Can Pages and Numbers Replace Word and Excel on Your Mac?

For years Apple’s iWork suite was something you paid for. While it wasn’t as expensive as Microsoft Office, at $80 it also wasn’t cheap enough to make it an afterthought. In 2014 Apple dropped the price to $20 per app on the Mac. That was a better deal if you only needed Pages, but it was still enough of a barrier that most people wouldn’t bother with it. Finally, in 2017, Apple dropped the price tag altogether, making the apps free for anyone who had ever bought a Mac or iOS device.

If Apple is giving the apps away, they can’t possibly hold a candle to the venerable Microsoft Office, can they? You might be surprised. While they aren’t as feature-packed as Word or Excel, Pages and Numbers are more than capable enough for plenty of use cases.

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In a lot of cases you’ll find you already know if you need Microsoft Word. If you’re aren’t positive you do need Word, then Pages might be perfect for you.

Pages does most everything you’d expect a word processor to do. It lets you create and edit documents, as well as other basic functions. Pages even has a whole range of templates to make it easy to get started on whatever you need. The app includes templates for school reports, resumes, newsletters, and even books. Once you get started, you can change fonts, add images, and check your spelling and grammar, just as you would expect.

One area where Pages doesn’t hold up as well as Microsoft Word is interoperability. Word has become an industry standard, and many people have come to rely on the “docx” format. This is especially true in industries like publishing. Pages can export documents in this format, but if you’re working with someone and going to be sending .docx files back and forth, you’re probably going to need Word. If you’re not sure, Apple has information on what Word and Excel features are supported in Pages and Numbers on its website.

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When it comes to Numbers and Excel, the differences are greater. Pages is basically a stripped down version of Word, but Numbers and Excel take different approaches to working with spreadsheets.

When you launch Excel, you’ll see a grid that extends essentially infinitely in any given direction. Numbers, on the other hand, starts you off with something more defined. With the default “Blank” spreadsheet, you get columns labeled from A through G and rows labeled 1 through 22. Handles let you extend the grid in either direction, if you need to. This different approach gives you a glimpse of the difference between the two programs. Excel is packed with more features than most of us will ever use, while Numbers takes a more basic approach.

Excel also seems to be built for people who work with spreadsheets day-in and day-out and know exactly what features they need. Numbers takes an approach that spreadsheet novices will find less intimidating. Neither of these approaches is the “right” way to do things – they’re just different. If you’re not even sure why you’d ever need a spreadsheet program, Numbers is the safer bet.

In the end, it all comes down to what you’re using a given app for. If you’re just writing the occasional letter or creating a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your budget, Pages and Numbers will be more than enough for your needs. If you’re frequently working on documents with other people or if you make a living as an accountant, you’re probably going to need to spring for Microsoft Office. Fortunately, if you only find you need Word or Excel occasionally, there are a few ways you can use Office for free.

That said, both Pages and Numbers are free from the outset now. If you’re not sure what you need, your best bet is to use Pages and/or Numbers until you run into their limitations. If you never do hit those limitations, you’ll be glad you saved the money.

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