Living a Microsoft Office Free Lifestyle


As part of my Leopard switch, I set one goal for myself: run nothing but Intel native applications. That meant finding a clear alternative for Microsoft Office.


Pages Sticking with the iWork ‘08 trial, I began my migration quickly and easily. All my Word documents changed peacefully to Pages by default and all opened just fine. The only minor issue I ran into was not having Microsoft’s font book, and therefor several obscure fonts were reset to Times New Roman. If anyone has a quick fix for this, I’d be interested to hear. I imagine I could take the font book from a Mac with Office installed and simply replace my font book with it?

Opening new documents was simple. Using the Blank template I was able to manage around Page’s Inspector. However I quickly ran into problems re-saving edited documents. Pages by default saves in the Pages format. So even editing a .Doc requires you save it as Pages. That’s a bit frustrating. You can export a file into Word for convenience, especially if you’re planning on sharing those documents with others. But it would be much more convenient to be able to choose your format directly from the Save screen. So I began saving my documents in the Pages format and getting rid of the normal Word documents when done editing them. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to export documents as much as I thought I would. But again, it is frustrating after awhile. At least offer a keyboard command to quickly access the export feature so I don’t have to rely on my mouse as frequently.

The one real benefit I found with Pages and iWork was how quickly it opened. I imagine since Office is currently not Intel native, it requires more time to open. We’ll see how that remedies when Office ’08 goes on sale. But it’s nice not having to wait for a document to open. So far I’ve been happy with Pages, until it comes to creating a new flyer, not based on any of their templates. When creating a new layout or design, I can get more done and faster through Photoshop.

Keynote & Numbers

Keynote I’m lumping Keynote and Numbers together because as a writer my main focus lies solely on document editing. So for a more precise comparison, I recommend trying them out yourselves.

I think watching Steve Jobs’ Keynotes has created a bias for me. Or if you’re more familiar with An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore relies on Keynote for his presentation. Feature wise, Keynote offers very similar features as PowerPoint, just in a more clean, streamlined fashion. Since it meshes directly with iPhoto and iTunes, it’s a lot simpler to import music, photos, or even videos. One feature I truly love about Keynote is my ability to export it directly to iPod. When giving presentations I find it easier to carry around my iPod and A/V chord instead of a laptop and chords. Much less fuss, and much more streamlined. You may not retain as many features, but for someone that needs something portable, it’s a great idea. Over all I feel more satisfied with my Keynote presentations than I have with PowerPoint, so I’m going to stick with it.

Numbers Numbers was an interesting one for me. I could open my previous Excel files fine, but if they contained drop down menus, or set fields I began running into issues. Not a spreadsheet fiend, I think I’d prefer Excel only because of its familiarity and the fact it seems a business staple.


One thing I appreciate overall with iWork and Mac is the attention to detail. For example iWork allows you to move a document currently being editing to another folder without any errors. The document will kindly ask whether too start saving there, or save in two locations. Between Pages and Keynote I feel satisfied for most of my current office needs.

For students, something to keep in mind, is universality. Obviously Office is the preferred choice for schools and teachers, so it might be best for you to stick with it. Especially for note taking, I remember enjoying Word’s Notebook feature. Not only could I simultaneously record lecture from within Word, I could write clear outlined notes using its Notebook format. It was simple, efficient, and helped a lot.

If price is a factor for you, be sure and check out NeoOffice. It provides a classical approach and is completely free. iWork can be purchased for $79, and it looks like Office ’08 will run you up $150 for the Student/Teacher edition or $399 for Office Basic. If you’re running low on hard drive space, try testing out Google Docs and Spreadsheets, ZoHo, or Adobe’s new Buzzword. There are a variety of ways around office applications, so find what works most efficiently for you. If you have any recommendations or ideas, feel free to comment.



It will be difficult for professionals who use endnote or Reference manager for bibliography setting. As of now Endnote or Reference manager has no option of a mac version that is compatible with Pages.

Is there a way out ?


I find Pages amazingly good at reading Word documents – unless they mix landscape and portrait page formats (which Pages can’t handle). Funnily enough, Microsoft’s Word 2007 on Windows has problems with the format of some older Word documents – so I’d expect to see the same with Word 2008.
Numbers is really nice, but slows horribly with bigger spreadsheets (or fails to load them totally).
Keynote is my favourite – it just makes PowerPoint look so clumsy in comparison.
I’m sure that once Apple has had a few more releases of Numbers it will be a lot more competitive.


Paul has a point, but it’s not an “either/or” thing for me. I think Pages AND Word have their limitations in professional settings and are both necessary for now. What limitations? Pages doesn’t have all the features of Word. It’s still a relatively new program. Meanwhile, Word has a ton of features, but some of spotty implementation. Example: Using styles in Word tends to be problematic and not very intuitive. Styles in Pages are far more user-friendly and straight-forward. (Not sure how Office 08 will be, hopefully much better.) In general, I feel when Word and Pages have a common feature, the Pages feature is better implemented (though change tracking is still 1.0). So right now, I use them in tandem. I use Pages exclusively for projects with design elements when I know it will go to PDF. For design and layout, Pages is hands down better than Word. But I agree with Paul that longer documents, certainly ones headed to pro layout using Adobe InDesign need Word. In these cases, I build templates in Pages, complete with styles, and then export to Word, for projects that need Word features or will go to a Word end-user. (Still you need Word to verify that your templates look right in Word.)

I agree with Paul that I like the Mac BU, especially because it push both Microsoft and Apple to innovate in this space. Pages will make Word better and vice versa. Same with the rest of the suites (and their growing Web, Open alternatives). After almost a decade of minimal competition (how could Microsoft have such a long development arc for all of its products), we have options. And that’s a great thing.


Pages is OK for home use, or perhaps small office use, but it really is not suitable for professional use. It really does lack the basic features needed for generating lengthy reports or documents of that ilk. I view it as a competitor for Microsoft Works, not for Microsoft Office. I personally think Office on the Mac is a great product, very nicely done and can’t wait for the 2008 release. Unlike the rest of Microsoft, the Mac BU understands where Apple are coming from.


I want to like iWork but, as a MS office replacement used to communicate with other Windows office users, it ain’t so hot (then again, the Mac version of Office often has problems with it’s Windows brethren)
Pages handles documents, with form fields and tables created in Word, horribly. NeoOffice can open and display them fine. Numbers, as nice as it is, is not ready to be an excel drop-in replacement. The Office documents that Numbers mangles open fine in NeoOffice as well.

Of course NeoOffice doesn’t have the spit and polish or integration that iWork has either.

iWork is, IMO, a few tweaks away from being a more viable drop-in replacement for Office. However, it can easily handle most common WP and number crunching tasks for the average joe.


What’s wrong with emulated apps? I generally can’t tell a difference between PPC apps and native Intel apps on my iMac.

Allister Jenks

@Arvin, forgot to comment on your point “For students, something to keep in mind, is universality.”

Whilst document *interchangability* is important, the reason I got iWork for my kids is precisely *because* they’re likely to come across Office anywhere else.

I’d rather teach them how to use word processing software than how to use Microsoft Word (TM). Goodness knows the schools (here in New Zealand at least) do not understand that basic concept!

Having cut my teeth on computers when graphics were a novelty I can understand and use a lot of software and am not limited to “Windows & Office” as many people I know are.

Allister Jenks

I’m in the process of switching to iWork, having bought a family pack when I got my kids new iMacs.

As a long time Excel power user, I would rate Numbers as “shows promise”. It doesn’t do well in some areas, and I’ve yet to get the hang of its “tables” paradigm. My main issue is the restrictive conditional formatting at the moment.

Pages and Keynote are plenty good enough for the pretty basic needs I have in those areas.


Thanks for your post… I switched to iWork when I got my Mac 2 years ago and find that it works for most of the things that I work on even the occasional projects that I take home from work.

I just discovered the moving of documents that are being edited feature yesterday while revamping a songbook its quite nice.

I tried NeoOffice for a bit but found it really slow on my PPC mini. I hear that there is a native port of OpenOffice coming but its not final.

Jonathan Pike

Great write up Arvin!
You mentioned that you can move documents that are being edited, which I think is a great feature. I have some good news for you: this behaviour is actually native to many applications that I’ve used in OS X. To name two, this works with TextEdit and OmniOutliner. I’m sure it works with others as well!
Just another one of those little features that Apple gets so right!


The one drawback to Pages 08 is lack of .dot support. It seems to do .doc files nicely, but it won’t handle the template files. I would like to see that support added since some of my colleagues don’t know the difference.

I use iWork 08 and NeoOffice and have no problems. I wouldn’t go back to Office if you paid me.


On the topic of Pages, I disagree about Photoshop being easier. I actually find Pages the fastest application for page layout. The trick is that you have to open the right blank from the Template Chooser. You need to select the Page Layout blank not the Word Processing one. While I still love and use Adobe InDesign for heavy lifting projects, I find myself gravitating toward Pages more and more for most other projects. I think of Pages as InDesign Express. It’s more user friendly than Word with better design tools, but not as fully featured as Indesign. I do wish it offered a more robust PDF export.


From personal beta testing of Office 2008, I’m not impressed. Speed still isn’t too great (5-10 seconds on my MBP), and the interface is too flashy (everything that could be animated is animated).

Nothing Microsoft can output can compare to the sheer amazingness of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.


Have you seen the new Microsoft Office 2008? That looks like a slap in the face to even the interfaces of the iWork suite. As for me, I’d love to switch, but the incompatibilities are too great between the programs, especially between Excel and Numbers =/.


@Adam: I began noticing the larger file sizes as well. I thought maybe the QuickView ability added to it, but normal .doc’s have that ability as well. Anyone else know?

@pedant: Thanks, I’m getting a proofreader from now on. Interested?

@Julio: I took waiting into consideration, but needing something now, I resorted to iWork and the current Office edition. When’08 comes out I’ll give my thoughts on it.

@Nobody: The iPod won’t hook up to a VGA port, but if the projector has a standard RCA input (the red, white, and yellow plugs), you can purchase an A/V chord which will plug right in. From the iPod you can set your presentation to automatically transition from slide to slide, or you can physically use the click wheel.


sorry for the hanging modifier, pedant…
i meant that if Office 2008 has anything cool, iWork will have already done it.


I was reading this on Vienna moments ago…

I too made this transition, but mostly because my Office apps were taking an insane amount of time to start up, and then crashing repeatedly each session due to “an unexpected error.” Personally I would feel more comfortable if they could expect the error and prevent it.

I do my papers in Pages, my presentations in Keynote, and my spreadsheets and graphs in Numbers. All is well in my world. I take class notes (AND lecture recordings) in OmniOutliner Pro. Kick out the cash for this, it’s lightweight enough that (UNLIKE MS Word) I can surf the Internet for references to whatever my batty professors are talking about and copy the links to my notes as I type them/switch back and forth between OO and my web browser. This may not seem like an impressive feature, but it was impossible on a fairly new MacBook Pro for much of this past semester.

I too am interested to see what comes out of the new Office 2008. Since the release is scheduled before I graduate, I get a free copy…no guarantees that I’ll switch completely, but I hope Apple is paying attention (although I figure that if they do anything particularly cool, iWork will have beaten them to it).


I switched to NeoOffice more than a year ago and I’ve never once had occasion to look back. Not just FREE, but GREAT as well.

Nobody Important

Thanks for this informative post about iWork. As a potential switcher, I found it very useful.

One thing I’d like to learn more about is the use of the iPod in giving presentations. In my use case, you get a projector with a VGA input – does the iPod hook up to that? And I guess you press the click wheel to advance slides?

Julio Ojeda-Zapata

Unfortunate timing on this since Intel-native Office 2008 is just a few weeks away. Might have been better to get that and then do a fair comparison.


For someone who calls themselves a “writer” your spelling and grammar are appalling.


Can anyone tell me why Pages documents seem to have up to a ten-fold increase file size, than the respective .doc files? I’ve been looking for a opendocument plugin for Pages ’08, but so far no luck


I too used Word’s notebook feature quite a lot before switching to iWork. As an alternative, I started using Omnioutliner for notes, and Audacity for audio recordings. Works fine!

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