The Office Suite Smackdown

Word 2008 vs. Pages ‘08

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Advanced document elements

With my basic text and formatting in place, I then began adding more-complex elements, such as sections, columns, drop caps, images, callouts, and tables of contents.

While both programs easily handle sections and columns, they use a somewhat different vocabulary to do so. For example, what Word refers to as a Continuous Section Break, Pages calls a Layout Break.

Adding a drop cap in Word was equally easy; it’s a simple matter of selecting a menu option. Pages doesn’t have a built-in drop-cap tool. Instead, I had to finagle my own drop cap by inserting a text box with a single character in it. This inelegant solution never really worked; the spacing between my drop cap and the rest of the text was always a bit off.

The first time I ran into any limitations in Word was when I started to add floating objects—such as pictures and callout text around which text flows. For starters, its image-editing tools aren’t very good. More significantly, when I changed a column of text, the floating objects in it refused to stay in place. Instead they moved around as if tied to the text they were originally placed next to, destroying my layout. If I selected all the text in a document and deleted it or replaced it with text from the Clipboard, floating objects within the original text disappeared, too. In other words, if you make any major changes to a document after inserting floating objects, you’ll probably need to completely re-create your layout.

Moving Objects: Floating objects don't float in Word's word processing mode, so they wreak havoc on your layout if you make major paragraph-formatting changes.

Pages’ image-editing tools are much better than Word’s. You can, for example, change an image mask or add an alpha channel. And Pages treats floating objects much more intelligentlyas separate and distinct from the text that surrounds them. When I edited text within columns containing floating objects, those objects stayed where they were. Select and delete text and, again, the objects remain right where you put them.

I was disappointed with each program’s handling of tables of contents. While both programs use paragraph styles to gather information for a table of contents, neither would allow me to place the resulting table inside a text box; they insisted on putting the table on its own full page. To get the table of contents I wanted, I had to create it manually in a text box.

Table of Contents: Word and Pages don't allow you to create tables of contents inside text boxes, limiting their value in page-layout or highly formatted documents.

Overall, when it comes to adding slightly more-complex formatting to basic word processing documents, I have to give the nod to Pages.


My next step was to switch from word processing mode to page-layout mode. Neither program allowed me to convert a word processing document directly into a page-layout document, so I had to start all over from scratch: I used a built-in template to create my page-layout document, and then copied over the text I’d created when in word processing mode.

Word and Pages each include a significant collection of templates, all of which you can modify and personalize to suit your own needs. But Pages offers a far more complete set, and it makes customizing them easier.

Templates in both programs are designed with placeholders for text and images. While both allowed me to drag and drop images onto placeholders, they handle placeholder text differently. When I dragged and dropped text onto a Pages placeholder, Pages replaced the template text with my dropped text. When I did the same thing in Word, the dropped text appeared in a new text box. In both cases, it’s far easier to copy text from the original document and then paste it into a text box in the new document.

Flowing Text: Microsoft Word provides excellent visual cues for viewing the way text flows between text boxes.
If the text I pasted into a text box was too large for the box, both programs provided visual cues to let me know there was an overflow and both allowed me to link text boxes so that the text would flow from one box or page to the next. In Word, each text box is color-coded and numbered in sequence to make it obvious where the text flows. If I held the cursor over a text box, the other linked boxes popped into view. Pages also shows how text boxes are linked sequentially, but I had to click on an existing text box to see how it linked to the next box in the sequence. The program then displayed a thin blue line that started on the first text box and connected in sequence to the last.

Both programs enable you to rearrange the pages in your document by dragging and dropping them into a navigation drawer. When I moved pages, the page numbers automatically updated. If I already had linked text boxes in the document, neither of the programs reflowed the text in the proper sequence.

When it came to more-advanced word processing chores, I again found Pages to be more capable than Word.

The final word

Microsoft Word may well be the standard for business word processing programs, but Apple’s Pages ’08 presents an excellent alternative. If you find that you’re constantly changing the way a text document looks, then Word’s document themes offer a distinct advantage over Pages. For all other types of documents, however, from basic word processing files to sophisticated page layouts, Pages is equal to or better than Word.

Next page: Word Processing Alternatives

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