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:
- You can now protect shared documents with a password, and iWork.com now uses 128-bit SSL encryption.
- You can now be notified of new comments via email.
- When you share a document with someone, the email invitation is now sent via Apple's servers, rather than through Mail (since not everyone uses Mail).
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.