Apple’s new Pages ’08 is a very good word processing and page layout program with dozens of new features and enhancements that make the program easier to use and which are likely to make Pages the only word processing and page layout program most people will ever need. But, it is still missing key features—such as a good mail-merge tool—and has one bug that may prevent you from taking the Pages plunge.
One workspace, two worlds
With Pages ’08, Apple has made a subtle but significant change to how you work with your documents. There are now two distinct document creation modes, one for word processing and the other for page layout. You’ll see this difference immediately—Pages’ template browser now separates templates into two different groups, and each document you open now displays either Word Processing or Page Layout at the top of your document’s window. According to Apple, each of these modes is optimized for the type of document you’re creating, but both modes provide the same kind of flexibility when it comes to adding and manipulating graphics, text boxes, tables, and graphs. Except for documents with complicated layered images and text, documents created using both modes were translated seamlessly with Microsoft Word 2004 in my testing.
The word processing mode handles text in a linear fashion, like a typical word processor. New pages appear as you type enough text to fill a page or after you add a page break. The Pages button that appeared at the top left of the button bar in earlier versions of the program has been replaced by a Sections button. You can use the Sections button to insert a page break and add a new template page to your document.
Page layout mode is designed for placing and manipulating objects on the page; rulers at the top and left-hand sides of your workspace aid you in placing objects. The only problem that I had with page layout mode was how much screen real estate it used. By default, page layout mode opens the page thumbnail sidebar when you create a new document. While it’s possible to hide this sidebar, it’s almost a necessity to have it open to help you navigate through multipage documents. If you need to have the Media Browser and an Inspector window open as well, you’ll end up with a very tight workspace. This isn’t really a problem on larger displays like you’ll find on an iMac, but on my much smaller MacBook it was crowded, and I was constantly rearranging windows while I worked on documents. Fortunately, I didn’t have the same issues while using the word processing mode, even with the Paragraph Styles sidebar and the Inspector open.
Pages has a reworked toolbar which makes it easier to add tables, charts, comments, shapes, and text boxes to your documents. It also includes a contextually aware Format Bar, which is a key feature of all three iWork programs. In earlier versions of Pages, unless you had your styles defined, formatting text could be a real hassle, requiring you to navigate through several menus or rely on the Fonts and Paragraph Inspectors to change color, size, alignment, or spacing. The new Format Bar gives you one-click access to the majority of your font and document formatting needs. Furthermore, select a chart or image in your document, and the Format Bar changes to help you manipulate that specific type of object. So, for example, if you select a picture, the Format Bar allows you to quickly change the picture’s frame and opacity, add a shadow or reflection, change text wrap properties, or open the image editor. Select a table, and the Format Bar changes so you can adjust the table’s fill color and text alignment, and add rows and columns. The only key item I found missing from the formatting options for tables was a way to change a cell’s number format.
Tables and charts in Pages have also been updated. The former now have a look and feel that matches Apple’s new Numbers ( ) spreadsheet program. Pages now includes a better formula editor, conditional formatting, and several Quick Formulas for adding basic calculations to a table. Charts now include several new textures and color-editing options. Unfortunately, there’s no way to link a table to a chart in your document and have that chart dynamically update as you change the information in your table (as you can in Microsoft Word).
Apple has also added features to Pages’ image-editing tools, which now include an easy-to-use alpha channel editor, which makes quick work of separating an object from the background (as you might do with a more sophisticated program like Photoshop).
Finally, Pages’ updated Track Changes tool is significantly improved, but it’s still missing features I’d like to see. Turning on Track Changes opens up a small, unobtrusive menu bar just below the Format Bar. When this feature is turned on, Pages takes note of any changes you make to the text. A button allows you to temporarily pause tracking, and a drop-down menu allows you to hide deleted text, hide your text markup, or hide the change bubbles (which run along the left-hand side of your document window). Unfortunately, only changes made to text are tracked. So, if you change the data in a table, adjust a chart, or crop an image, Track Changes won’t help. But, in my testing, all tracked changes and comments were seamlessly shared between Pages and Microsoft Word.
The last time I reviewed Pages ( ) I mentioned that the mail-merge capabilities were incredibly weak. I’m sorry to say that Apple has done nothing to rectify this problem. Pages only allows you to create mail-merge documents using data that you have stored in Apple’s Address Book. If you have your contact data stored in FileMaker, Excel, or even Numbers, it will be useless to you in Pages. This may make switching to Pages difficult for many businesses and individuals, even for printing something as basic as address labels. It also significantly undermines the value of what is otherwise an amazing, versatile, and powerful program.
One major network bug
While working with Pages, I discovered a significant bug that, upon further testing, appears in all three iWork applications. If you have a document stored on a network or if you’re sharing iWork documents on your computer, it’s possible for two people to open and edit that document at the same time. You won’t be warned that someone else is using the document or be forced to open the document in a read-only format, making it possible for you to overwrite someone else’s work—or someone else to save over yours.
Macworld’s buying advice
Pages ’08 is a great word processing and page layout program. For most individuals, it should be a perfect fit for day-to-day needs. But if you want to share and edit files on a network, or if you need robust mail-merge features, Pages will not be enough to fulfill your needs.
[ Jeffery Battersby is a regular contributor to Macworld . You can read his blog at jeffbattersby.com. ]Pages offers dozens of features for editing your documents, but smaller screens may be too small when working in Page Layout mode. Pages’ new context aware Format Bar changes formatting options depending on the type of object you select on the page.