iWork '08: The Next Step in Apple's SMB Push?

iWork '08 is aimed at the people Microsoft Office has left behind, and when you look at the SMB market, that's a lot of people with a lot of money.
Posted August 21, 2007

John Welch

John Welch

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As everyone in the Mac universe knows, the latest version of Apple's productivity "suite," iWork '08 now has a spreadsheet application, Numbers. Of course, this has lead many to speculate what this means for Microsoft Office, in particular, the upcoming Office 2008. However, I'm not sure that's really framing it correctly.

I don't think iWork '08 is a direct shot at Office on either Windows or the Mac. That would imply that Apple is taking a Microsoftian turn here, and designing a product to "beat" the competition. Anyone looking at iWork '08 for more than ten minutes will realize that, no, it doesn't "beat" Microsoft Office, or even Open Office. The list of differences is huge, including full read/write round-trip support for Microsoft's OpenXML format.

But Apple is not Microsoft. They don't design applications based on what the competition is doing. Oh sure, they keep the competition in mind. So Numbers can deal with Excel files, Pages talks to Word, and Keynote talks to Powerpoint. Pages gained Word-compatible change tracking. But that's more of a nod to user convenience.

Take a look at Numbers. That application is not designed to woo hardcore enterprise Excel users. Even outside of a complete lack of automation/macro capability, Numbers doesn't have as many formulae, etc. Pages can't deal with things like embedded spreadsheet objects a la Word. Yes, I can copy and paste data from Numbers into Pages, but I can't embed a spreadsheet into Pages, make changes in Numbers, and have those changes propagate to the Pages document. Numbers has no macro or scripting facility, so you can't do the kinds of automation that are common for Excel documents in the enterprise. Really, the only application in Office that iWork beats coming and going is PowerPoint. Keynote just destroys it. But that's really the only one.

Apple's not stupid. If they wanted to make Numbers a competitor for Excel, or even a reincarnated Improv, they could have. If they wanted to make Pages into a Word-beater, it's not beyond their abilities. They couldn't do it "with ease," but Apple could do it. So why didn't they make iWork '08 a competitor for Office?

There's a laundry list of reasons why, but my current favorite is that Apple isn't after the enterprise business market. (By "enterprise business", I mean companies and corporations with over a thousand computers. Higher Ed certainly resembles an enterprise, but it's different, and Apple does well there.)

Microsoft Office has, over the years, become an excellent enterprise product, especially when you add in things like Sharepoint and Live Meeting, nee Netmeeting. (I'm really not sure what it's called anymore, Microsoft changes names so fast, you need a telepathic link to Redmond to keep up, and no one pays me that well.) Microsoft Office is no longer a product, but rather an infrastructure that is built with the enterprise in mind. (This is one reason why if the OpenOffice people think that simply having a competitor to Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Access/Outlook is going to make them king of the productivity suite mountain, they need to get outside and get some oxygen.)

However, as Office becomes a better fit for big enterprise, it starts to lose its attraction to the SMB market. Face it, Word really is intimidating as heck, and overblown for what I'll risk saying is a majority of SMB needs. Sharepoint for a fifty-, or even a hundred-person shop? Consider all the requirements for Sharepoint. They're rather huge and expensive. Same thing with Outlook, which really only shines with Exchange, which requires Active Directory, and then you need IIS for webmail...

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