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iWork.com Enhanced, Does Anyone Care?

Back at Macworld Expo in January 2009, Apple released iWork '09 and announced the beta of iWork.com, a Web-based service aimed at giving iWork '09 users a way to share files online and perform limited collaboration (see "iWork '09 Adds Catch-up Features," 2009-01-06). iWork.com was to be free during the beta period, and Apple didn't announce how much it would cost or when free access would end.

To put it mildly, we were unimpressed. iWork.com enables users to add comments to shared iWork documents and to maintain an ongoing chat-style discussion in a Web interface. Users can also download shared files in their original formats, as PDF documents, or as Microsoft Office files.

But that's it. You can't share a document and let others actually edit it. You can't download someone else's shared document, work on it, and give it back to them as a new version (though you can share it again from your account, breaking all links to the original). You can't even share non-iWork documents like, say, images or sound files or InDesign layouts.

I corralled an iWork.com product manager at Macworld and explained why this read-only approach to collaboration would be a non-starter for our situation and, I believe, for many other small workgroups. I was told, patronizingly, that Apple didn't intend iWork.com to meet the needs of everyone and that we were an edge case.

You know what? Until iWork '09 Update 3 was released last week, I hadn't even seen the words "iWork.com" online. And when I searched backwards in Twitter, it was mentioned only in conjunction with the iWork '09 Update 3 and after a 23-Sep-09 TUAW post asking if anyone used it. The buzz is nonexistent.

Although I'm sure a few people will give iWork.com a try after hearing about it, the changes in iWork '09 Update 3 aren't going to change anyone's basic perception of the service. They are:

As you'll note if you read the above links, Apple has opened an iWork.com News page, which might indicate a little motion in iWork.com, minimal as these features are.

But in the 9 months that Apple has taken to add password protection and email notification to iWork.com, we and millions of other people have actually been getting work done via Google Docs, EtherPad, Zoho's services, and others. With iWork.com, Apple is bringing too little to the table, and they've brought it far too late.

If iWork.com had existed 5 years ago, it would have been ground-breaking. Now it's not even worth trying, because its basic features don't match up to those from more mature offerings available for free elsewhere, and its limitations are deal-breakers for any workgroup that needs actual collaboration, not just kibitzing.

When critiquing the iPod nano's new FM tuning capabilities, Glenn Fleishman commented,

"For Apple to add any feature, it needs to be best in class, and a rethought-out way to carry out a process we've become so used to, we forget how much time we waste."

That's what I'd expect from Apple with iWork.com, not excuses about how it's designed only for people who don't have significant collaboration needs.


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Comments about iWork.com Enhanced, Does Anyone Care?
(Comments are closed.)

I'd completely forgotten about iwork.com until this post. In a few minutes, I will be able to forget about it again.
I use the share facility in Dropbox. It is a bit harder to track changes, but at least the recipients can get the whole doc and do with it what they will. And I believe Dropbox will always be free. iWork will just become a part of the way overpriced Mobile Me.
Dave Williams  2009-09-30 17:31
I ran across this post today after just having looked into iWorks.com and was amply unimpressed. For Keynote documents it doesn't track updates so every edit and change seems to be a new upload (tedious). And, you can "play" the Keynote presentation to see animation and video and such. Very disappointing.
Mark Lamerton  2009-09-30 21:10
I cannot even log into iWork.com
I've tried using my Apple ID and password (the same ID I use for iTunes and Apple online purchases) and I get the message: "Incorrect Apple ID or Password. Please try again." Great service!
Jochen  2009-10-01 06:54
you need a mobile-me account
My Apple ID is not recognized by the website, ergo, I have never seen iWork.com nor have even thought of it since MacWorld til this posting. Apparently I can live without it.
I used iWork.com a few times when it was first announced. Though it's difficult to disagree that it's rather unimpressive as a whole, I did like the look of the documents online, and I thought the chat sidebar thing was rather elegant. The two limitations that bothered me most were: (1) It didn't have any concept of versions; (2) There was no way to access a list of every document that someone had given me access to, requiring me to dig out the relevant old email to find the URL. I spent quite a lot of team sending in my suggestions and assumed that Apple would realize the offering was extremely modest, moving quickly to fill in some of the gaps. Waiting 9 months to bring in such limited refinements is pretty staggering.

Although I think calling real collaboration an "edge case" is ridiculous, I think there still is space for an elegant system that allows someone to post a document (not just the content but all the formatting) and gather comments from team members.
Matt McCaffrey  2009-10-08 08:05
Oh, yeah; it was such a small blip on my radar that I, too, had forgotten it existed. From how you describe it I would be completely underwhelmed.

I think that many Mac users are aware of Keynote, but still wonder how to fully adopt Pages and Numbers. I've used them both for special projects, and am impressed, but the Microsoft flood in my inbox remains a torrent.

My point: an iWork-only document exchange is pretty useless, unless it's somehow turbo-powered and offers to rake your leaves on the side. If Apple is serious about this (and "hobby projects" like Apple TV demonstrate that they sometimes are NOT serious about certain initiatives), they need to be more Google-like in their approach.

Now I'll go back to not recollecting there is an iWork.com...
OK, well I have to admit I did go give iWork a whirl after my last post.
I uploaded a pages document that is 80 pages long. All text. First off, let me complain that the file is over 20MB in size.
The UI for iWork is OK, but nothing great. commenting seemed odd, and clicking the 'x' to close the comment window actually DELETED it.
But its largest failing for me was that as I went ahead and made changes to the original document and saved those changes, they were not reflected on the site. I've added 9 more pages and made a host of edits, but I have to manually update/replace the document, and reupload the entire 22MB.
That just sucks.
I have been using iWork.com sporadically to work with my team to develop documents. My interest is not editing mainly but interacting on the ideas as a lead-up to face-to-face meetings. For this kind of use, I have found iWork.com sufficient. At the same time, I'm hoping that editing and other functions will be added sooner than later. iWork.com is far easier to use for all of us than any other option I've tried. It just works. I love that.