Can Apple's new Pages replace Word?

Storing data in documentsI ordered Apple's new iWork '08 package Tuesday and it arrived two days later. I've had the prior iWork suites but found little use for them as Microsoft's Office suite - which I've used for 15 years - met my needs without a learning curve.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Storing data in documents I ordered Apple's new iWork '08 package Tuesday and it arrived two days later. I've had the prior iWork suites but found little use for them as Microsoft's Office suite - which I've used for 15 years - met my needs without a learning curve. But I've been rooting for iWork as Microsoft products improve faster with competition.

Office in my corporate life In the corporate world the ability to exchange editable spread sheets and documents is vital and the ubiquity of Office a blessing. But I'm a small business now, and I ship most documents as finished goods, not work in process.

Thus the look of my documents, presentations and spreadsheets is much more important. Even so, I found earlier versions of iWork of little use. Few of the templates were business-oriented, unless your business was garage sales. The lack of a spreadsheet didn't help.

iWork in small business life Like most people I'm not using the very latest version of Office, so perhaps some of my issues have been fixed. I'm waiting for the next Mac version of Office, which I will probably buy unless iWork does a great job of working with all the Office formats.

Apple defines the Pages mission as

Create word processing and page layout documents with visual appeal.

They have succeeded.

iWork and Pages can't compete on a feature basis with Office and Word, but it sure makes it easy to prepare well-designed, professional looking presentations, documents and spreadsheets. Pages enabled me to put together a proposal in a couple of hours that looks better than anything I would have come up with in Word in any amount of time.

I've always wondered why the world's richest software company, making Billion$ in profit from Office every year, never invested a couple of million to hire top-notch design firms to create quality templates, fonts and clip art. The newest iWork doesn't provide as much as I'd like, but what is there is well-designed and useful out of the box.

Easy graphics I've often found moving graphics into and between Office apps to be more difficult than it should be. Office apps do not support the same formats, treat the same formats differently and vary in how and what may be edited.

Positioning graphics can be non-intuitive in Word, where iWork's Pages makes it drag and drop simple with easy resizing. Placement lines pop up so you can center a graphic painlessly. You can edit images with the same tool set iPhoto offers while word processing. Nothing earth-shaking, just simple enhancements that make life simpler for non-designers.

Basic tools Apple has cherry-picked the most important word processing and layout features for Pages. There is a basic but usable Track Changes feature. You can open up a search function that is part of the Pages window that will list all the occurrences of a word in the document. You can open multiple Inspector windows - if you have the screen space - to keep track of fonts, graphics, formatting.

One of my favorite features is "Paste and Match Style" which puts the copied content into the style in your document rather than leaving it in the format of the document it you copied it from. My Word documents often end up with a mish-mash of formats as I cut and paste from various PDFs, other Word documents and web pages. The Format Painter tool has a permanent place on my Word toolbar, but fixing the problem when pasting, rather than later, makes more sense.

Not perfect by a long shot Pages doesn't have an outline mode, which I don't use much, but is very useful when I do. The "Paste and Match Style" function doesn't always work as I expect. There is no easy way to change the order of bullets - just cut and paste. And I'm hoping that Apple either adds more templates as downloads or that a 3rd-party market springs up to offer more.

Translating complex Word documents into Pages isn't 100% and neither is the reverse, but it is close. I ship most of my documents as PDFs - easy on a Mac - so I don't worry about the compatibility issues.

The Storage Bits take This is the first version of iWork that is a worthy small-business tool. Office has many more features - you can do amazing things with Excel, and Word is better for long documents even if it pales beside FrameMaker - but iWork '08 has the features that small businesses need, especially usability.

iWork '08 has another attractive feature: price. For $79 you get the complete suite. If you use a Mac in a SOHO environment, iWork '08 is definitely worth the money.

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