Blog Post

Of Packages and File Compatibility: iWork ’08 and iWork ’09


I’ve seen a few articles lately on the file incompatibility between iWork ’08 and files saved in iWork ’09.

Macnn and other sites have discussed it. As usual, there are the silly comments regarding Apple (s aapl) not having tested this, it’s worthy of Microsoft (s msft), blah, blah, blah. Many comments tended to be more rational, though, pointing out that new versions of software frequently “convert” older files and then are not compatible with the older version. This isn’t really that unusual. 

I think Apple could have made this easier if they had explained in the tech note a primary reason for the incompatibility. It’s the old standard support line: It’s a feature, not a bug. Really.

The iWork ’08 saved files are packages. For those unfamiliar with this, a package is essentially a specialized directory (yes, I’m simplifying it). Most Mac applications are packages, as is the iPhoto library. If you right-click a package file and select “Show Package Contents,” it’ll open like a folder to reveal other files and folders below. Here you see the package contents of a Numbers ’08 document. 


The problem with this approach comes when you want to transfer these files. Some email systems or file shares don’t know what to do with a package file. For example, when I look at iWork ’08 documents in Windows they appear as folders. In short, the package format was hindering transfer and sharing of iWork files. Not good if you want your product to become more popular. 

Enter iWork ’09, which saves documents as a more traditional “flat” file. Apple’s implementation of this is that the file is still a package, but compressed into zip format, which makes it flat. In fact, you can see this for yourself by changing the file name’s extension to .zip, then decompressing it by double-clicking. The uncompressed file will be a folder containing some files/folders like you saw in the iWork ’08 file. (As you can see, it’s not an exact match, so some data appears to be stored in the file itself.)


As a flat file, you should be able to email it and share with other iWork users without problems. iWork ’09 opens it easily, knowing it’s compressed and handling it accordingly. iWork ’08, however, is expecting a package file; it doesn’t know what to do with the flat file iWork ’09 uses. This is why it cannot open those files.

I think Apple really needed to address the package issue for transporting iWork files, and I’m glad they did so in iWork ’09. It neatly addresses a problem that was only going to get worse as the package became more popular. I don’t think having a new version not opening in an old version of the program is that egregious, especially given the problem the new version is addressing.

14 Responses to “Of Packages and File Compatibility: iWork ’08 and iWork ’09”

  1. Leo Canale

    By the way for any one interested, .docx file format is the same thing. The docx can be renamed to a .zip and then extracted to view the contents. This is probably, more the reason that iWork09 adopted the same format to be compatible with Office products. ODF is an open format that OO uses, but Open Office can not open docx format either where as iWork09 can. My 2 cents.

  2. mactheknife

    It strikes me as more than coincidental that requires iWork ’09. The file format is probably an important part of this.

    It should also be noted that all of the apps in the iWork ’09 suite are capable of saving files in iWork ’08 format for backward compatibility:

    1. Choose File > Save As… >
    2. Check the “Save copy as:” box
    3. Choose “iWork ’08” from the pop-up menu
    4. Click the save button

  3. @robert I don’t know why Apple didn’t use ODF, you make a good case for it. One thing I would argue is that I think you are giving too much credit when you call it deliberate. One thing Apple are doing is playing catch-up with collaboration. They know they need it, they know they need to do better than Microsoft and Google to stand a chance of getting a userbase. What they don’t know is how to do it, as proved with

    With that evidence, I don’t see a reason they would deliberately break read abilities at least – they just might overlook it while looking at other things, or not worry about it in a “greater good” mentality. As I said, I wouldn’t give them too much credit.

  4. robertsoakes

    With all respect, this is a move worthy of Microsoft. They did exactly the same thing. In Office 2007, they moved from the .doc format to .docx format – which is technically superior and universally reviled. In the cases of both companies, there are good reasons for the switch but the end result is the same. Apple (deliberately) ensured that people who use iWork 09 and those who use iWork 08 are unable to collaborate with one another. There is an important difference, however. Microsoft created a translator so that users of older versions of Office could read and write to the new file format. Call me cynical, but I think it unlikely that Apple will do the same thing.

    Which is where I find the irony. Apple is standards compliant on nearly everything in their operating system, why did they not go for a standard format in iWork as well? Pages could have used the ODF format (which is also an zipped folder with an XML spec) without much trouble. Why go the proprietary route at all?

  5. Robert Floyd

    To clarify: I don’t expect forward compatibility (old versions of programs shouldn’t be expected to handle new versions; anyone who’s dealt with Microsoft Word knows this all too well). The reason for my concern about the viewers is this:

    Apple is presenting a vision of a fully portable computing experience. I love the way I can use my iPhone as an always on information appliance. In this, I believe Apple has changed the game and has pointed the way to the future of information access. Part of that is being able to view my documents on the go.

    My iDisk has become a reference library of sorts for those things I need to view on a moment’s notice. Several of those are Numbers documents. Requiring an older version of iWork to use those documents is counterproductive, to say the least. Saving in an older version or as a pdf is not a long term solution. I love Apple’s vision; when their execution catches up, it’s going to be a beautiful thing to see. Until then, we need to encourage them to live up to the vision.

  6. I don’t think anyone is saying it’s a bad thing. Some people simply believe that there was cause to write the code for iPhones and iWork ’08 users to be able to view the documents created in iLife ’09. It’s not a case of working with them per sé, it’s more a case of making these older apps/other devices into readers of the file format.

    In this case it may have been a little harder than releasing a few lines of code as an update though. Either way I agree that you shouldn’t expect full compatibility with older versions; that’d be crazy. I personally don’t think it’s a huge deal but more on that can be found in my discussion with Adam on his website if you are interested.

  7. I not quite sure I understand the grip here.

    How, exactly, is an old version of a program suppose to open a new version’s files if the new version added features the old version isn’t compatible with?!? Surely you wouldn’t expect Word v4 to be able to open a v2004 file would you? Why would you expect 3rd party or other apps by Apple to be able to see into the future either? Were you expecting Apple to delay the release of iWork ’09 until everyone else in the world updated their software first? Also, I would think the fact that they changed the file format to a zipped folder vs. a package so files wouldn’t get bunged up by email system is a good thing.

  8. Robert,

    It’s possible the iPhone developers didn’t know (I’ve seen this kind of thing at software companies before), and it’s entirely possible they did. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer to that one for sure.

    As for it being a Bad Thing, I agree. While it’s one thing to expect iWork 08 to open (and edit) the new format, it’s quite another to expect Apple’s own VIEWERS to support it. Obviously, they must.

    I also haven’t heard they’re working on a fix. Then again, I wouldn’t expect to. It’s not like I have any pipeline to Apple Dev or Support. But Apple’s not stupid (no, really) so I have zero doubt the viewers will be updated.

    It could be argued the update should have come with the iWork release, but coordinating an iPhone update and iWork release at the same time would have rushed one or held up the other by too large an amount of time. Further, I don’t see Apple releasing an iPhone update primarily for this anyway, so there are undoubtedly other features/fixes scheduled to be rolled into the update as well.

  9. Robert Floyd

    What’s more egregious is the apparent lack of communication between the iWork developers and the iPhone developers. The current iPhone viewers don’t support the new iWork formats. Based on my conversations with support folks at Apple, it appears the new formats took the iPhone developers by surprise. At this time, no application (including Apple’s own Mail app) on the iPhone can view iWork 09 files in their native format. I haven’t even heard that Apple is working on fixing this. This is A Very Bad Thing.

  10. Interesting, I hadn’t realised this. I actually had a pretty lengthy discussion with Adam Jackson about the topic this morning. He was of the opinion that it was Apple greed that had made them create the incompatibility, while I maintained that it’s a good idea to force people to upgrade anyway.

    In the end neither of us actually found out why the change had been made so this rounds it off nicely. Thanks.