While we’re sitting here moaning about the fact that Microsoft won’t be releasing the next version of Office for the Mac until early next year, Apple throws their hat into the ring with iWork, their suite of “Office-like” productivity desktop applications. Pages to challenge Word, Numbers to challenge Excel and Keynote to challenge PowerPoint.
Truth be told, it’s doubtful that anyone who has the need for the full Standard or Professional editions of Office 2004 would find Apple’s product compelling. Microsoft has so much more to offer for the demanding professional. However, there are many of us who have lightweight word processing needs, yet still need excellent compatibility with other versions of Word. Could Pages ’08 fit the bill?
After over a week of going out of my way not to launch Word, I can say the answer is yes. And no.
Even though I have a perfectly valid Office 2004 license, I tried the iWork demo (and have since purchased the $79 software) to see if Pages ’08 could replace Word 2004 in my daily routine. I am the only Mac user at my small organization. We spend our days sending documents back and forth to each other in email. Sometimes it’s concept papers. Sometimes it correspondence or drafts for our newsletters and other publications. Other times it’s tables of information for review. “Track Changes” is almost always on. Images in documents are light, at best. Layouts are not complicated. Graphics-heavy documents are handled in a dedicated page layout application, such as InDesign.
Speed: No comparison. Pages blazes on an Intel Mac compared to Word 2004. I had forgotten just how slow Word was until I opened it to work on this post. There’s a barely noticeable lag when navigating through long, heavily edited documents in Word that is completely gone when navigating through the same document in Pages. A+ for Pages here.
Word file compatibility: Compared to previous version of Pages which scored a C+ at best, Pages ’08 earns a solid A-. Pages has been able to handle any file I’ve thrown at it from my colleagues. Perfect? No. More often than not, opening a .doc file starts here:
When I review the warnings, I find that the document is not adversely affected by whatever has not translated perfectly. When the file is saved in Pages and exported back to Word, there is no noticeable difference. So apparently whatever Pages strips out, Word can live without for how my colleagues and I work with documents. Your mileage may vary, depending on how your Word files are ultimately used.
It’s a bit annoying to have to maintain a .pages (native Pages) file as well as .doc files as Word compatibility is available upon export only. So if you take your .pages file, export to .doc to send to a colleague, then re-open that .doc file to continue editing in Pages you have to re-save the file on top of your previous version to avoid duplicates, as Pages doesn’t recognize that it’s linked to the same original .pages file. You can’t save a Pages file directly to .doc format. On the other hand, Pages also exports to PDF (faster than going through the Print dialog) and plain text (truly plain text, not Word’s still-impossible-to-use-cleanly version of plain text) through the same handy dialog box.
Floating inspector palette: Word 2004 users are already used to doing the majority of their document and style modifications in a floating inspector palette, as opposed to the sidebar approach of Word 2003 or the ribbon of Word 2007. Since Pages ’08 also focuses editing on the inspector palette, it’s a comfortable transition. I’m still not sold as to whether it’s better to have options in expandable sections, as in Word 2004:
Or the tabbed approach taken by Pages:
Slight edge to Word since items are easier to find. But once you’ve found what you’re looking for, Pages gives better control over visual elements as only an application that started with a focus on page layout can do. B for Pages here.
Track changes: This is the big new feature of Pages ’08, and it mostly lives up to Apple’s promise. In Word 2004, comments can be very difficult to read as the bubbles look the same as edits. Pages ’08 makes comments look like comments (in yellow). They stand out. A document can go through multiple rounds of edits from multiple people and still be incredibly clean and easy to follow. So far, not one of my colleagues has complained that my Word -> Pages -> Word edited files has caused any problems on their end…as long as I’m not changing anything in a table. For some reason, changes made within a table do not track at all in Pages. They appear as if tracked changes were turned off, blending into the existing document. A+ for Pages for straight documents, D if that document has a table that needs editing.
Mail merge: Want to send a form letter to 30 friends who are in your Mac OS X address book? No problem. You can easily pull Address Book fields into Pages for your letters and labels. Want to take a spreadsheet (.xls, .csv, tab delineated, etc.) of 300 contacts that you don’t want to keep in your personal address book and send them a form letter with customized text from the spreadsheet? Fire up Word. Can’t be done in Pages. Solid D- here for Pages, but it’s not like Apple tried that hard. Maybe in the next version.
Overall experience: On the whole, Pages ’08 is leaps ahead of the previous version, and is more than capable of replacing much of what we count on in Word. Pages isn’t the only option if you want to move away from Microsoft products, and it’s certainly not free. But if you want to keep one foot solidly in the Office door yet have a better visual experience, Pages is a great bet. Speed improvements aside, Pages is intuitive and simple, yet complex enough to change the toolbar contextually the way Word 2007′s ribbon does and handle most of what’s thrown at it.
It’s a grade A keeper. Now let’s hope Numbers makes the same improvements as it matures.