Free iWork upgrade angers Mac users

One customer calls Apple a 'serial software killer' after company yanks features from desktop applications

Apple's iWork free upgrade has angered longtime Mac power users, who have flooded the company's support forum with complaints about lost features.

One customer called Apple "serial software killers," while others collaborated to list the features Apple dropped in Pages, the word processing application and the most popular of the three that make up the iWork suite. Among the Pages tools that went AWOL in last week's upgrade: endnotes, the outline view, selection of noncontiguous text, facing pages, saving files in RTF format, significant limitations in automating workflow using AppleScript, and more than 100 ready-to-use templates.

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"Even the things you can still do are harder to get to now," argued Alistair Cullum. "Having a minimal interface makes sense in iOS, where space is limited, but in OS X I don't see the need to strip away toolbars, sidebars, etc."

Two pertinent threads on Apple's support forum -- here and here -- combined for nearly 900 comments and had been viewed almost 50,000 times, both large numbers by any measure and an illustration of how many have been affected by the update. Few of the customers commenting in the two threads had anything nice to say about Apple's move.

Last week, Apple released new versions of iWork for OS X, and announced that the three applications would be handed free of charge to buyers of new Macs. Users who had previously purchased Pages, Numbers, or Keynote would also receive free upgrades.

Apple last shipped a major upgrade for OS X's iWork in 2009.

The move followed a similar announcement Sept. 10, when Apple said it was giving the iOS iWork apps to customers who bought a new iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Bloggers and pundits also weighed in on the move, speculating that Apple's prime motivator was to make the iOS and OS X editions file- and feature-compatible, a decision that required it to scale back the desktop applications' feature sets.

"The fact that iWork on the Mac has lost functionality isn't because Apple is blind to power users. It's because they're willing to make a short-term sacrifice in functionality so that they can create a foundation that is equal across the Mac, iOS, and Web versions," said Nigel Warren, a user experience designer.

But that explanation didn't sit well with users.

"One of the problems with never doing consumer research is that Apple has lost touch with how serious users actually use the product," said Luke Christian. "Quite simply, I would never, ever, want to write a Pages document or a Keynote presentation on my phone.... What might seem supercool to Apple dudes on campus in California is not very practical in the real world of making a living in London."

Many of those livid at what they called the "dumbing down" of iWork on the Mac said that they would instead turn to Microsoft Office, the suite written by Apple's rival. Office for Mac 2011 starts at $140 for the Home & Student edition, or $100 annually for a subscription to Office 365 Home Premium.

Apple last week revamped iWork to make the productivity suite file- and feature-compatible for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, as well as for its Web-based apps, iWork for iCloud.

"Apple has conceded the productivity suite to Microsoft. It's a shame. ... I really felt like [iWork] had a shot at being a contender for productivity," said Agent Keel on one of the threads.

Those users quickly figured out a workaround, however, that relied on the old version of iWork's applications, which were retained after an upgrade. The previous versions can be found in the iWork '09 folder in the Applications folder on a Mac. Once opened in the new versions of iWork, however, documents will not open in the 2009 edition.

Only those more willing to ponder the future than to complain about the past were sanguine about the changes.

"The bottom line as I see it: You need to have clear priorities, and Apple's highest priority here was clearly cross-platform parity for iPhone, iPad, Web, and Mac," wrote John Gruber Saturday on his popular blog Daring Fireball. "But iOS is Apple's primary platform, and it's better for iOS to have the entire iWork suite at parity than the previous situation, where the iOS versions of the apps supported only a subset of what the Mac versions did."

Gruber's correct: iOS is Apple's primary platform. In the quarter that ended June 30, iPhone and iPad revenue accounted for 69 percent of the total, or about five times that of the Mac.

The iWork backlash wasn't the first aimed at Apple after a major software upgrade. Two years ago, when Apple shipped Final Cut Pro X absent some features and tools, customers revolted, kick-starting a petition and generating parody videos, including one from the video crew who worked on Conan O'Brien's late-night television talk show and another that relied on the overused scene from the movie "Downfall" (Der Untergang).

Although some disappointed Final Cut Pro X customers reportedly received refunds from Apple, that option will be off the table for iWork, since, as many pointed out, the upgrade is free.

Apple also updated the beta of iWork for iCloud to allow collaborative document editing. iWork for iCloud is free, but requires Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, or Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.comSee more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.comRead more about applications in Computerworld's Applications Topic Center.

This story, "Free iWork upgrade angers Mac users" was originally published by Computerworld.

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