There's no doubt about it... Microsoft Office is about as ubiquitous in the modern office environment as a wrench is in the hands of a mechanic. It's just the way it is. Word and Excel files are transferred back and forth while working on financials and proposals on a constant basis. Business has been done using Microsoft Office for many years. It's just the way it is. But that doesn't mean it's the best solution for every office environment.
You may already know that my go-to machine is a 15" MacBook Pro with Retina. I love it. It's great. Prior to that, it was a 15" MacBook pro. If you go WAY back in time, it was a PowerBook G4 (remember those days?). For many years, I had Microsoft Office installed on my Mac, and used it heavily... until one day, I removed it. When was that day? Shortly after August 27, 2007 (the day that Numbers was announced as part of Apple's iWork suite). Up to that point, I had become very familiar with Keynote and Pages (the other two apps that together with Numbers, makes up Apple's iWork productivity suite). Not only did I feel comfortable with them, but I found many instances where I preferred them over Word and PowerPoint. I looked forward to the day when Apple announced Numbers as an alternative to Excel (which was the only reason I still had Office installed at this point). When Numbers came along, I installed iWork and removed Microsoft Office, all in the same day. In fact, I haven't had Office installed on my Mac since.
Don't get me wrong, Microsoft Office is still a decent productivity suite. I just personally prefer the professional look and feel (and some of the really nice features) of iWork over the long-in-the-tooth Office. Here are a few other reasons why I use iWork.
You can't compare two things without talking about price, especially software. Since most people use the entire suite of apps, we'll talk in terms of the entire suite. The current version of Microsoft Office will set you back about $220 (depending on where you purchase it). The current version of Apple iWork will set you back $60 ($20/app, each is available only on the Mac App Store). If that seems like a considerable difference to you for one machine, consider an office build-out of 20 machines. That's a total difference of $3,200! It adds up real fast.
I know, I know... it's difficult to talk about which user interface (UI) is better between the two because it can be very subjective. I get it. I can only tell you what I know from my perspective. I used to rely very heavily on Office until I switched over to iWork, so I feel like I know both sides very well. It took a little getting used to, but once I understood the way that Apple thinks relative to the apps, it all just makes sense. I get the way things work with the Inspector and the various features. So much so, that going back to Office is difficult because I never did understand how Microsoft wanted you to use Office (and the introduction of the ribbon system made that even more apparent). iWork feels like it was developed by a single Engineer. Microsoft feels like it was developed by many teams, all working on different pieces with different philosophies. I dislike disjointed software.
When it comes to giving presentations, nearly every major keynote that I have sat through was created on and presented with Apple's Keynote app. The animations and graphics are hands-down much more cinematic than that of Microsoft's PowerPoint. In fact, the only major presentations I see given using PowerPoint anymore are those given by Microsoft employees (and even some of those are given using Keynote, which is actually pretty funny). Apple definitely focused on a great cinematic experience with Keynote. It doesn't stop there. They have done a great job with making Numbers and Pages look great also. Yes, information is paramount to getting your point across, but it sure helps if it looks good too. Oh, and as far as graphs go... there's no contest. iWork is a clear winner there.
OK, the elephant in the room is the difference between Numbers and Excel on features. Yes, there are some features that Excel has that Numbers can't handle (pivot tables, for example). That's ok. If you use those features, then Excel is definitely for you. But for the other 99% of us, Numbers has everything we need, in a simple-to-use application (did I mention that it's much cheaper?). Numbers also has a few features that Excel doesn't. For example, there's a great little slider feature, which is awesome for doing real-time analysis. Just slide the slider up and down to change the value. As you do so, all the referenced formulas (and graphs!) will adjust in real-time. Not only is that a very handy "what if" feature, but it's quite fun to watch it in action.
Did I mention that Apple iWork plays nice with Microsoft Office files? You can open any of the major file types using the iWork apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and even save them back out as the same file type (after working on the files in iWork). You can't do that with Office (save as iWork formats).
OK, that's a lot of subjective information to digest. The bottom line is this... don't discount Apple's iWork if you haven't actually used it. It's a cheaper (and I think better) alternative to Microsoft Office. I see iWork used more and more in homes and small businesses now than ever. Having fully-compatible versions of Pages, Keynote and Numbers available for the iPad and iPhone definitely helps (for a minimal cost of $10/app). Oh, and did I mention that iWork will be available to all soon for free via iCloud.com?
If you want more information, or even training on how to more effectively use Apple's iWork suite, contact me. It will be worth your time!