Put to the Test: Apple iWork '09

Put to the Test: Apple iWork '09

Education is all about choice. The more you learn, the more options you have. iWork '09, Apple's latest suite of Macintosh-only productivity tools, consisting of Pages '09 (word processing and page layout); Numbers '09 (spreadsheet tables, graphs and charts), and Keynote '09 (electronic presentations) gives users more options for word processing, desktop publishing, number crunching, charting, and animated multimedia presentations. While the suite is no match for Microsoft Office 2008, it deserves credit for its user-friendly tools for dynamic page layout and electronic slide shows, as well as its robust connections to many applications that ship free with every Macintosh. iWork '09 applications can seamlessly retrieve images from iPhoto, movies from iMovie, audio files from iTunes and database information from Address Book. They also work well with Mail, iWeb, and Photo Booth.

Retailing at almost half the price of the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office--one quarter the cost when purchased with a new Macintosh computer--iWork '09 delivers inexpensive basic productivity tools. But low cost isn't its only saving grace. Experienced iWork aficionados will appreciate how this upgrade adds new features while retaining both the older file formats of iWork 08 and the familiar look of the suite's previous toolbars, menus and graphical menus.

Like iWork '08, iWork '09 can open documents created in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint (both the standard .doc, .xls, and .ppt files, as well as XML .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx). Users can also translate iWork '09 files into Office compatible formats using the “Save as” option (File menu) and send Office-compatible files through Mail by selecting Mail from each program's Share drop down menu. Additionally, with iWork '09 applications, you can share documents over the Internet using the iWork.com Public Beta (Share menu). You determine who can view those iWork.com "published" documents and whether or not viewers can leave comments. Access to iWork.com is free for the moment. It requires that you have an Apple ID and an Apple Mail account, in addition to Internet access.

Both Pages '09 and Keynote '09 come with several new templates for document design. Pages '09 adds 40 (pass your cursor over a template and you can quickly preview all the page types available in that template), while Keynote '09 adds 8. Numbers '09 adds new templates for personal finance and education (Math Quiz and Gravity Lab), nearly 80 new functions (my favorite is DUR2HOURS, which will come in handy when tracking time because it converts duration values like weeks (w), days (d) and hours (h) to a number of hours) and a Function Browser that provides variable definitions. Other features new to iWork '09 include support for Mail Merge using data extracted from Numbers as well as Apple's Address Book, outline tools in Pages '09 for brainstorming ideas and organizing information, the full screen view in Pages '09 to give you a better sense of how your document really looks (it even allows for minor content editing), more chart and formula writing options in Numbers '09, with options to created mixed charts containing two or more data series, 2-axis charts, trend lines, and charts that link to a Pages document or a Keynote presentation and automatically update when you make changes to chart data in Numbers. Finally, Keynote '09 has more whiz bang special effect animations for object and text transitions plus a special Magic Move tool that animates one or more objects (e.g. a logo or photograph) between slides.

Retail price: $71 (single user); $99 (family pack up to 5 users); educator pricing for volume licenses available.

Pros: Intuitive drop down menus, uncluttered toolbars, and a collection of free video tutorials at Apple's iWork '09 Web site will all ease new users into the iWork '09 productivity toolkit. Pages '09 is both a word processor and a page layout program. It now sports improved mail merge capabilities. Programs in the iWork '09 suite work well with Apple Macintosh applications such as iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, Mail and Address Book. The new iWork.com online publishing area simplifies document sharing.

Cons: Numbers '09 still can't rotate text from horizontal to vertical in spreadsheet table cells. Pages '09 can't rotate text to vertical in table cells either. None of the programs has a built-in Autosave, so be sure to save often. While Numbers '09 charts can be linked to in a Pages '09 document or Keynote '09 presentation for live updates, Numbers '09 spreadsheets cannot. Numbers '09 still lacks support for Excel macros.

How would this product be useful in the classroom/school?
iWork '09 consists of three relatively easy to learn, economically priced Macintosh-only productivity toolkits that work well with other Macintosh applications. Every student should know how to word process, sort and organize data in tables and charts, and create electronic presentations. iWork '09 delivers these productivity tools in one user-friendly package. I like the new Formula List View in Numbers because it shows all formulas in use for quick review in a pane beneath an open spreadsheet table. Students will really like new transition and animation effects of Keynote '09.

What problems might you have using this in a classroom/school?
If you expect full compatibility with Office 2007 or Office 2008, you will be disappointed. For example, Numbers '09 still can't handle Excel's frozen panes or split windows, form controls such as checkboxes and scroll bars, or password protection. And if the Excel spreadsheet has macros, Numbers '09 will strip them out. While each program can save files in Microsoft Office format, some formatting may be lost in translation.

Is the product a good value?
It's an inexpensive way to get 3 important productivity tools that work well together and that also work well with other Macintosh applications.

Would you recommend it to other educators and administrators?
Yes, with reservations. It's well suited to entry-level users or Macintosh environments that have no need to create documents in XML format. If you need to do mail merge with data from applications other than Address Book, or you want the live update of Numbers '09 charts in Pages '09, or you like the dazzling new transitions and Magic Move animation tools available in Keynote '09 then by all means upgrade.

About the Author: Carol S. Holzberg, PhD, cholzberg@gmail.com, (Shutesbury, Massachusetts) is an educational technology specialist and anthropologist who writes for several publications. She works as District Technology Coordinator for Greenfield Public Schools and the Greenfield Center School (Greenfield, Massachusetts) and teaches in both the Licensure program at Hampshire Educational Collaborative (Northampton, MA) and online in the School of Education at Capella University. Send comments or queries via email to: cholzberg@gmail.com.

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