iWork ’08: Pages

Pages was packaged with Keynote in 2005 in the first iteration of iWork. Pages received decidedly mixed reviews, but Apple has continued to improve its page layout application over time, resulting in the most recent version.

Initially, Pages was not a word processor (like how most people use Microsoft Word). Rather it focused on page layout more akin to Microsoft Publisher or Adobe FrameMaker. Indeed, you could use Pages for simple word processing, and I have done so on many occasions. Unfortunately, Pages has offered such a fundamentally different approach to creating documents than Word that a perceived learning curve is in place. This harmed Pages popularity quickly.

Now, in version 3, Pages is truly reaching maturity as a product. However, compared with other documenting applications, its interface is very clean and uncluttered. Compare the screenshots below of Pages running on Mac OS X and Word 2003 on Windows XP.

A lack of clutter is not indicative of a lack of functionality, however, and Pages is packing a lot of enhancements and a few new features under its hood. The first thing I noticed was a detail that might skirt by most users – its install size. One would expect Pages 3 to be larger than Pages 2, but quite the opposite is true.

As you can see, Pages has lost considerable weight from one version to the next – dropping nearly 600 MB. (Also, Keynote has lost about 1 GB off its size. I wonder how they trimmed the applications’ weights to such an extent.)

When the Template Chooser is brought up, there are many new templates to choose from, and they are now divided between “Word Processing” and “Page Layout.”

Word Processing offers much more basic templates than Page Layout

Regardless of the mode you use, Pages behaves basically the same once you begin creating your document. Like, Keynote, Pages has had a toolbar facelift and has received Instant Alpha and Photo Frame capabilities. Pages has also gained a contextual Formatting Bar, and this little widget quickly makes the application much more usable as a word processor. Prior to this release, to change fonts, you had to open a separate pane, and all basic formatting options were most easily accessible through a pane called an Inspector. (On the upside, I personally grew very comfortable with keyboard shortcuts. On the other hand, this turned off several potential users.)

Now, similarly to Office 2007, a small bar is present beneath the main toolbar that customizes itself to the part of the document you are currently working with.

working with text

editing chart properties

editing a picture

This Formatting Bar is extremely useful and all but eliminates the need to resort to the Inspector for anything but the most tedious of settings. This is a welcome addition, and the only criticism I have is that the bar is very small. There seems to be no way to make the bar larger, and this could prove a problem for users with less than ideal eyesight.

Pages has also gained some more refined equation editing for charts that seems to come directly from Numbers, the new spreadsheet application bundled in iWork ’08. In the Inspector, you can set conditions and basic equations with a simple click, and the formula editor automatically appears overs selected cells that are set to respond to formulas. I’m not sure if all of these features are new to Pages 3, but this is the first time I’ve noticed them – making certain tables much easier and more intuitive to generate than before.

setting conditional formatting

the new equation editor

Finally, Pages 3 features better compatibility with Word documents than its predecessors – even compatibility with Office 2007 Office Open XML files. This also applies to change tracking, which would not translate from Pages to Word or vice versa prior to this release. Now Mac users can use NeoOffice or iWork to interact with Office XML files. Ironically, a version of Microsoft Office for the Mac featuring this capability is not due out until early next year.

With Pages, Apple has made some relatively small changes that drastically effect its usability. In some regards, it feels like a new program altogether. I’ve been fond of Pages since its release and have used it pretty regularly. These enhancements will only serve to increase my use of and enjoyment with this application.

For more reading on Pages: