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Analysis: iWork and Office for Mac

Mat Lu

David Weiss is an employee at Microsoft's MacBU, and while he has makes it clear that he doesn't speak for Microsoft or the MacBU, his recent post about iWork '08 is interesting from a couple of directions. He starts with a little self-congratulatory back-patting for Microsoft's embracing an "open" XML file format and talks a little bit about the challenges involved with "starting from scratch" in writing an office application. Most telling, however, is his conclusion. He writes that the "core value of Office on the Mac" is simple: compatibility. What's interesting about this is about what he doesn't say. He doesn't say that the "core value" of Office is getting your work done efficiently, or producing nice documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Basically what we need the MacBU for is to keep us compatible with Windows. And as I've started to play with iWork '08 I think he's more or less correct. Office for Mac is just about compatibility with Windows, not about giving Mac users the best user experience in document creation. And with Office for Mac dropping support for Windows-compatible macros, it increasingly looks like the MacBU isn't even doing that particularly well.

At this point, and assuming they make their January ship date, we're not going to see an Intel native Office for Mac until two full years after the first Intel Macs were released (two and a half years since the transition was announced). With Numbers, Apple has taken a decisive step. While it's not going to replace Excel for big-time number crunchers, it's absolutely good enough for casual users like myself. Keynote was already well ahead of PowerPoint in terms of beautiful presentations and the new Pages is a significant improvement as well, particularly for straight word-processing. Considering all this, it's getting hard to see what purpose there is in having Office unless you have to deal with cross-platform issues on a constant basis (especially since iWork '08 is already more compatible with Windows Office 2007 formats than Office for Mac 2004 is). I don't think Microsoft Office is going to die anytime soon; it's too entrenched in business for that to happen. But with iWork moving ahead the way it is, I don't really see any reason for non-business Mac users to fork over hundreds of dollars to Microsoft for a sub-standard user experience. I had initially assumed I'd automatically upgrade to Office for Mac 2008 whenever it ships; now I'm quite doubtful. These look like dark days for the MacBU to me. What do you think?

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