Pages 1.0, by Apple
Posted: 21-Aug-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
What would Microsoft Word be like if Apple designed it? After close to two decades using the Mac and Windows platforms and Microsoft Word processors of all vintages, I began to yearn for an up-to-date Apple solution to the word processor. I didn't write any kind of letter to Santa Jobs at Christmas. All the same, come New Year, the Pages word processing application became available as part of the iWork suite with the existing Keynote presentation application.

To put the notion of Pages in context, it's worth considering the present status of the incumbent, Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word is the workhorse many of us use in our day jobs. If it started out lacking features, it accreted functions voraciously over the years until by now it arguably has too many. Since people don't know or use all these functions, Microsoft has taken to invoking them automatically, which can be irritating when they are not what you wanted.

Some tasks in Word can be achieved in many different ways, each with its own pros and cons. There are features that ought to be deprecated and removed but can't be, perhaps due to backwards compatibility with legacy documents.

Even now, Word has bugs in some functionality, including automatically numbered list styles. All in all, as I work with Word, I feel I am doing battle with a powerful intellectual adversary. For the most part, it does my bidding, but it still occasionally surprises me with a new way of wrecking a document.

New word processors have tried and failed to shake Word's dominance. In general, they have to have less functions than Word, so no matter what functions they do have, there are customers who can't do without the missing ones.

Can Pages offer enough of the functionality of Word without the feature bloat, the bugs and the irritations? Can it offer a new spin on the world of word processing?

Installation
Pages installation went without a hitch. License code entry, however, was another matter. My license code contained a character that could be a zero or a letter O. Which was it? I guessed (wrongly) that it was a zero, so when I typed in the code, the OK button did not enable. Hitting return just gave an error message. I tried again with a letter O and that didn't work either. There was another character that could be a letter I or a numeral one. I added that to the list of permutations, also unsuccessfully.

Eventually it transpired that all the failed entries were storing up invisibly in the license code field. When I deleted the whole string, the code finally worked. This could have been avoided if the license code did not use easily confusable characters and also if the field was incapable of storing more text than a valid license code.

The final indignity came when, having entered the license code when I installed Pages using my Admin account, I had to enter it again from my user account. Since the license agreement is per computer (not per user) this should not be necessary.

I found the support forum for Pages had reports from other users of similar difficulties with license codes.

First Impressions
My first impression of Pages was actually from Steve Jobs' initial product announcement. I was struck by the contrast between the product name, iWork, and the templates illustrated for Pages - newsletters, journals, invitations, all glowingly designed by Apple designers, all great for the kind of "work" you take on in your spare time and none of it looking like the kind of documents I get to produce in my day job.


Some of Pages' templates


The templates are filled out with so-called "Lorem Ipsum" text - random text which looks like, but makes no sense in, Latin. This is generally used by designers to demonstrate the design of a document without creating false impressions based on information content. However when I had Pages running for the first time, I found my mind racing in near-alarm trying to guess what the text ought to be. For example, the Family Newsletter template has what is clearly intended to be a cookie recipe whose ingredients are:

  • 1/2 qui sequitur
  • 1/2 sit amet consectetuer
  • 1/2 insitam est usus
  • 1/2 tdemonstraverunt lectores
  • 1 1/2 option congue
  • 1 1/2 notare quam
  • 1 quam


Lorem Ipsum Ad Infinitum


Another example is the Design Newsletter template that contains a calendar for the month of Mauris whose weeks have 3 days: Justo, Velit and Quam.

The beauty of the placeholder text is that you click just once anywhere in it to select it, and then whatever you type replaces it. Alternatively you can drag and drop text into a placeholder and it will replace the crazy Latin.

Document Views
Besides that standard document window for editing your document, word processors generally provide alternate ways to view the document. Pages offers a thumbnail view of your document, but lacks the two views I use frequently in Word: Normal mode and Document Map. Word Normal mode allows you to view your document without pagination, which is useful when you are concerned about content rather than presentation. The performance benefits of Normal mode are less important with up-to-date hardware.

The Word Document Map is more controversial. It's a sidebar containing a hierarchical outline / table of contents which shows the headings of your document and allows you to jump to one with a mouse click. No matter how long your document, you can collapse it to a manageable size by viewing the highest level headings only. It's essential for reading documents of any length on-screen. The issue with Document Map is that if your document is improperly formatted, Word will apply what it thinks ought to be the heading levels, usually wrongly, and since it does this itself, it's not something you can undo using the undo feature. The other weakness of the Word Document Map is that it can't be used to reorder your document. By contrast, the Pages thumbnail view allows you to drag sections of your document up and down to reorder them.

In summary, while the thumbnail view goes some way to providing navigation, and provides helpful reordering, the lack of hierarchical navigation makes it of limited use for longer documents, especially those with few sections.

Document Structure
Although Pages is billed as a word processor, it actually feels more like a page layout program. A Pages template consists of one or more page types. For example, the Apple-designed Family Newsletter has 9 page types, including cover, back page, and pages with different numbers of columns.


The page styles for the Family Newsletter template


Page types are related to sections, in that each time you insert a page from the page menu, you force a section break. You can also insert a section break without selecting a new page type. When you click on a thumbnail, the section that thumbnail belongs to is highlighted. If you type more than can fit into a page, of course a new page of that same type is added to the section.

Within a section, you can also define different layouts by inserting layout breaks and formatting the layouts differently on either side of the break.

As in Word, you can create your own templates, but in Pages you can create different page styles within a template and manage, rename, delete and reorder them.

The notion of multiple named page types per template is an essential difference from Word, and one that I find inspiring and exciting.

Styles
Having eagerly awaited getting to know Pages to escape from the vagaries of Word, I felt guilty about cutting to the chase and seeing how it manages with legal / scientific hierarchical numbered headings.

Pages is promoted as having strong style features, and indeed it does. There is a style drawer which you can keep open as you work. If you change the format of styled text, the entry in the style drawer gains a red triangle that you can click for options: create a new style based on the selection, apply the change to all other instances of the style, or revert to the original style. Pages can also select all instances of a style without selecting other text between these instances.


The Style Drawer


Pages has 3 types of styles: paragraph, character and list. Unlike Word, Pages sensibly enforces the application of a paragraph style to a paragraph only. You can apply a paragraph style to a whole paragraph by just planting your insertion point anywhere in the paragraph (i.e., you don't have to select it the paragraph).

Tiered list styles have the capability to number a list in hierarchical fashion by changing the indentation level of each list item.

It's possible to set up paragraph styles to also contain list styles. However there appears to be a weakness in that you can't get a given paragraph style to have the indentation level set by the style. So if you have Heading 1 and Heading 2, your Heading 2 paragraphs will have the character formatting and line spacing you choose for Heading 2, but will be numbered as Heading 1's until you manually change their indentation level.

The bottom line is that while automatic scientific / legal numbering is possible in Pages, it doesn't seem to be its strong suit at present. Hopefully the feature, bug or oversight in this area can be fixed in a software update.

One more omission is that Pages does not share the Table Styles capability of Word. Having a named table style can save a lot of work when you decide that you want all the tables in your document to have a bold header row - you just change the style definition and it's done.

The Inspector
The Inspector is an additional tabbed window containing settings for the whole document, layout, wrapping, text, graphics, metrics, tables, charts, hyperlinks and iLife. One good usability feature here is that there are no OK and Cancel buttons. Everything you do has immediate effect. If you are viewing the layout guidelines in your document and clicking the spin controls to increment a margin size you will see the effect right away in your page layout.


The Inspector


Tables
Apart from the lack of table style capability, Pages has comprehensive table features. Pages sensibly prohibits altogether the default condition in Word tables where a row of a table is allowed to straddle a page break. There isn't a capability to automatically stripe a table in 2 different colors, although this could be done manually. However, I found that applying a shadow to a table with clear cells also shadowed the text, giving the appearance of the table printed on perspex and suspended a quarter inch above the page.


A clear perspex table


More Pages Tricks
Pages has drawing and charting capabilities and can insert text boxes to break up the flow of the text in a section.

Like the iLife applications, Pages allows you to access your iLife movies, photos and music to insert them in your document.

There is a simple export function which covers all the bases - you can export as PDF, Word, HTML, RTF and plain text. Unfortunately, the PDF export doesn't turn your headings into bookmarks that you can navigate in Adobe Reader.

What Pages Does Not Do
While Pages allows you to use all the graphics you've created yourself, it does not come with a clip art library.

Pages can do numbered footnotes, but does not do endnotes. It's perfectly possible to use a word processor all day every day and not need either, depending on the type of work you do. People who need endnotes are recommended to use Apple's feedback mechanisms to influence future versions of the product.

"Field codes" are Word's way of inserting such automated text as page numbers, page count and date; Pages offers these three items on the insert menu. Word has hundreds of other field codes which Pages does not match.

Summary
Pages is a refreshing departure in the world of word processors. It has innovative features such as the notion of page styles, and comes with many examples of well designed document templates. Its many standard word processing features are presented simply in a stripped-down user interface.

At this time it has some deficiencies which may affect particular user groups, for example those who need structured header numbering or endnotes. I recommend Pages particularly for people who want to produce good-looking, colorful documents with plenty of graphics and multiple layouts. I look forward to the future developments of Pages as users make their needs known and Apple incorporates them.

NOTE: This review was written using Pages and exported to plain text.


Pros

  • Multiple page styles per document
  • Apple-designed templates
  • Powerful but simple style features
  • Inspector window gives easy access to all formatting
  • iLife connectivity

Cons

  • License code entry difficulties
  • Legal / scientific styles tricky to achieve
  • No table styles
  • Very few field codes
  • No clip art
  • No endnotes


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice