I was not a fan of Pages 06. I’m sure it was perfectly fine for making brochures and flyers, but unfortunately I never had much need for brochures and pamphlets so there it sat on my hard drive, unused and neglected. That being said, I wasn’t particularly happy with any other of the word processors on my Mac either. I played a bit with Bean and NeoOffice but when it came down to it, I usually ended up in Microsoft Word. Word reminds me of one of those RV’s you see driving down the road. The kind with bicycles tied on the back, a boat bolted to the roof, and spare luggage falling out the window. Like the old RV, Word has every possible feature bolted on and wedged into the various menus. While it has everything you could possibly need (and quite a few you will never need) it drinks system resources and is a real chore to use. Nevertheless, I, like many others, have been using Microsoft Word for more than 15 years and anything else I try will be compared to it.
So Steve Jobs announced the new Pages 08 and explained that now it is a word processor in addition to being a page layout tool. It is in this new word processing mode that I spent most of my time kicking the tires on Pages 08.
All word processors are fundamentally the same. From the days of my 8-bit Atari computer to sitting here with my fancy MacBook Pro, I still am forced to put the words together and get them onto the screen. When it comes to word processing, the devil is in details.
The details in Pages 08 are very nice indeed. There is a contextual format bar that monitors your activity and puts the applicable tools in easy reach. Whether you are typing text, working in a table, or inserting shapes and diagrams, Pages puts the related tools in the top bar.
Pages also incorporates several of the graphical tools added with iWork 08 to this Pages program. This allows for Instant alpha, customizable frames and other graphic tools. They work just as slick as in Keynote. I don’t think I’ll have a lot of need for these tools in a word processor but it is nice to know they are there.
Change tracking has also been added. This is a very important feature for my work. I often exchange documents with others where change tracking is critical. The implementation of change tracking in Pages is both easy and slick. Even more important, it has worked flawlessly with Microsoft Word. Since most of the people I am working with are using Word, this is critical.
Another new feature is automatic lists. This, of course, has been the bane of existence to all Microsoft Word users for years. Apple’s implementation of this feature is a bit more forgiving. It actually adopts your formatting instead of imposing its own. For instance if you type a number 1 and then period and two spaces, it will apply the same with the autoformatting.
The compatibility with Microsoft Word is generally good but not perfect. I put some format heavy contracts into it and made several adjustments while tracking changes. I then exported them to Word format and viewed them in Mac Word 04 and and Windows Office 2003. They looked fine and my windows colleagues were none the wiser. I also tried this with a legal pleading document and the conversion was a mess. Legal pleadings have a very specific format with lines down the left side, line numbering and a variety of other formatting requirements that don’t make a lot of sense but hey .. its the world I live in. Anyway, while the Word pleadings imported just fine into Pages, they did not export to Word properly after changes in Pages. The page formatting, font sizes, line numbering, and just about everything else were screwy and unusable without plenty of work. So for me that means I need to do pleading work in Word or just do it as a text file and send it to others for formatting.
Another issue I never quite sorted out was exporting to different versions of Word. Apple beat Microsoft to the punch with compatibility with Office 2007 but I don’t run Office 2007 so I can’t report on that issue. I tried to figure out if there is a setting to export to Office 2007 or Office 2003. Perhaps if I could sort that out it would solve the problem of exporting pleadings properly but after spending an hour trying to figure it out on the internet, I’m officially kerfluffled on that issue. In short, if you need to work with Word files and use complicated formatting make sure to give it a test run before you commit.
Pages 08 runs much cleaner than Microsoft Word in OS X. It loads quickly and happily exists far down in my activity monitor. As I typed this review in Pages, it ranged between one and ten percent of the total system resources. When I clicked out of Pages it pleasingly dropped to zero percent.
The included templates are very well designed and cover just about any need. It is telling of just how much of a stranglehold Microsoft has on the word processor market that my biggest problems with Pages are not its own feature set but its ability to play nicely with Word. Separating that issue, running Pages is easier and less intrusive than Word. It allows me to think less about the program and more about the words on the screen. While the feature set is more limited, it has everything I need. While Word still remains on my hard drive, I’m quite pleased to leave the Winnebago in the garage.
You can listen to this review on Surfbits MacReviewCast Episode #122.