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How Apple's Mac OS X and iWork defined software in 2013

Not only did Apple ship its latest update to OS X this year, it also gave away iWork for free.

Cat, meet pigeons. Apple played a blinder at this year's Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC). Not only did it announce new hardware, and ship Mavericks -- the latest update to OS X -- it also stuck up a pair of manicured fingers at sometime-rival/sometime-ally, Microsoft.

You might say the Seattle giant has slightly lost its way with its 30-year-old operating system. There was the underwhelming Windows RT, the bifurcation of versions -- which it apparently wants to bring closer together again, and its dithering over whether or not the start button is a good thing. All in all, it's had a lot on its plate.

Apple, on the other hand, has maintained a clear distinction between its mobile and desktop operating systems, and shipped updates for each -- for free. 

That's right -- free. Microsoft is still primarily a software company, Xbox One and Lumias aside, so needs to make money off its code, while Apple can afford to hand it out gratis in the interest of boosting hardware sales.

But it didn't stop there. After giving away what some would consider the crown jewels, Apple went on to make a direct attack on Microsoft's most profitable division -- Office.

Microsoft may well have missed the boat where the iPad's concerned. In reserving Office for its own Surface devices, all it's done is prove to iPad users that they can actually get along very happily without it.

There are plenty of decent alternatives, and if an eventual port to iPad will mean users tying themselves in to a rolling subscription to Office 365, the way its Office for iPhone customers are, many of those third-parties will look even more tempting.

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So, perhaps because it's tired of waiting for Microsoft to do something -- here's a story from way back in 2012, for example -- Apple saw an opportunity too good to pass up, so struck what could be a fatal blow to the chances of Office on the iPad. It gave away its own productivity apps -- Pages, Keynote and Numbers -- free to anyone who buys a new iPad, iPhone or Mac.

Considering each app can import and export files from their Word, Excel and PowerPoint equivalents, this could be a serious blow for Microsoft -- on the Mac desktop, as much as it is on a tablet or smart phone.

Microsoft won't admit it though. Corporate VP of communications Frank Shaw seemed to think that it really didn't matter, describing iWork as a suite of "non-standard, non-cross-platform, imitation apps that can't share docs with the rest of the world." Ouch.

"So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don't see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up," he continued, having already blogged his belief that as "iWork has never gotten much traction, and was already priced like an afterthought, it's hardly that surprising or significant a move." Well, we'll see.

Either way, the new versions of Mavericks and iWork garnered enormous coverage for the software division inside Apple, which generally plays second fiddle to hardware, and that's got to be good news.

Microsoft is still looking for a CEO to replace Ballmer, and many are tipping Nokia's Stephen Elop for the job. Unnamed 'insiders' report that if he was appointed he would initiate a full roll-out of Office on iOS and Android -- a move that wouldn't surprise us in the least and one that, we reckon, any incomer would have to enact, whoever they are, to keep the shareholders happy.

It will be an uphill battle though, to convince iPad users that a mobile Microsoft Office is worth paying for, when iWork comes for free.