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Apple's iWork, iLife updates draw ire from some power users

Apple's revamped productivity and lifestyle software is free, and full of new features. But some users are howling over what's been taken out.

New versions of iWork and iLife apps are missing some features old iterations had.
James Martin / CNET

At Apple's live event earlier this week, iWork and iLife users were given a treat: free upgrades to major new versions of the company's productivity and lifestyle apps.

The move, which follows one the company made last month on its mobile platform iOS, is part of a broader effort to offer many of its paid software apps for free.

But, according to some longtime users, the new versions of the apps are a step backwards in functionality. Many have taken to Apple's official support forum to air their grievances.

Among the features users say are missing from the revamped Pages, Apple's word processing app: the customizable toolbar, endnotes, and many templates. Apple also has taken down a chart from its Web site that lists feature compatibility between iWork apps and Microsoft Office apps, like Microsoft Word to Pages and Power Point to Keynote -- something it once touted to lure over switchers.

Apple declined to comment on whether those features would return in future updates.

The reason for the change seems clear. Whenever Apple does a big software revamp like this, it's in the name of simplification. The new versions of the iWork and iLife apps are designed to be more in tune with their counterparts on iOS. This makes sense given the new sharing capabilities Apple just added, allowing users to start work on one device, like an iPad, and pick it up on, say, a Macbook. But in the pursuit of unity between all of its devices, some features have gotten lost in the shuffle.

When Apple announced its bevy of free software updates earlier this week, some thought the thinking behind the move was to use software to sell hardware. But, in giving iWork away for free to new Mac users, part of it was a low-risk play against Microsoft -- and its venerable Microsoft Office paid software suite -- to lure users to Apple services.

"I'm sure there are some Microsoft product people laughing and thinking, 'I told you so,' but I don't think they are taking it too seriously," said IDC analyst Melissa Webster, who covers productivity software for the research firm. "iWork was never meant to be a Microsoft Office killer. I don't even think Apple thinks of it that way."

The good news is that customers can still use older versions of the apps, if they have them.

This isn't the first time an Apple software overhaul has upset longtime users. When the company released Final Cut Pro X in 2011, it was a complete rethink of its predecessor. It had a new user interface, and key features aimed at pro users (like multi-camera editing) were missing. Apple eventually brought back some of those features, including multi-cam editing, though the jump was jarring enough to scare away some, and competitors like Adobe Systems and Avid capitalized on it with steep discounts for Apple users.

A similar thing happened with Apple's consumer video software years before. When it revamped iMovie for its 2008 version, many features were removed as well, and users complained. Again, Apple restored many of the features in the following years.

There was also last year's iTunes 11, which got rid of more than half a dozen features in its initial version, but that's been adding some back in (along with new ones) over time.

A "faux pas can give Apple a black eye," Webster said. "But I think we can bet on Apple remedying the problem when customers howl loudly enough."

[Via 9to5Mac]