First Look: Pages ’09

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Like its two iWork cohorts, Pages ‘09 has received some significant and important updates as part of the iWork ’09 overhaul released this week. In fact, after less than a week’s worth of face time with the latest version of Pages, it’s clear that these updates make Apple’s business productivity application a more viable option for all your business needs.

Getting choosy with templates

Pages ’09 sports the same, newly redesigned template chooser that is a part of all three iWork applications.

Pages’ new Template Chooser gives you quick access to recently opened documents as well as a preview of all the pages available in any template.
While at first this may seem like little more than window dressing, as you make your way through Pages’ collection of templates—40 new ones join 140 existing templates for a total of 180—you’ll notice that if there is more than one template page associated with the template you’re looking at, moving your mouse over the template gives you a preview of all the template’s available page types. This preview provides a nice way for you to select your template without first having to open the entire template and view all the pages. Watch the embedded video for a better look at the template chooser in action.

Another welcome addition to the template browser is an Open Recent button at the bottom left of the window that lets you open recently used documents in just two clicks.

Say goodbye to distractions

I’m a real fan of “distraction-free writing,” having purchased, used, and loved Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom. So far I find Pages’ new full screen mode to be a welcome addition to the program.

Pages’ full screen mode lets you create documents with a minimum of visual cacophony, while still allowing you to keep control of your tunes.
In full screen mode, Pages hides everything but what’s essential. All inspectors disappear as do the formatting and menu bars at the top of the screen. All you see is your document set on a black background. Just below the bottom of your page are a live word count on the left and your current page number on the right in an “x of x” format.

If you want to use the formatting bar to adjust your font selection, size, alignment, spacing, and so forth, moving your mouse to the top of the screen reveals the formatting bar from which you can make those changes. If you need more formatting options, both the line spacing and list buttons have a Show More… menu item that, when selected, opens a single inspector palette; from there, you can make any changes you want.

In the spirit of not being entirely distraction-free, the iTunes’ mini-player floats nicely in the black area of the screen and allows you to adjust volume, and skip tracks without kicking you out of full-screen mode.

Merging matters

One of my chief complaints about Pages ’08 was its very limited mail-merge capabilities. So limited, in fact, that you could only use it with Apple’s Address Book app. This made Pages useless in business environments if you wanted to merge data that you didn’t also want to store in your address book.

Pages’ mail merge gives you access to a broader range of data by letting your merge a Numbers spreadsheet into a Pages document.
Pages ’09 can now merge data stored in Numbers spreadsheets. I’ve done some initial testing, using data stored in an Excel spreadsheet, opened in Numbers, and formatted in the way that Pages requires for merging data in Numbers, and have found that it works great. There is some minor formatting that you need to do to the spreadsheet before it’s ready for import, but overall I found the process to be seamless.

Other changes

There are many more new features or enhancements to Pages ’09, including a new outlining format, which lets you quickly create an outline and then convert it to a full-fledged document. Paragraph styles are used to create each topic and subtopic, and—once converted—each paragraph heading reflects the hierarchy of the original outline. Bouncing back and forth between the two formats is as simple as a button click and it’s easy to limit how much text you see in the outline view.

I mentioned earlier that Pages’ full screen mode displays a live word count just below the bottom of the page. So too does Pages’ main document editing window. This may seem minor, but it’s this and several other small changes in the new version that makes it seem like Apple has listened to what Pages users have said about the program.

There’s also new integration with MathType 6 and EndNote X2, for adding mathematical expressions, endnotes and bibliographies to your documents, easier options for sharing your documents with others, and some major enhancements to Pages’ AppleScript capabilities, which should make it much easier to automate repetitive tasks in Pages.

From what I can tell from my initial testing, Pages ’09 looks like a great update. I’ll continue to put the application through its paces before I come back with a full review.

Jeffery Battersby is a regular contributor to Macworld who lives in New York.]

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