Office suites have come a long way in terms of compatibility from five and 10 years ago. Previously a document in one office suite would rarely open properly in a competitors office application, or if you could it was gobbledygook and unreadable. Even different versions of Microsoft Office couldn't talk to one another properly.
Slowly this has changed and today file compatibility is possible between applications such as Office, iWork, Open Office and even online suites from Google and Zoho to name a few. However, the process doesn't mean there isn't a few snags. In this article we'll focus on iWork 08 and Office 2007 (Windows) and Office 2008 (Mac) compatibility but you can use some of these same tips and apply them to your other favourite office suite.
In the left corner we have iWork, Apple's office suite of applications that includes a word processor called Pages, a spreadsheet application called Numbers, and a presentation piece of software called Keynote. In the right corner is the heavyweight beast of office suites from Microsoft with Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Unfortunately 100 per cent guarantees can't be given that documents are going to look exactly the same while sharing between the two applications. If your regular business document exchanges need to be precise then this will become a hassle and you may want to consider standardising on either iWork, Microsoft Office, or one of the other office suites available.
In saying that, you may not even have a choice to use iWork or even Office for Mac. The Apple platform does not currently support functionalities such as VBA macros natively, Pivot Tables, nor some custom back-end office applications built in Visual Basic. In these cases you'll have limited options but to use a Windows version of Office. If you're a power user you may want to try and recreate macros in iWork using AppleScript but it's a fidgety process and there's no current way to automate or translate them other than by hand.
While there are these productivity land mines to be aware of, it doesn't mean you can't share your documents effectively. Here's how:
When in doubt, use PDF
Whenever you're sharing a document, and it doesn't need to be changed by the recipient then the best way to share your files is turning them into a PDF. This is a breeze in both iWork and Microsoft Office and is the best way to ensure files will be compatible on just about any computer.
To PDF a document in iWork is similar in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Click on File -> Export -> PDF. Each application has different export options but all have PDF.
To PDF a document in a Microsoft Office for Mac application such as Word, PowerPoint, or Excel simply click on File -> Save As -> Choose PDF from the drop down options. The Windows version isn't as friendly, and will require either Adobe Acrobat, or something like doPDF installed, both of which will install a virtual printer. You can then create the PDF by going to File -> Print and selecting the Acrobat or equivalent printer, and the file will be exported.
The problem with PDF documents is that while they can standardise the look and feel of a document it lacks the ability to collaborate and change documents.
If you are going to share and collaborate using iWork 08 and Microsoft Office 2007 (Windows) or Mac Office 08 then its important to know how the two programs work together. When importing default Microsoft Office 2007 and Mac Office 08 files (open XML file formats with extensions such as .pptx, docx, and .xlsx) then iWork will import the files and report any incompatibilities automatically. However, iWork cannot save or export documents back into this Open XML format, rather it can only export back into previous Office formats such as .doc, .ppt, and .xls.
By default Microsoft Office cannot read iWork 08 files, you'll need to export them into a .doc, .ppt, and .xls file first before attempting to share these documents. This can be done in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote by clicking File -> Export -> and select either Word, PowerPoint, or Excel respectively.
Sharing files between Pages and Word
As a rule of thumb, if you have a simple document created in Word it will appear in a similar way in Pages. While the look and feel may be the same, the translation process actually transforms the Word document into a Pages document under the hood. This creates some quirkiness for Word documents originally using Word Art, certain font styles, and sometimes line spaces.
To fix line spacing issues, click on the text inspector in Pages and make sure your spacing is set out in pixels.
In a similar fashion, when exporting Pages documents to Microsoft Word not all of the styles will show up nicely in Word. This is especially the case in using the charting features, text boxes and shapes. It isn't all doom and gloom, however. Most functions will work fine or if Pages is having trouble interpreting the Word data, it will come up with a prompt to warn you.
One of the biggest bugbears though is the ability for Pages and Word documents to properly view embedded spreadsheets and charts from each other. In our tests we tried to chart some simple data and saw the spreadsheets looked totally different in each application. For the best results you should consider taking a screenshot of complex data visualisations just to make sure it looks the same in both applications.
The best piece of advice for sharing between both Pages and Word documents is to use standard, non-fancy formatting and use minimal Word Art, and charting features.
Collaborating between Numbers and Excel
Numbers and Excel are both spreadsheets but with two quite different engines underneath them. They are, as they say in South East Asia "same, same, but different". Excel has a more powerful engine that can handle more complex operations and integration with back-end systems driven by a database. Numbers is more geared towards basic accounting and bean counting but excels (no pun intended) in displaying and exporting charts and showing data graphically.
When sharing Excel documents with Numbers users one of biggest problems can occur if you try to import some statistical and engineering functions. This won't affect the majority of users who use spreadsheets for accounting measurements but you may want to double-check any complex functions with recipients to make sure your numbers match. Luckily, the problem is obvious when opening up Numbers — cells are highlighted when no function can be completed from an imported document.
When importing large Excel files and trying to open them in Numbers some users have run into the problem of their Mac not having enough spare memory. If this happens then make sure only the minimum amount of applications are open at one time, and if that doesn't work then you may have to upgrade your RAM. As a rough gauge, a computer with 512MB of RAM will max out at around 53,687 cells in an Excel document.
Opening files protected by Excel's security features can have odd results. If a workbook is protected by a password then Numbers will come up with an error message. Password protected cells imported from Excel may work but will appear empty. If you want to easily share a document then its best to turn this feature by Microsoft off. To do this open the file in Excel and go to Tools -> Protection -> and select unlock workbook. Only the original author will be able to unlock the password protection.
On the flip side there are a few gotchas when opening Apple's Numbers documents in Excel. Remember that you cannot directly open a Numbers document in Excel, you'll have to export it as an .xls file. When opening this .xls file in Numbers you may notice a difference in the way the data is presented. For example, you may see a file with many worksheets instead of tables on one sheet as you see it with Numbers. A workaround is to paste your data into one table in Numbers and then export. That way you can clearly see your data on multiple worksheets in Excel.
During the exporting process Numbers will automatically bring up a reviews pane to show potential problems when opening the document in Excel. While many of these will be substitutions it's important to keep a note of what and how Numbers is exporting the data.
Sharing data between Numbers and Excel and keeping integrity of the document is the hardest to do in this office suite test. We highly recommend setting up documents in Microsoft Excel first and work with the one .xls format. This will reduce the incompatibilities of data and visual elements between the two programs.
Sharing presentations between PowerPoint and Keynote
Presentation sharing and collaboration between these two programs is possible as long as you keep fancy multimedia, transitions, and automatic features to a minimum.
Two quick tips we have learnt already can be used here as well. Firstly, try not to use Word Art in PowerPoint. Keynote will try and match the Word Art font, but if it's not available it will put in a substitute which might make your presentation look amateur. Secondly, create the base document in PowerPoint first if possible. It will reduce the inconsistencies in importing and exporting if you keep your document in a .ppt file.
If you're going to use video in your presentations then the best option for compatibility over both programs is Flash. Flash is reportedly installed on 97 per cent of all computers and can easily be viewed in almost any browser. However, the next best option is Quicktime which is supported by both Mac and PC computers. Flash can also be used to control audio in both environments but we found the default audio options worked fine between the two applications.
Slide transitions and text flying in and out along with images flying about in a presentation may look pretty but aren't always well transitioned between PowerPoint and Keynote. As a general rule for sharing documents you should create basic transitions, try to exclude any automated functions, and keep it simple.
While we've previously stated that PDF is the most compatible format to export documents to there are a few extra options for presentations that will retain the interactivity as set up in Keynote or PowerPoint. As an interactive platform these presentations can be exported to the Web, a movie file, images, Flash, and even an iPod. Simply choose the best platform for your intended audience.
We may have nitpicked at some of the ways these two programs don't work together and how to minimise data inaccuracies, but they do play together reasonably well out of the box. However, it is those small things that don't work which will add up and be the bugbear of sharing documents between iWork and Office, or break that critical presentation. For the best compatibility results it's best to use the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) method, or simply standardise your documents under iWork or Office.
As a side note, don't be afraid to use free alternatives such as Open Office which is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux or Google's apps which only require a browser to run.