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  • Pages, Pages and More Pages

    January 29th, 2005

    After a lapse of several years, Apple has finally released what is clearly meant to be the replacement for AppleWorks. As rumors arose over the form it would take, some suggested Apple planned to go up against Microsoft and come out with a product that competed directly with Office.

    So let me get something out of the way before I go any further: Pages, part of Apple’s new iWork ’05 collection, is not a Microsoft Word killer, and doesn’t pretend to be. Along with Keynote 2.0, it only replaces a portion of AppleWorks, since it lacks database, drawing and spreadsheet capability. Perhaps those components will appear in later revisions, but it also means you’re forced to stick with AppleWorks if you’ve created documents using those features. What’s more, AppleWorks, for now at least, continues to be bundled with new consumer Macs, including the Mac mini. You want iWork, prepare to spend $79.

    At first glance, Pages appears to be a serviceable low-end word processor, but prepare to be amazed.

    The startup screen layout, a graphical list of available templates which matches the one in Keynote, strikes you as nothing more than a prettier version of the Starting Points feature of AppleWorks. On further glance, though, it seems a little closer in appearance to the Project Gallery in Office. Now isn’t that interesting?

    Before you begin, you can choose a template for your document, or just a blank page. The spare Preferences dialog lets you limit yourself to the blank page, and that’s a good place to begin if you just want to write a letter or perhaps a manuscript for a book or article. Or perhaps you’re one of those folks who’d rather build a complicated document from scratch.

    Like the Project Gallery, the templates in Pages are divided into categories, such as newsletters, invitations and resumes. As you explore the nooks and crannies of Pages, you quickly come to the conclusion that it’s also designed to be a simple page layout tool. It’s even somewhat reminiscent of PageMaker, because you can easily drag and drop graphics onto a blank page. If you want to create a complex document, you’ll want to take advantage of those templates. All you need to do is replace the existing graphics and photos with your own, and enter your text. Your customized templates, by the way, can also be added to the listing.

    You can do your text formatting via the menu, or, better yet, open an Inspector window, which also strikes you as similar to Word’s formatting palette, except for the icons above the palette for instant access to the various categories of document creation, such as layout, text, charts and tables. In that respect, it actually resembles FreeHand. For convenience, or if you prefer a crowded workspace, you can open multiple Inspectors.

    The text tools in Pages are actually quite powerful. Like the professional grade page layout applications, such as QuarkXPress, you have automatic hyphenation and ligatures. But the hyphenation thresholds can’t be adjusted, so you’ll have to pour through your document for mistakes. You can also add headers, footers, footnotes, a table of contents, a bookmark and a hyperlink. Like Word, you can create automatic bulleted and numbered lists.

    The tables tool has more bells and whistles than the bare-bones version you find in AppleWorks. The most interesting features include the ability to split and merge cells, insert automatic headers and to allow tables to resize to fit content. You can also create charts in a variety of formats, such as columns, bars, line, area and pie. Creating one of these elements is remarkably easy. Just click the Objects icon on a documents toolbar and choose whether you want to create an object containing a shape, a table or a chart. You’ll figure out the rest without having to consult the Help menu.

    Of these, the shape feature is the most limited. There is no bezier tool, so you’re stuck with the standard range of shapes and arrows. It would have been nice to incorporate more of the features of the drawing module in AppleWorks. Now whether it’s one of these objects, or a separate graphic or photo element, text wrapping is swift and automatic. Move a picture here, and the text flows one way, move it there and it flows differently. The Wrap icon on the toolbar lets you choose whether you want the text to wrap around the object, or above and below it.

    Pages also sports decent integration with the iLife suite, with still another palette, a Media Browser, which lets you navigate the contents of your iPhoto and iTunes libraries and your Movie folder. When you find what you want, just drag it to your page. As you can gather, a Pages document can also be rich with multimedia, embedded with both audio and video elements.

    So how does all this add up? A lot better than you dared expect. The learning curve is very simple. Just spend a few moments looking over the Inspector palette and the various menu commands and everything should fall into place. If you want to master Pages the old fashioned way, you’ll find a 191-page user’s guide inside the box. It’s smaller than most manuals, measuring 5-1/2 by 6-1/2 inches, and it appears the text was reduced accordingly. If you’re a little over 21, make sure you have a pair of reading glasses handy.

    In the end, I am quite impressed with Pages. As a word processor, you’ll find all the features you need front and center, and none of the complicated stuff that clogs Word. You can even open Word documents and save in Word format, and it works pretty well, except for the lack of support for Track Changes. That, by the way, is the Word feature that allows writers and editors to keep tabs on the progress of a manuscript.

    As a page layout tool, it won’t replace Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress, but it does a dandy job on a brochure for that garage sale, or a newsletter for a club or religious institution.

    For a version 1.0 release, Pages is remarkably stable. Performance on my PowerMac G5 was quite good, with text and picture movements swift and sure, without any noticeable stuttering. System requirements are a mite stiff for a consumer-oriented application, however. Apple specifies a 500MHz G3 or faster with 128MB of RAM, but 512MB is recommended, so you can see where it might bog down on lesser hardware. You’ll also need Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later and a DVD drive for the installation disc. Apple does have a CD available, but you have to order it separately.

    Along with Keynote 2.0, a decent upgrade to Apple’s presentation software, iWork ’05 is well worth the $79 price of admission. I just wonder whether we’ll see database and spreadsheet applications in the next version. If Apple goes there, how many of you will truly want to continue to rely on Microsoft Office, assuming the spreadsheet program is compatible with Excel, of course. Or maybe this is one border Apple is not yet prepared to cross.



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