Pages ’09 review

Apple released iWork ’09 with many new features that are better implemented and easier to use than Microsoft’s otherwise excellent Word. Let’s just say Pages ’09 delivers 90% of what most people using a word processor for, need, while Word delivers everything --with confusion as a result for most of us.I regularly look around on the web for new developments in all sorts of markets and product categories. In the word processor market, I recently reviewed WriteRoom, a simple word editor that could do one thing many people need: to go on writing without distraction. WriteRoom had a fantastic full screen option for that purpose alone. It is fully customisable, including colours and cursor settings. WriteRoom is popular, especially because of this capability.

Another popular category of products with the Mac user crowd is the outliner. MS Word has an excellent outliner, but you can do better by buying OmniOutline, for example.
I could go on, filling up a neat list of essentials you can find in all kinds of different products. Perhaps some of these essentials won’t require you to buy anything new anymore. Apple improved Pages ’09 in more than one way, and it paid extra attention to what users want. And yes, outlining and full screen editing is included.

The full screen capability of Pages ’09 isn’t as customisable as WriteRoom’s, but it does the job just fine. Your screen dims, the page centers and you get a white page on a black background. At the bottom some writing statistics, and nu menu bar in sight, until you hover in that screen area with the mouse.
Elegant Mail MergeThe outliner is as good as that of MS Word. It’s not as powerful as OmniOutliner, but I don’t believe any outliner in a word processing application should offer the abundance of options and customisations OmniOutliner delivers. I do believe most people will be happy with Pages ’09’s outliner. You can collapse headings, add tables and images, and do everything you can to make a long document more manageable. Images in the outliner can be shown as thumbnails —a nice design touch that makes working with them a bit more pleasing.

Pages ’09 plays nice with other programs. Just like Microsoft does with Word, you can easily exchange data and graphics between the iWork ’09 software. The only difference in my opinion is that it all works better, more fluid, more effortlessly. Mail Merge is a good example of this. In Word 2004 (still the copy I have installed as Microsoft refused to hand out NFR licenses when the Office 2008 suite was released) Mail Merge is not elegant.
In Pages ’09 Mail Merge works like a charm. It not only works like a charm, it also gives visual feedback after the merge has been completed; you ‘ll see a complete list of document thumbnails with the merged fields filled in. Of course, when you must merge tens of thousands of letters, this listing may result in a dead slow application, but I think you shouldn’t use a program for something it hasn’t been intended. If such huge batch operations are your cup of tea, it’s time to buy Microsoft Office or switch to OpenOffice.

Pages ’09 not just integrates with applications from the iWork ’09 or iLife ’09 software suite. It also integrates well with two leading applications used by students and scientists: MathType 6 and EndNote X2. That integration will be discussed in two separate reviews, but I can tell you here and now: it’s well done, especially in a sense that it doesn’t interfere with your ordinary writing.

Of course, there’s also the iWork.com integration, but I did not try out that one (it’s still in beta, to start with). I could be wrong, but I don’t think many users of iWork ‘09 will want to use iWork.com because of its limited capabilities.
Sharing yes, but XML: noSharing Pages documents is possible; there is the capability to export to Word (version 2004), RTF, and PDF. Documents can be sent to iWeb, either as PDF or downloadable Pages document, and via e-mail. What I would have liked to be added is an export capability to XHTML or XML. That would create a huge array of possibilities with regards to sharing and exchange, but alas, XML is not on Pages ‘09’s export list.

Nevertheless, I truly think Pages ‘09 is a big step forward for Apple’s word processor. It’s not yet on par with MS Word, feature-by-feature, but it supports most of the things the average word processor user will need, and more. Integration with third-party products is brilliant; the only thing that would have made it heart-jumping exciting is XML support. But perhaps that’s simply a bridge too far for a product that must appeal to consumers as well as to scientists and students.

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