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When Apple announced Pages at Macworld Expo in January, several questions may have passed through your mind: Is it a Word killer? An AppleWorks replacement? MacWrite reincarnated? A PageMaker wannabe? The answer to all these questions is yes and no. Pages is an application that behaves like a word processor—but one with powerful graphics and media-handling capabilities. People who do a lot of word processing will likely come away from Pages feeling as if they’d struck gold, but layout-design mavens will find that the program leaves something to be desired.

Word Processing Prowess

As a word processor, Pages is nimble and a complete pleasure to use, and it has much better word processing capabilities than AppleWorks. Just open a new blank document and start typing: Pages behaves like any other word processor on the market, but it has text-handling features usually found in much more expensive programs.

Like Keynote, Pages provides a handy Inspector palette from which you can manipulate your text, format paragraphs, adjust kerning, create columns, and manage page setup. Unfortunately, instead of providing tools on the Inspector palette for changing the font, font color, and style, Apple uses OS X’s clunky Font panel.

Pages handles Word documents seamlessly, retaining styles and formatting. Once you’ve made changes in Pages, you can export a Word document that retains your formatting and style changes and that looks exactly as it did in Pages. The only time we experienced any problems exporting Word documents was when graphics were included—an area in which Word has never been very agile.

Page Layout for the People

When it comes to creating beautiful documents, Pages has no equal for a comparable price. Drag a graphics file from the Finder onto the page, and you can manipulate it in amazing ways: add drop shadows, give the graphic borders, wrap text perfectly around the image, or rotate the image on the page. In essence, if you can think of a way to make your document look better using graphics, Pages will make it look even better than you imagined.

For people unwilling to brave the world of page layout on their own, Pages provides a large set of beautifully designed templates with multiple layouts per template. It uses text and image placeholders, which are, essentially, fields on the page where you can drop graphics or type text. Your text and graphics then take on the formatting, style, and size constraints of that field. For the creatively challenged, these templates make beautiful documents as easy as drag-and-drop or copy-and-paste.

Pages has a Media Browser that lets you navigate to your iPhoto or iTunes library, or to your Movies folder. It does seem rather odd to be adding movies and audio to documents that are almost certainly destined for print. (You can export to HTML, but the resulting Web pages look terrible.) Also, there’s no way to configure the browser to find other images you may have elsewhere, and it lacks access to AppleWorks’ stellar online clip-art library.

An Early-Release Program

Pages’ weaknesses—and there are many—are mostly due to its immaturity. Even though the program appears to be designed for page layout, there is no way to delete, rearrange, or manage pages within a document. The only way to remove an individual page is to delete all the text and images that appear on it.

Documents printed as PDF files look beautiful in Apple’s Preview application, but graphics lose their drop shadows when viewed in Adobe Reader (a bug that’s also in Keynote ), so you can forget about taking your PDF files to the print shop for final output. The program also lacks mail-merge capabilities, so you’ll still need to rely on AppleWorks, FileMaker, or Microsoft Word for mail merges.

Other quirks include the inability to drag images from one Pages document to another, a lack of support for EPS files (even though the manual claims that EPS is supported), and the inability to easily import Microsoft Word styles. While none of these problems are deal breakers, they’ll need to be remedied in the next version of Pages if the app is to become truly excellent.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

While Pages still has some growing to do, it’s clearly a stellar app in the making. If you want to create standard text documents and beautiful, one-off newsletters, resumes, and brochures, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re expecting to inexpensively satisfy all your page-layout needs, I suggest that you wait for the next version to ship.

You can design a Pages document with photos from your iPhoto library.
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