Free iWork on iPad: Microsoft Fires Back

A war of words erupts after Apple ribs Microsoft and makes iWorks a no-cost perk for new Mac and iOS device buyers.

In typical Apple fashion, the Cupertino, Calif.-based device maker dominated headlines this week with its new MacBook Pros, cylindrical Mac Pro desktop and its next-generation tablets, including the svelte and powerful full-sized iPad Air and the pixel-packed iPad Mini with Retina display.

In addition, Apple announced some major freebies. OS X Mavericks, which breaks away from the big cat naming scheme of its predecessor desktop operating systems by taking its name from the popular Californian surfing spot, also makes a major departure in the price department.

In a surprising turn—and with a swipe at rival Microsoft—the company announced that the operating system would essentially be free. And joining the free (as in beer) software club is iWorks, the Apple productivity software suite, which now can be had at no cost with the purchase of new iOS and Mac hardware.

Obviously taking aim at Microsoft, its tablet-enabled Windows 8 OS and its Surface slate, Apple CEO Tim Cook said during his company's Oct. 22 San Francisco event that "our competition is different; they're confused." He added, "They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they will do next."

During the event, Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, took to the stage to showcase some of Mavericks' many optimizations, including memory compression, dynamic graphics memory allocation and OpenCL support. As he wrapped up his presentation, he said, "Today, we're going to revolutionize pricing."

With a boxed version of Microsoft Windows 8 Pro, complete with a price of $199, displayed behind him, Federighi said that "the days of spending hundreds of dollars to get the most out of your computer are gone." Hinting that OS X is an uncompromised desktop OS—Windows 8 has faced criticism of unconvincingly straddling both PC and mobile worlds—and declaring the start of "a new era for the Mac," he said, "today we're announcing that Mavericks is free." The crowd erupted in applause.

Not participating in the ovations: Frank Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president of communications. In an Oct. 23 blog post, Shaw wrote, "Seems like the RDF (Reality Distortion Field) typically generated by an Apple event has extended beyond Cupertino."

Shaw takes a dim view of the iWorks and Apple's decision to make it free for owners of new Macs and iOS devices. "Surface and Surface 2 both include Office, the world's most popular, most powerful productivity software, for free and are priced below both the iPad 2 and iPad Air, respectively." The base Surface 2 tablet (running Windows RT 8.1) rings in $449.

"So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don't see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch-up," stated Shaw.

Countering Cook's "confused" jibe, Shaw said that since last year's Surface launch, "one of the themes we've consistently used to talk about them is that they are a terrific blend of productivity and entertainment in one lightweight, affordable package." The industry is "waking up to the fact that we've built a better solution for people everywhere, who are getting things done from anywhere, and who don't have hard lines between their personal and professional lives," he concluded.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...