Microsoft Office vs iWork

Let the battle for productivity on the iPad begin

Businesswoman using digital tablet in office

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It didn't take long for Microsoft Office to top the download lists on the App Store, but does the popular productivity suite really top iWork in terms of functionality? Microsoft may have released a very polished product, but Apple has been polishing iWork for several years. And the decision to make iWork free for those who have purchased a new iPad or iPhone definitely gives Apple's suite of apps a major price advantage. But which one is right for you?

Microsoft Word vs iWork Pages

The word processors are similar, with identical features spread across a smorgasbord of functionality. Both allow basic features such as text formatting, custom headers, and footers, footnotes, bulleted and numbered lists, pictures and images (including a small clipart gallery, tables, and paragraph styles). Pages and Word also rank high in ease-of-use.

One big feature included with Pages is the ability to add charts to the document, a feature missing Word (unless you use Excel, too). You can also go back and edit the data behind the chart at any time. Pages also make it easy to share your document, supporting the "Open In" feature, which allows you to open the document in any app that supports the format. That means you can open your Pages document in Evernote or even open it in Word.

Microsoft Word dropped the ball with charts, and sharing is limited to emailing the link or attachment to someone, but it does go deeper in some of the formatting options. Both allow you to change the color of the text, but Word also allows the adding of special effects like 3D or a shadow. It also has more formatting options for images, allowing you to give them a drop shadow, reflection or other effects.

Both products are similar and will get the job done for most people. Pages has an advantage with charts, but Word will be a great choice for those already doing a lot of work with Microsoft Word on their PC.

Microsoft PowerPoint vs iWork Keynote

PowerPoint and Keynote each have their strong points, with PowerPoint getting the nod at creating a solid presentation and Keynote being better at actually presenting the presentation. One big exception here is charts. Like Word, PowerPoint cannot create charts, and while there is a workaround, this is a big negative for presentation software. Keynote, on the other hand, has no problem creating nice looking charts.

The level of detail Microsoft added with fonts and shapes really pays off in PowerPoint. The text can take on a shadowed or 3D effect, pictures can be modified with various effects and PowerPoint has a much larger gallery of shapes and symbols that can be added to the presentation. Keynote can do some of this, but not nearly to the level of detail in PowerPoint. If you need to make a really splashy presentation, PowerPoint is the best choice.

But what about giving that presentation? Both products seem geared toward presenting, with the ability to highlight an area of the slide or use a virtual laser pen to highlight a topic on the slide. But Keynote takes full advantage of the iPad's video-out capabilities, allowing it to show the slide in full screen while the iPad shows presenter notes. PowerPoint relies on "Display Mirroring," which means the iPad's screen is simply duplicated. Not only does this mean no hidden notes on the iPad, but it also means the slide won't take up the full screen when connected to a TV or projector.

Microsoft Excel vs iWork Numbers

Microsoft did a great job of making Office accessible, which is true even for people who aren't as familiar with Office on their PC. And nowhere does this stand out more than Excel. Feature for feature, Numbers, and Excel are similar, but Excel is easier to work with than Numbers.

It's in the attention to detail that Excel wins out over Numbers. For example, both feature custom keyboard layouts that can help with entering a large amount of raw data, especially numbers, but it is easier to figure out and use in Excel. In Numbers, you'll need to experiment to find these shortcuts. While both break down functions into categories, even including the most recently used functions, it's easier to find what you are looking for with Excel's readily accessible menus. The "AutoSum" functions, which predict the data you want to use, can also be real time savers.

Microsoft did fumble the ball on copy-and-paste functions. It can be hard enough just to get the copy/paste menu to appear when you're tapping a cell. You need to tap, hold for a moment and then release. Excel can also be a bit finicky when pasting functions such that the function applies to the relative data in relation to the target cell. This whole process seems much smoother in Numbers.

The Winner of Microsoft Office vs iWork

It is rather surprising just how well iWork holds up when compared to Office. Almost all of the features are the same between the two products, with Microsoft Office getting a slight edge in the ease-of-use category and Apple's iWork suite getting a big thumbs up for including charts in the word processor and presentation software.

It's also worth noting that Microsoft Office is relatively new to the iPad, while iWork has been around for a few years. The feature set may be very similar right now, but Microsoft Office grows and matures as Microsoft gains experience with the iOS platform.

All things being equal, it's hard not to give iWork the crown. For people who bought an iOS device since the release of the iPhone 5S, the iWork suite is a free download. And even for those with older devices, each component only costs $10. Even if you buy all three, iWork is one-third the price of a year's subscription to Microsoft Office, and there's no need to renew iWork after a year.

But all things aren't equal. If you use Microsoft Office extensively, whether for work or at home, the interoperability between Office for the PC and Office for the iPad is enough to give Office a clear advantage. And the Office 365 subscription gives you multiple licenses, so you can install it on your desktop PC, your laptop and your tablet.