With its productivity suite iWork '08, Apple has finally produced some strong competition for Microsoft's Office system. The updated Apple productivity suite has Pages for a word-processing program, Keynote for presentations and Numbers as its spreadsheet application. Numbers game Numbers is a tremendous addition and well worth the wait. With multiple intelligent tables on a flexible graphics canvas, users can rearrange information, resize and add columns - all without breaking their spreadsheet. One of the best things about Numbers is its many beautiful templates, designed for both professional and home use. You can tweak a template for financial management or create a document to help organise a garden party. How much flour do you need to buy if you're baking cakes for 50 people? Numbers will tell you. Users can create stunning 2D and 3D charts that are automatically updated as data changes, then complement them with rich graphics, photos and text labels. You can save a Numbers spreadsheet in Excel format, but some 'extras' provided by Apple will not convert. A bit of history: many years ago, Microsoft created the Excel spreadsheet to enable Macintosh to compete with the then-popular Lotus 1-2-3. It was such a success on the Mac that Windows users demanded a version for their computer platform. Turn the page Pages includes a contextual format bar that gives users the exact set of tools they need at their fingertips whether they're editing text, creating a table or adjusting an image. Change-tracking lets users collaborate with others on a document by displaying each person's edits in a different colour. Hitting the right note Keynote was always an elegant alternative to PowerPoint, but its new additions make it even more powerful. The Instant Alpha feature will allow a user to kill the background of an image. Users can record their presentation with a voice-over then deliver this to audiences in person or over the internet via podcasting or YouTube. More advanced Keynote users can use new A-to-B animations and stunning text effects for cinema-quality presentations. Microsoft dominates the office productivity-tools market, but these new applications from Apple offer an alternative system that is better-looking, more intuitive and easier to use. Apple iWork '08 is available in single-user (HK$590) and family (HK$780) versions.