With the latest release of Apples office productivity suite, iWork 08, the Pages application moves into the ranks of full-fledged word processing applications.
Previously known more for its page layout capabilities than for its word processing capabilities, Pages now enables users to switch seamlessly between writing and designing documents.
In addition, the application offers 140 document templates and a snazzy track-changes feature, both of which work to position iWork 08 as an apt rival to Microsofts Office 2004 for Mac in the OS X-compatible office productivity arena.
However, Pages still has a way to go before it can displace the well-entrenched Microsoft Word and hold off the up-and-coming slate of Web-based word processors such as Google Docs in the all-important areas of file format compatibility and document collaboration. For one thing, documents stored in Pages default format can not be attached to e-mail messages without first compressing them or converting them to .DOC or PDF format.
I also encountered issues with file format conversion when exporting and importing Microsoft Office documents, which wasnt a surprise, since every non-Microsoft application that consumes Offices black-box binary file formats seems to encounter at least some level of mistranslation.
To read about Numbers, iWorks spreadsheet application, click here.
Pages does offer Microsoft OOXML (Office Open XML) support—functionality that Microsofts Office 2004 for Mac notably lacks—however, I found this support to be incomplete. It lacks, for example, a complete form component and field support. Companies that are standardizing on Office 2007s new formats should pay particular attention to these issues before relying on Pages to fill in the format support gaps in Office 2004.
Even with Pages warts, the application refresh should be welcome for current iWork users, and other OS X users would do well to download the evaluation version of Apples suite to try it out for themselves.
iWork 08 is reasonably priced, at $79 (or free with the purchase of any new Mac computer). The suite requires Mac OS X version 10.4.10 or later.
The first thing I did when testing the new version of Pages was check out the newly-separated modes for page layout and word processing. Previously, Pages shoehorned all word processing operations into the applications page layout mode, which—as one would expect—was a more comfy fit for piecing together newsletters and brochures than it was for writing letters and the like.
When I opted to open a new file in Pages, the program launched its template browser, which grouped the templates under the Word Processing subhead, or the Page Layout subhead. I chose to open both a new, blank word processing document and a new, blank page layout document. Both documents opened on the same screen, and I was able to toggle between each respective document mode with the greatest of ease.
The next feature I took to task was Pages new track changes feature, which is a collaboration capability for many companies. I found Pages version of this feature very handy. As I made changes to a document, caption boxes appeared in the documents margin describing the changes I had made, with arrows that connected these boxes to the text passages to which they referred.
I could click on an "X" icon within each box to dismiss the changes, or click on a checkmark icon to approve the change. Deleted phrases appeared as such with a strikethrough key, and changed text appeared in a different color to distinguish it from the unchanged text.
This feature is also compatible with Microsoft documents, so changes I made to a .doc file got the same treatment. No matter how many changes I made to the document, the track changes feature always kept the document looking clean and readable.
Page 2: Apples Pages 08 is All Grown Up