First Look: Pages

Pages is Apple’s latest take on the word processor, a product line that started with MacWrite on the very first Macs. Most recently, AppleWorks was carrying the word-processing flag for Apple, but it was starting to show its age—it was written well before OS X came along, and as such, it took advantage of very little of what OS X has to offer. Enter Pages, the word processing package in the iWorks ’05 suite. Pages was written from the ground up for OS X.

Pages might best be described as a word processor with page-layout skills, or a page-layout program with word processing skills. It does quite a bit of both, and yet isn’t completely one or the other. While that may sound confusing, what it means is that you get a good word processor that also happens to create great looking page layouts.

Family Lineage

The same team that developed Pages also worked on Keynote 2, the presentation application included in iWork. And if you’ve spent any time with Keynote—which we’ve already previewed —you’ll recognize that fact as soon as you launch Pages.

Pages themes
At launch, Pages looks a lot like Keynote: pick a theme that you’d like to use for your document, and then work from that starting point to build the final product. As you’ll soon see, there are other features that Pages shares with Keynote… and a key feature that you’ll wish Pages had also borrowed!

Word Processing Done… Different

Pages is not your typical word processor. In many ways, it’s no threat to the dominance of Microsoft Word. For instance, Pages isn’t for you if:

  • You need a form letter to send to hundreds of contacts, with each contact’s name and address substituted into the letter
  • You often need to count the number of words in a selection of text (Pages will only give you full-document totals);
  • You have multiple users updating documents and need the ability to track the changes that each makes;
  • You’re an advanced user who relies on macros to automate your word processing tasks.
  • If Pages can’t do any of these things, then just who might want to use it? Just about everyone, I’m guessing, since it makes the creation of professional-looking documents a relatively trivial process.

    Working in Pages is much different than working in any other word processor. In many ways, it feels more like Keynote than it does Word. After picking your starting template, Pages will drop you into the first page of your document, where you might be surprised to find it already full of text and graphics, as seen here:

    Pages new page

    But everything on the page, including the images, is merely a placeholder—click on the NEWSLETTER heading, for instance, and it highlights. Whatever you type next becomes the headline. Want to replace a graphic? Drag a replacement picture from the Finder or the Media window (more on that later) onto a current graphic, and drop. The new picture replaces the old. As you replace text and graphics, the page layout changes subtly, reflowing text around new graphics, moving chunks of text to accommodate longer words, and more. Everything on the page works in this same manner—headers, footers, text areas, and images all contain filler that you replace with your own content. Very quickly, you’ll turn the generic template page into something of your own creation.

    Adding subpages in Pages
    Adding another page to your document is as simple as clicking on the Pages icon in the toolbar. When you do, you’ll most likely see a drop-down menu listing additional page designs. (Not every theme has more than one design.) Choose one, and it’s inserted below the current page in your document. For example, this screenshot shows a new “Feature with 3 Items” page being added to the existing document, which was created using the Catalog theme. Notice that all the other pages are all things you might want in a catalog, from a multiple-item page to a convenient order form.

    By using the templates, replacing text and graphics as you go, adding new pages when needed, you can very quickly build a professional-looking final document in minutes instead of hours.

    Customizing Pages Documents

    Pages Inspector Graphic panel
    Just like Keynote, Pages uses a floating Inspector window for making changes to the text and objects in your document. This screenshot shows the Inspector with the Graphics panel active; you can use the panel to control all aspects of a placed graphic’s appearance. The other panels of the Inspector handle things such as overall document information, text wrapping properties of placed graphics, text formatting, tables and charts, hyperlinks, and rulers and tabs.

    Multiple Inspectors You may not know it, but in Pages (and Keynote), you can have more than one inspector onscreen at a time. Just use View: New Inspector, and you’ll get a second (or third or fourth…) floating palette. This can be very useful, for example, if you’re working with a graphic—open one Inspector to the Graphic tab, and another to the Wrapping tab. Or open an Inspector and set it to show the Info section of the Document tab, and you’ve got a live-updating window showing total words, pages, number of graphics, total characters, and more.

    By using the various Inspector options, you can really make what started as a standardized template into something that looks very different while retaining the benefits of the overall design of the template. When you’re done tweaking your template, you can even save it as your own customized design. Just choose File: Save as Template, and your custom design will show up in the Pages theme picker the next time you open a new document.

    Workaround a Bug in Find and Replace The Find and Replace panel in Pages suffers from a bug in Cocoa (the language Pages was written in). If you open the Find and Replace panel (press Command-F) and then enter words in both the Find and Replace boxes, and click Replace and Find, Pages will insert the “replace” word at the current cursor position. In addition, if you press this button after the last “find” word has been replaced, your replace word will be inserted over and over, each time you click the button. The solution? Hitting Next before using the Find and Replace button the first time will take care of the first glitch. For the second, though, you’ll probably only notice it when you see your replace word added for a second time, so just keep your eyes on the document window!

    Working With Media

    Keynote’s new Media Browser window has also been incorporated into Pages. The Media Browser makes it simple to include photos, music, and movies in your Pages document. While direct access to iPhoto’s photo collection is definitely a plus, the benefits of placing movies and music in a Pages document are much less clear. Pages can only export to generally “static” formats: PDF, Word, HTML, RTF, and Plain Text. Audio and video support in these formats range from non-existent to fair, but none do a good job with embedded audio and video objects from Pages. In general, if you want to work with audio and video, you should probably be using Keynote, not Pages.

    Placing Images When placing images into a Pages document, they are placed based on what you drag them into. While dragging the image, a blue border will highlight the “destination object” that will receive the dropped image. If you drop onto an existing image, it will be replaced with the new image. If you drop into a table cell, the image will be shrunk to fit into the available size of the cell. If you drop into a text field, the image will be placed within that field in what’s called “inline mode.” Inline images move as the text around them moves. The other option is “fixed mode,” in which the image’s position on the page never changes even as text is added and deleted.

    To add a fixed image, drag the image into the white border area of the Pages document; you’ll see a blue border around the entire page when you’re in the right spot. Drop the image, and it’s now fixed on the page—adding and deleting text won’t affect the image’s position. (Only fixed images can use Pages’ cropping mode, which lets you hide part of a placed image.)

    Deleting Images from Table Cells Images dropped into table cells are treated differently than images dropped into other locations. It seems they lose their “object” status when dropped, and are instead converted into a background “fill” for that cell. As such, you can’t just click the image to select and delete (or move) it. Instead, you need to use the Graphic tab of the Inspector, and set the Fill pop-up to None. When you do this, the image vanishes. If you just wanted to move it elsewhere, you’ll first have to re-add the image.

    Trouble with Getting the Words Out

    Pages includes a number of export options for sharing your final work. Depending on the template in use, you may find that most of the export options create unusable final products. For instance, we started with the Family Newsletter template, and then just exported the unmodified template to each format. Comparing the original to the exported versions ( PDF, Word, HTML, RTF, and Plain Text ), it’s clear that only PDF mode keeps the template’s layout intact.

    Even with PDF exports, though, you’ll have problems with drop shadows on objects—although they show and print fine in Preview, they won’t display or print in Adobe Reader on either the Mac or the PC. That is, you’ll have these problems unless you happen to own the full version of Adobe Acrobat. If you do, you can print the Pages file and choose the Adobe PDF printer. When you do, the resulting PDF is truly cross-platform and complete with drop-shadows.

    But if you’re using Apple’s provided Export feature, you’ll lose the drop shadows in Reader on both Macs and PCs. This can be a big problem in certain templates, as the drop shadows add definition to both text and images and help set objects apart from the background. If you don’t have Acrobat, there’s not really a good way to share your Pages output other than via printed copy. Hardly the ideal solution.

    Should it be Called ‘OnlyAddPages’ Instead?

    Pages works really well as a mixed page layout and word processing program. That is, it does so right up until the point at which you wish to remove a page from, or reorder the pages within, your document. There’s no easy way to delete an entire page from, or to rearrange the order of the pages within, your document. On the one hand, this makes some sense—there’s certainly no “delete page” option in Word, and rearranging your Word document requires dragging and dropping large chunks of text. And if Pages were ‘just’ a word processor, the lack of page management features would be excusable.

    But Pages is also a page-layout program. And page layout programs, such as Quark and InDesign, have very simple methods of both deleting and reordering pages. Typically, an “overview” drawer will show an iconized view of your project, with one icon for each page. Want to delete a page? Just highlight it and hit Delete. To reorder the pages, just drag the icons into a new order.

    Pages doesn’t have these features. So if you’ve added a page to your document, and you later wish to delete it, you have to do quite a bit of work, and even then, it may not always work (depending on the template in use). The basic process is this: go to the page you wish to delete, and start selecting objects on the page—text blocks, tables, charts, and graphics. Once selected, press Delete to remove that object from the page. You may have issues if the objects are on the “master” level of the template. In that case, you’ll need to enable Format: Advanced: Make Master Objects Selectable, and then make sure that the objects are unlocked (select the object, then choose Arrange: Unlock). At this point, they should be deletable.

    If you’ve removed everything from the page, hopefully the following page will just “slide up” and take its place. But this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes only the text will move up, or the text and some but not all of the graphics will move. In short, deleting pages is far more trouble than it should be.

    A Page Deletion Workaround Since deleting pages is so difficult, it means you basically have to build a perfect document on your first try, as going back is very difficult. Since none of us are perfect, you might wish to use a simple “versioning” system as you build your Pages document.

    Instead of using File: Save to save your progress at certain points, consider using File: Save As each time you’re about to add a new page to the document. Name the files with the number of pages in each version, something like “MyPhotos_1,” “MyPhotos_12,” “MyPhotos_123,” etc.

    Now if you make a mistake and want to delete a page, you’ll be able to return to the “prior” version that has one less page, and start over at that point. This trick won’t help with deleting pages in a completed document, nor with reordering pages, but it may save a bit of aggravation until Apple releases an update to Pages to handle page management.

    The Missing (Keynote) Link

    Keynote slide browser
    To solve the page management problems, Pages really needs to take advantage of a key Keynote feature: the slide browser. As seen in the screenshot, Keynote’s left-hand-panel uses a thumbnail view of every slide in your presentation, along with thumbnails of the “master” slides used to build each slide. Notice the indented slides, which are associated with the one directly above.

    This same metaphor would work quite well in Pages—substitute “Master Pages” and “Pages” for “Master Slides” and “Slides,” and you’ll get an idea of how simple page management could be. Drag and drop to reorder; highlight and press delete to remove. Given that Pages was developed by the same team that wrote Keynote, it’s surprising that some form of this feature isn’t already present. It would change page management from a difficult and frustrating task to one that’s as simple and elegant as is slide management in Keynote.

    Pages truly has the ability to redefine what a word processor should be. Its seamless integration of page-layout and word processing features makes creating brochures, reports, flyers, and other well-designed documents a piece of cake. With literally no training, anyone can create professional looking output with a minimum of fuss.

    Unfortunately, the lack of a page management system within Pages means that using the program is more frustrating and troublesome than it should be. In addition, the bugs in Find and Replace and PDF Export, along with the generally limited capabilities of the Export feature, make using Pages a bit frustrating. As good as all the other features are, these Version 1.0 bugs and missing features may make Pages unusable for many people. It’s a shame, too, because it’s a great program. Hopefully a version 1.1 update will address the general bugs and page management features.

    [ This article has been edited to update information on PDF exports and Adobe Reader in the “Trouble with Getting the Words Out” section.&#8212Ed; ]

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