Microsoft Office vs iWork

Let the Battle for the Office on the iPad Begin...

Getty Images / Jasper James

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 recent 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?

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Microsoft Word vs iWork Pages

The word processors are very 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 that is sorely missing in Word. You can also go back and edit the data behind the chart at any time. Pages also makes 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 among many other effects.

Overall, both products are very similar and can do the work for most people.

Pages has the advantage with charts, but Word will be a great choice for those already doing a lot of work with Microsoft Word on their PC.

How to Create a Chart in PowerPoint or Word

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 is missing the ability to create charts, and while there is a workaround, this is a big negative for presentation software. Keynote, on the other hand, has not 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 note nearly to the level of detail in PowerPoint. If you need to make a really splashy presentation, PowerPoint it 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, 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 very accessible, which is true even for those 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 very similar. But in what might be the surprise of the century, Excel is actually easier to work with than Numbers.

It's in the attention to detail that Excel wins out over Numbers. For example, both have custom keyboard layouts that can help with entering a large amount of raw data, especially numbers, but it is easier to figure out an use in Excel. In Numbers, you'll need to experiment to find these shortcuts. And while both break down functions into categories, even including the most recently used functions, it just seems 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 copying and pasting functions. It can be hard enough just to get they copy/paste menu to appear when 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.

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Microsoft Office vs iWork: And the Winner Is...

It is rather surprising just how well iWork holds up when compared to Office. 90% 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.

Another big bonus iWork has over Office is the ability to print, though, for the purposes of this comparison, I'm not taking that into consideration. While Microsoft Office currently can't print your documents from your iPad without a workaround, this feature should be added soon.

It's also worth noting that Microsoft Office is brand new while iWork has been around for a few years on the iPad. The feature set may be very similar right now, but I fully expect Microsoft Office to grow considerably over the next year.

All things being equal, it's hard not to give iWork the crown. For those who have 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 1/3rd 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.

For those who aren't tied to Microsoft Office, iWork holds up well under the pressure and is definitely worthy of consideration, especially when you factor in the much lower price.

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