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Numbers Joins iWork '08

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Along with the new iMacs and iLife '08, Steve Jobs unveiled iWork '08 last week, which updates Pages and Keynote and adds the long-rumored spreadsheet, Numbers. iWork '08 is available for $79; as with iLife and previous versions of iWork, no upgrade discounts were announced.

Numbers -- Apple's spreadsheet application Numbers gives number-crunching a distinctly iWork look, with customizable templates to help even the most math-phobic individual. Instead of a large expanse of empty cells, Numbers appears to treat the document as a blank canvas on which you add "intelligent tables" that provide spreadsheet functionality. Of course, you can add (and move) other elements on that document page, including 2D and 3D charts, images, text labels, and photos. It almost appears as if Apple designed Numbers to be as much a presentation tool as Keynote.

Numbers also imports and exports Microsoft Excel 2007 files created in Microsoft's Office Open XML formats and CSV. It can import OFX (Open Financial Exchange) documents, too, and export in PDF. And Numbers introduces an interactive print view, which enables you to scale and rearrange items in a print preview mode before committing the job to paper (no more printing a spreadsheet that ends up awkwardly split between multiple pages).

Keynote -- Steve Jobs's favorite application has been updated with new text effects and transitions, as one might expect, but also with animated action builds that can perform actions such as moving objects along a path and scaling objects over time. Keynote '08 adds "instant alpha," a feature for masking out portions of an image, and voice-over recording, as well as a smart builds feature that creates animations the way one would build a simple slideshow in iPhoto.

Pages -- Speaking as writers, Pages has never floated our collective boat because it has always been a page layout application first, with rudimentary word processing features. Pages '08 could change that with its word processing mode, which is entirely separate from layout mode. Apple has also added something that no company other than Microsoft has in a consumer-level word processor: change tracking. It remains to be seen how capable it is, but we're looking forward to putting it through its paces. Also new is a contextual formatting bar that may be easier to use than the inspector of previous versions, along with 140 Apple-designed templates. Like Numbers, Pages can read Open XML files created with Microsoft Word 2007 in Windows.


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