailable. The beta is free, but Apple gives no word yet on the pricing structure once iWork.com reaches release status.

Setup and Interface
As in the previous iWork installment, you won’t need the latest and greatest Mac to run iWork ’09. At minimum, you’ll need an Intel, PowerPC G5, or G4 machine with a 500MHz or better processor, plus a minimum of 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended) running OS X 10.4.11. Installation was seamless in our tests, taking just under 10 minutes.

iWork’s appearance hasn’t changed much since iWork ’08. The minimalist layout and easy to navigate toolbars remain; home and small business users will find the suite accommodating. The iWork ’09 toolset still outmatches online solutions (minus collaboration abilities) such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets, ZOHO, and ThinkFree, so Mac users will have more functionality firepower than the common online offerings. Smart tools in iWork like the Contextual Format Bar in Pages and Keynote’s new Magic Move features are the type of the things you won’t find in online favorites.

Keynote
Past versions of Keynote have always won us over, and new features in Keynote ’09 only make iWork better. Easy-to-use graphics tools and a variety of animation effects help you make eye-catching presentations, and a slew of new transitions and intuitive animation effects add to this presentation program’s appeal.

The new Magic Move tool lets you automatically animate images, graphics, and text by choosing from several preset slide transitions. Keynote will automatically resize, rotate, and change the position of objects between slides with one of several 3D effects. We especially like the options for text animation, which let you make creative transitions by switching letters from one slide into a new message on the next using unique new visual effects such as Sparkle, Anagram, and Swing.

New styles and animations are available for 3D charts in Keynote ’09, letting you make graphs with beveled edges, cylinder shapes, and 3D textures. We like that the new build effects use 3D motion to animate your charts, making them more eye-catching, too.

To reduce file size for your presentations, Keynote ’09 has implemented a way to optimize video files. Now you can clip your videos to just the segment you want, and Keynote trims any unused video frames. You also can easily convert images to slide resolution to trim even more.

Pages
Pages ’09 offers feature-rich word processing and layout tools alongside intuitive graphics features to make your projects both easy to make and easy on the eyes. Though not as deep as Microsoft Word for formatting and layout options, Pages now offers even more variety with 40 new templates, including stationary sets and a variety of newsletter designs. Added support for EndNote X2 (sold separately) makes adding bibliographic references to your project extremely easy, and new support for MathType 6 (sold separately) makes adding mathematical equations a snap.

New features to Pages ’09 include a full-screen view to eliminate distractions while you write. While you work in full-screen, just mouse to the top and left side of your screen to quickly reveal Pages’ Contextual Format Bar and a navigation pane. There are several third-party apps available that offer similar distraction-free writing and we were happy to see this feature added to Apple’s word processor. While Microsoft Word offers a full-screen reading layout, Apple’s use of the black background with mouseable menus only when you want them makes it even more distraction free.

Pages ’09 also adds dynamic outlines, letting you collapse and expand your bullet points with the click of your mouse, drag-and-drop topics to anywhere you like, and add elements such as images and video. Helpful options, including the ability to collapse outlines to the first line of lengthy topics, make it easy to get to the information you want to modify quickly, keeping your outlines about ideas.

You also can now use data from any Numbers (Apple’s spreadsheet app noted below) table directly in Pages. But what makes this feature truly useful is that your table or graph will automatically update in Pages with the click of a button when you update data in the Numbers file.

Numbers
Numbers ’09 has now been in the wild for a year and–with several new enhancements adding even more time-saving features–it’s obvious Apple has been paying attention to its audience. While it keeps the familiar feel of Microsoft’s Excel, Numbers ’09 offers much smarter ways of dealing with data, tables, and charts. While engineers, accountants, and science-related professionals may require some of Excel’s more robust tools, those with small businesses or other spreadsheet-related needs will find Numbers ’09 easy to work with. New, Apple-designed templates for common spreadsheet needs (such as a check register and savings calculator) are also included giving beginners easy starting points.

Select from several common spreadsheet types to create easy-to-read financial documents.
 
Formula writing is even easier with Numbers ’09 with added features like color-coded placeholders and plain-language help tags and pop-up menus for commonly used values. Figuring out how to calculate how much to put away for your child’s education over the course of time, for example, is made much easier with clearly labeled functions that require only a couple of clicks to include in your spreadsheet.

The function browser in Numbers ’09 has also received a much-needed upgrade, now with more than 250 functions, complete with built-in help that explains each function along with examples so you can quickly figure out which ones you need for the project at hand.

New chart options let you combine line, column, and area series into a mixed chart letting you create advanced charts with trend lines and error bars. Even more impressive, if the presentation style is different–with animated 3D charts for a Keynote presentation or simple 2D diagrams for printed materials in Pages–all of the data is pulled from the same Numbers file using only a couple of clicks from within each app.

Service and Support
We found the help database within iWork ’09 very easy to navigate with information covering topics in all three programs. Several video tutorials make some of the more complex processes much easier to understand. When neither of those fulfilled our needs, a quick search of Apple’s iWork support site and online forums became the best resource. iWork buyers receive 90 days of unlimited free telephone support for installation, launch, or reinstallation. Three years of telephone support is offered for a hefty $49 per incident through AppleCare. Users can also seek help at the Genius Bars at Apple stores or attend free workshops offered by stores.

Conclusion
iWork ’09 makes many of the already user-friendly features from last year’s version even easier. While there is some learning curve to get up and running for former Microsoft Office users, iWork ’09 offers an extremely intuitive interface and has plenty of advanced time-saving features to make it a worthy replacement for the much more pricey Microsoft solution. The lack of an integrated business-level e-mail client is still a disappointment, but Apple’s included Mail program preinstalled on Macs will suffice in most cases. Though iWork.com is a welcome addition for sharing iWork files online, we would have liked a more collaborative online solution, but we expect this is probably slated for future versions.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.