Mac Productivity

5 Reasons You Should Use iWork Instead of Microsoft Office

Dan Helyer Updated 10-02-2020

Apple’s iWork suite is often overlooked in favor of Microsoft Office. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint form the industry standards; they’re the apps everyone expects to use. But that doesn’t mean Microsoft Office is necessarily better than iWork.

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In fact, the Apple office suite offers some huge benefits over Office. It’s free, easy to use, and syncs over iCloud. Whether you’re an Office veteran or a complete newcomer, iWork is well worth your consideration.

Let’s take a look at why we need to look at a face-off between iWork vs. Office.

1. iWork Is Free

iWork apps in iPad App Store showing as free

This might not matter if you get to use Office for free 6 Ways You Can Get a Microsoft Office License for Free Free Microsoft Office licenses are hard to get, but they do exist. This article covers six ways to get Word and Excel for free. Read More through your university or workplace, but to freelancers, hobbyists, and anyone else who uses these kinds of apps on a regular basis, the price could be a pretty big deal.

Microsoft does offer its apps for free, but they often have limitations. For example, if you download Microsoft Word on your Mac you can’t edit or create new documents; you can only read existing ones. To unlock everything, you need an active Office 365 subscription, which starts at $70 per year!

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Of course, an Office 365 subscription also unlocks access to other apps such as Outlook, Publisher, and Access. But most people don’t need these niche apps anyway.

In contrast, the iWork suite is absolutely free and unrestricted on any Apple device. There are no limitations and Apple even offers free downloads of iWork to owners of older Apple products.

2. iWork Has a Cleaner Interface

Microsoft Office vs Apple iWork user interface

Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are very powerful tools, and their interfaces are jam-packed full of options and menus. This is good if you’re a power user since you have quick access to all the myriad settings you could want.

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But most of us don’t need all those options.

Managing references, text elements, and mathematical equations aren’t common concerns for the average Office suite user. And all those extra features result in a messy and distracting user interface.

Microsoft Word and Excel User Interfaces

Apple iWork gets rid of a lot of this clutter in favor of a cleaner look than Microsoft Office. Eliminating all those distractions creates a peaceful environment for productivity and makes the iWork suite just as easy to use as everything else on a Mac.

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The top of the Pages window, for example, has Insert, Table, Chart, Text, Shape, Media, and Comment buttons. That’s basically everything you need for word processing. The Numbers and Keynote apps are similarly sparse.

Apple Pages and Numbers User Interface

Looking at side-by-side comparisons of Apple iWork versus Microsoft Office, it is quite startling how big the difference is. iWork is so much cleaner and pleasing to look at. What’s more, many of the same settings are still available in iWork, they’re just kept out of sight in the Format sidebar.

3. Sync to iCloud and Handoff to Other Devices

Apple devices using iWork office suite

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Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud have a lot of similarities. They both let you sync your Office or iWork documents so the latest versions are always available online. You can then access them using any device or over the web. But iCloud has the advantage of being deeply integrated into every Apple product, from software to hardware.

Not only can you keep all your Pages, Numbers, and Keynotes documents in iCloud, but you can handoff your documents from one Apple device to another. That means you can handoff from your iPhone to your Mac 10 Handy Ways to Use Your Mac and iPhone Together Have a Mac and an iPhone? These apps, features, and tips let you use them together in awesome ways! Read More , and then to your iPad without having to skip a beat. You don’t even need to click Save.

This seamless integration is far more difficult for Microsoft to replicate because there’s no telling which devices you could be using or trying to handoff between.

Pages from iPhone icon in Mac dock showing Handoff

Many of us work across various different devices these days, so having the ability to effortlessly switch between them is a big deal. It’s just another one of the reasons iWork is a more user-friendly office suite than Microsoft Office.

4. Collaboration and Co-Authoring

Add People option from iWork Real Time collaboration

Both suites offer real-time collaboration, so you can work on a document with other people remotely. When it comes to Apple iWork versus Microsoft Office, it’s hard to say which app comes out on top since the features are so similar.

In either office suite, click the Share or Collaborate button from the user interface to send a document invite to one of your contacts. That person can then make real-time changes to your document, which shows up on your screen.

Collaborate button in Pages

This is a valuable feature and it’s useful to know that you won’t sacrifice it by switching to iWork. That said, whoever you want to work with needs to use the same app as you. You can’t collaborate from iWork to Office, for instance.

Since iWork is available free on any Apple product, that might actually make it easier to find people to collaborate with.

iWork has lots of other sharing features built in, too. The Share menu lets you create iCloud links, send the document via Messages, or transfer it to another device using AirDrop. These might not seem like a big deal at first, but if you work with a lot of people who use Macs, you’ll definitely use it.

5. Microsoft Office Compatibility

iWork Pages document with Sharing File Compatibility options

Using any apps other than Microsoft Office always comes with the worry of compatibility issues. Everyone else is likely to still use Office, so how will your app deal with .doc and .docx files? This used to be a big count against Apple’s iWork suite.

But not anymore.

iWork apps have come a long way in their compatibility. These days, they can open, edit, and save files in standard Office formats. By default, they still use iWork file extensions (.pages, .key, .numbers), but you can also save files as .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, and .pptx, as well as a few others like .pdf, .csv, and .html.

While you still come across some missing fonts or formatting discrepancies, you aren’t likely to run into any serious problems. You can even use Pages to add comments to a .docx document, which Word users can still read in Microsoft Office.

The big advantage iWork has in this respect is that unlike Office, it also has the option to save them in the iWork format. That means you can always share your files in the most convenient format for whoever you’re sending them to.

Will You Make the Switch?

If you haven’t used iWork before—or if you haven’t used it in a while—you should definitely give it a shot soon. It’s cleaner, more compatible, and easier to use across multiple devices than Microsoft Office. And unless you’re a real power user, you aren’t even going to miss any features.

There are lots of hidden features in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. If you do decide to make the switch from Microsoft Office, make sure you learn all the best tips for using Apple iWork 18 Advanced Tips for Pages, Numbers, and Keynote Want to become more productive in the iWork suite? These advanced tips will help any Mac user create better documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Read More instead.

Related topics: iCloud, iWork, Microsoft Office 2016, Microsoft Office 2019, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Office Alternative.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Vitali Hoffman
    April 3, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    I am a Mac-user, but honestly those reasons are no real reasons. MS Office is so much more powerful and flexible and extendable than iWork.

    For private users who are apple users I think iWork is better.
    For companies MS Office is essential.

  2. Andy
    April 16, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    My kids an I are all Mac users.

    Having said that, Office 365 Home for $100 a years not only gives me MS Office for up to 15 devices but also 1 TB of cloud storage per family member up to 5 users.

    Syncing between iPads, iPhones & Macs is perfect.

    With 2 kids in university, Office 365 is a no brainer.

    • Dann Albright
      April 22, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      Yes, when your kids are in university, Office 365 is a really good choice. Especially if you only pay $100 for three people. Students often get a discount, too, so it could even get a little cheaper. If you don't absolutely need Office products, though, iWork is still a solid alternative. I would imagine that, at least most of the time, they could get away without Office. There might be some situations where that would make things difficult, but it depends largely on what professors require.

      • larrymcj
        May 25, 2017 at 3:10 am

        I have to agree with Danny on this. I've used Microsoft Office all my adult business life and the past 12 years have been on a Mac. I currently have an Office 365 subscription, but I recently changed to iWork and to me there is no better feeling than using iWork apps with the ubiquity of iCloud. Everything just "feels" right and even more importantly, with the user interface of these three apps it also "looks" right. As Dann said, the apps are so clean looking and not confounded with a myriad of features that 90% of users won't find helpful. For me it's not about the money, but I have the family subscription of Office 365 so I do save some money each year.

        Yes, I have a boatload of storage in OneDrive with my Office 365 account, but OneDrive is a very slow synching cloud service that I could never warm up to. I just use Dropbox, even though I could use iCloud...but that's not what iCloud is designed for. Dropbox is the number one cloud synching service in the world for many good reasons.

        I have to interface and collaborate with many folks who use Microsoft Office, both on Windows and Macs. I have never had a problem exporting an iWork document to a Microsoft Office document. Admittedly, I have downloaded all the Microsoft fonts onto my Mac, but this is free and anyone can do it in a matter of minutes.

        • Dann Albright
          May 29, 2017 at 9:00 pm

          Good call on downloading the Microsoft fonts—that'll definitely help keep iWork and Microsoft Office working well together!

  3. Rohan
    October 7, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    A pathetic iOS buff.

    If I ever had to switch for all the reasons written above, I would very happily switch to Google Apps.

    • Dann Albright
      October 19, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Yes, Google Apps is also an option. I haven't been super impressed with their apps, though; I'm not sure exactly what it is. I do use them on occasion, but the online limitations and interfaces just don't do it for me.

  4. one9712745
    September 29, 2016 at 3:29 am

    I remember previously when I used iWork-iCloud integration during my uni masters days back somewhere in 2011-2012. Back then it was a 'wow' factor, & I jumped in. Saved lots & lots of references & articles for my thesis.
    But then they 'revamped' iCloud WITHOUT any warning whatsoever, and I lost most of my references. And it happened to many, just google it.
    Yes I should have had copies on local hard drive, I've learnt.
    My biggest gripe was that I've emailed them for help, and only got 'We regret for your inconvenience and go this webpage for troubleshooting' which didn't help. Or perhaps I'm living outside US, which may be not important commercially.

    • Dann Albright
      October 19, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Yeah, losing reference material is rough. That's why I always used Endnote and backed everything up. :-) Sorry to hear that, though . . . updates can be unpredictable.

  5. Fischi
    September 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    I like the Apple Office suite, but it is quit unfair and also a little bit bluffing to use the OLD Microsoft Office 2011 for your screenshots as there exist a very newer one Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac. Not really good journalism ...

    • anon
      September 28, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      They did not talk about 1 TB free storage which comes with Office 365.
      Also at the cost of around $80 per month, you get five TB space with five license.
      Did I add Skype credits to send SMS or call someone over internet?

      • Dann Albright
        October 19, 2016 at 11:04 pm

        Getting storage space with Office 365 is one of the perks, but you do also get iCloud storage. It's not a huge amount, but I don't think many people are really in the position of needing more cloud storage at the moment. There's just so much free storage out there that paying for it seems a little ridiculous!

        • anon
          October 27, 2016 at 3:13 pm

          First your title is incomplete and because article is directed to noobs and it must be explicitly mentioned there. Don't generalize your opinion.

          Fair point many people don't need more space. Define what you do you mean by 'many'? Who really comes in that category? These days I see noobs uploading videos to YouTube. They must want to back up the original copies.

          You are a journalist please cite your sources before speaking your mind. Please conduct a survey to see amount of space people desire in their device.

          Didn't you notice the Apple had bumped amount of store present in iPhone. Open your eyes.

          Also you are forgetting that reliability of MS Office has been an industry standard. No questions there.

          I appreciate your honesty in the comment below. But don't you think it is unfair to misjudge something at your standpoint. You can always get a 30 day trial version before making your opinion about it.

    • Dann Albright
      October 19, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      That's a fair point. But because I have iWork, I haven't felt compelled to buy Office 2016!