Apple iWork '09 review:

Apple iWork '09

New features to Pages '09 include a full-screen view to eliminate distractions while you write. While you work in full-screen, just mouse to the top and left side of your screen to quickly reveal Pages' Contextual Format Bar and a navigation pane. There are several third-party apps available that offer similar distraction-free writing and we were happy to see this feature added to Apple's word processor. While Microsoft Word offers a full-screen reading layout, Apple's use of the black background with mouseable menus only when you want them makes it even more distraction free.

Pages '09 also adds dynamic outlines, letting you collapse and expand your bullet points with the click of your mouse, drag-and-drop topics to anywhere you like, and add elements such as images and video. Helpful options, including the ability to collapse outlines to the first line of lengthy topics, make it easy to get to the information you want to modify quickly, keeping your outlines about ideas.

You also can now use data from any Numbers (Apple's spreadsheet app noted below) table directly in Pages. But what makes this feature truly useful is that your table or graph will automatically update in Pages with the click of a button when you update data in the Numbers file.

Numbers '09 has now been in the wild for a year and--with several new enhancements adding even more time-saving features--it's obvious Apple has been paying attention to its audience. While it keeps the familiar feel of Microsoft's Excel, Numbers '09 offers much smarter ways of dealing with data, tables, and charts. While engineers, accountants, and science-related professionals may require some of Excel's more robust tools, those with small businesses or other spreadsheet-related needs will find Numbers '09 easy to work with. New, Apple-designed templates for common spreadsheet needs (such as a check register and savings calculator) are also included giving beginners easy starting points.

Select from several common spreadsheet types to create easy-to-read financial documents.

Formula writing is even easier with Numbers '09 with added features like color-coded placeholders and plain-language help tags and pop-up menus for commonly used values. Figuring out how to calculate how much to put away for your child's education over the course of time, for example, is made much easier with clearly labeled functions that require only a couple of clicks to include in your spreadsheet.

The function browser in Numbers '09 has also received a much-needed upgrade, now with more than 250 functions, complete with built-in help that explains each function along with examples so you can quickly figure out which ones you need for the project at hand.

New chart options let you combine line, column, and area series into a mixed chart letting you create advanced charts with trend lines and error bars. Even more impressive, if the presentation style is different--with animated 3D charts for a Keynote presentation or simple 2D diagrams for printed materials in Pages--all of the data is pulled from the same Numbers file using only a couple of clicks from within each app.

Service and Support
We found the help database within iWork '09 very easy to navigate with information covering topics in all three programs. Several video tutorials make some of the more complex processes much easier to understand. When neither of those fulfilled our needs, a quick search of Apple's iWork support site and online forums became the best resource. iWork buyers receive 90 days of unlimited free telephone support for installation, launch, or reinstallation. Three years of telephone support is offered for a hefty $49 per incident through AppleCare. Users can also seek help at the Genius Bars at Apple stores or attend free workshops offered by stores.

iWork '09 makes many of the already user-friendly features from last year's version even easier. While there is some learning curve to get up and running for former Microsoft Office users, iWork '09 offers an extremely intuitive interface and has plenty of advanced time-saving features to make it a worthy replacement for the much more pricey Microsoft solution. The lack of an integrated business-level e-mail client is still a disappointment, but Apple's included Mail program preinstalled on Macs will suffice in most cases. Though is a welcome addition for sharing iWork files online, we would have liked a more collaborative online solution, but we expect this is probably slated for future versions.

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