The pros and cons of using MS Office vs Apple iWork

Word documents, spreadsheets and presentations are files we often use on a regular basis, whether at home for general life admin or at work. 

Microsoft Office (comprising of Word, Excel and Powerpoint) is an old-timer when it comes to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. It was first announced as a package by Bill Gates on August 1, 1988, after the early success of MS Word (launched in 1983).

A staple software package for schools, universities and workplaces, almost everyone who has been to school in the last 15-20 years will likely have had some familiarity with using MS Office.

Following Microsoft’s initial domination in the world of software and operating systems, Apple came to the fore. Steve Jobs bought not only new hardware but also new software to the technology scene. Being a Microsoft program, Apple computers do not come stocked with MS Office, but instead encourage users to delve into their own business solution, iWork, comprising of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.  

Here we take a look at the pros and cons of MS Office v iWork to help you uncover which software package is best for you:

Operating software

The first key factor to consider when choosing between MS Office and Apple iWork is your operating system. iWork is available to use on Apple devices (Mac, iPad, iPhone) and can only be used on a Windows device via iCloud. Apple does not currently offer a compatible desktop version of their software. If you are using a Mac, however, you can download both MS Office and Apple iWork from the app store.

Apple iWork v Microsoft Office


Using Pages, Numbers and Keynote are great when working solo or with other Mac users. In an office full of PC users, however, you may find compatibility issues when sending and receiving an iWorks file to/from your Mac. To try and resolve this issue, Apple has now made it possible to easily import and export files to popular Microsoft Office formats, such as .docx, .xlsx and .pptx, however fonts, layouts, image sizing can sometimes change when converting between file formats.

Convert iWork files to MS Office compatible file formats and vice versa for free using Zamzar.

Basic functionality

Upon initial glance and taking a first look at the basic function, the two office suites perform in a very similar way, offering much of the same functionality. In many ways, iWork’s applications act as a like-for-like substitute for MS Office for your standard user. However, dig a bit deeper and you will begin to find differences between the two packages, each with their own pros and cons.

User interface

Many users find the simple, clean interface of the iWork suite more aesthetically pleasing than MS Office. Apple has stepped away from overwhelming menu options, leaving the most-utilised features easily accessible and intuitive to use without training. However, you could find the clean interface becomes a hindrance when you are creating more complex documents or spreadsheets. Many useful tools are hidden in obscure places compared to their Windows counterparts.

Cloud storage and mobile integration

iWork is fully integrated with iCloud online storage, allowing you to store and access up to 5GB of files from anywhere across multiple devices for free (never face the stress of losing a file on a corrupt memory stick hours before a deadline again). With MS Office, business users (on a monthly price plan) can also store files online if they have an Office licence assigned and SharePoint online, via OneDrive.

Collaboration and Sharing

Multiple users can collaborate on the same document, spreadsheet or presentation for free using Apple’s real-time collaboration, which works across many devices. MS Office users can collaborate on SharePoint but require a business package for each person they hope to collaborate with.

Apple iWork v Microsoft Office

Individual applications at a glance:

Word v Pages

MS Word and Pages are very similar software packages in terms of the features that they offer. Both cover all of the basic word processing features including text formatting, custom headers, footers, footnotes, bulleted and numbered lists, pictures and images. Pages comes into its own when it comes to document design, particularly for leaflets, flyers and posters, which you can format with ease. It also allows you to add charts to the document – a feature missing from MS Word. Microsoft Word, however, outperforms when it comes to writing tools such as word count and spell checking tools. It also provides a wider variety of formatting options and allows you to add special effects to text like 3D or shadow (not that you necessarily should!) You can also add more special effects to imagery such as drop shadow, reflection and more.

Excel v Numbers

In general, Excel, while not as aesthetically pleasing, is easier to work with, particularly when dealing with large amounts of raw data. While both packages work for everyday budgeting and planning, Excel is more suited to academic or professional use, containing a larger range of functions and offering greater mathematical capabilities than Numbers.

The clean-cut approach when Apple created Numbers means that shortcuts and formulas are not as obvious to find when compared to Excel’s menus and autosum functions. From a learning perspective, there are a greater range of online resources and ‘how to’ tutorials for Excel, compared to Numbers.

PowerPoint v Keynote

Keynote excels when it comes to design. Users with no design background can easily create sleek and stylish presentations, pulling in images, sounds and video media with ease. There is a wide range of in-built theme options and layouts, animations and fonts are easy to change. PowerPoint, while more functional than beautiful is a powerful piece of presentation software. Used to its full potential it can provide a lot of control on design and functionality. However, the complexity of PowerPoint can become a hindrance if users don’t fully know how to use it. It is all too easy to create an ugly presentation with over-the-top transitions if you aren’t careful and many users have found that multimedia issues sometimes occur when a presenting from a device other than the one you built your presentation on.

Apple iWork v Microsoft Office

Other factors to consider:

Pricing – iWork now comes included as standard for free with any modern Apple device. The pricing is therefore definitely an advantage for Mac users. The only additional cost is for greater iCloud storage capacity if you choose to store your files in the cloud but run out of space.

Pre-built templates – iWork includes a wider range of built-in design templates over MS Office, enabling you to achieve a beautiful finished product, faster.

Online support – MS Office has been around for a long time meaning you can Google almost anything about the package and find a tutorial or support for your issue. iWork is less widely used so you may find less available support.

Apple pencil – If you are fully-integrated into the Apple ecosystem, iWork enables you to add illustrations and notations to iWork using Apple Pencil for iPad.

Apple iWork v Microsoft Office


iWork works well in a Mac operating environment, allowing users to fully immerse themselves in the Apple ecosystem without having to pay for additional software. The applications are beautiful and clean to look at, in keeping with Apple’s sleek aesthetic and can fulfil almost all of the requirements of an everyday user.

MS Office, works well in a Windows operating environment, offering familiarity and comfort when transferring files to other Office users without compatibility issues. Overall, the Office software includes more features and a greater level of user control and functionality (often not utilised by an everyday user, but useful to have all the same).

When looking for the perfect office software package for you, do also consider other alternatives, such as the free “LibreOffice” and Google’s online competitor G Suite, encompassing Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms.

If you find yourself switching from MS Office to iWork or vice versa, convert all of your old or existing files to the right file format using Zamzar.

1 comment

  1. Great article and easy to understand – thanks. I just purchased a new MacBook Air and did not see a compatible MSOffice version for Big Sur, and trying to decide what to do. I will probably try iWorks using the Zamzar to convert my files.

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