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
Apples Pages 08 is
All Grown Up”>
Pages 08 now sports a style toolbar button that allows users to insert paragraph and bullet styles, and change fonts and text color. In previous versions of Pages, users had to click through tabs included in the programs Inspector table to customize documents. The applications style toolbar is reminiscent of those from Microsoft Word and other word processing applications, and it will make the program more intuitive to current Pages users and newcomers alike. However, the Inspector tool is still available to devotees of that feature.
Considering that there probably isnt an organization around that doesnt at some point have to deal with Microsoft Office-formatted documents, one of the most important features I tested was Pages capacity for importing and exporting these files. The test documents I created in Office 2003 all ran into formatting issues when I attempted to open and edit these documents in Pages 08.
For one thing, because iWorks and OS X doesnt ship with the same set of fonts that come with Windows and Office, I encountered a handful of situations in which characters and symbols from my test documents were represented in Pages by Mac-issued replacements, leading to formatting inconsistencies.
The first Word-formatted document I opened in Pages, a simple outline Id created, prompted a warning that “Paragraph borders behave differently in Pages. All borders except complete outside borders were removed.”
This didnt seem to affect the overall layout of the page, but I did find that Pages replaced my outlines hierarchical numbering pattern (1., 1.1, 1.1.1, and so on) with a flattened numbering scheme (1, 2, 3, 4) that derailed the organization of the rest of the document.
I hit another formatting snag when I attempted to edit a sample fax cover sheet. When I changed the information in the sheets TO: and FROM: fields, Pages kept adding spaces in between lines that did not appear in the original Word file.
I also tried importing several templates from Word 2003, beginning with a calendar template. The Word-formatted template was set up so that each month of the year appeared on the document in separate boxes, all fitting neatly onto one page. The imported file in Pages however, was split awkwardly between two pages, with January, February, and March occupying the top portion of the page, and the remaining nine months spilled onto the second page. I was unable to then edit the template so the months would all appear on one page.
I also experienced problems when I imported a schedule template. An error popped up that said “an unsupported field wasnt reported,” but this didnt seem to affect the document and I found it very easy to manipulate and edit.
Id read reports of users having trouble attaching Pages documents to e-mail messages, so I tried this operation out for myself. Sure enough, when I fired up Safari and attempted to attach a document Id created in Pages to a Gmail message, the Pages-formatted messages appeared grayed-out, and I could not attach them to my message. Undaunted, I tried the same operation using Mozilla Firefox. I was able to select my Pages formatted file and hit “attach,” but the process would not complete.
I then tried compressing the file before attempting to attach it, and this did the trick.