updated 09:40 am EST, Fri January 9, 2009
First Look Pages 09
Pages has always been a decent word processor, but it's never been powerful enough to replace Microsoft Word. Apple has, fortunately, boosted Pages '09 with more features in order to make it a better word processor, and an easier desktop publishing program. It may still not match Word feature-for-feature, but that could be a good thing, as what it does offer may be what you really need.
Continuing an emphasis on improving word processing abilities, the latest version of Pages offers a new full-screen view. Rather than just expand a window, the full-screen view completely fills the screen with your document, and blocks out toolbars, program windows, the Dock and even pull-down menus. This lets you focus on writing without any visual distractions.
Another new feature is the outline mode, which lets you organize thoughts into headings and subheadings that you can drag around with the mouse. Even better is that if you're creating a large document, you can link text to these items. If you rearrange an outline, you thus rearrange the text as well.
If you need to share documents with others, the program includes a new Share menu, which links directly with the Mail program. Just choose Share --> Send via Mail, and you'll have a choice of sending your document as a Pages, Word, or PDF file within a Mail message. Since most people choose Word documents, you'll be happy to know that this latest version can open and save documents in Word's recent DOCX format. (If you have any ancient files saved in the AppleWorks format, you can open these, too.)
To help you design documents, the program includes over 180 templates, 40 more than found in Pages '08. One particularly handy feature is the way in which templates are displayed. In previous versions, a list of templates would appear as static images, showing only the first page of each. With Pages '09, you can point the mouse over a template and gently slide the mouse across to reveal different pages, without opening them up first.
To make editing different parts of a document easier, the Format bar automatically changes depending on the object you've selected. Click on text, and the text Format bar appears; click on a picture, and the picture Format bar appears. The same concept applies to tables and charts.
Most other changes to the program include minor improvements to existing features. The program's mail merge feature has been updated, for example, so you can now import data stored in a Numbers table as well as names and addresses kept in Address Book. The paragraph and character styles, meanwhile, appear on the left side of the document window instead of the right. Defining a new style is as easy as modifying the text, and clicking on a style name to save the new formatting.
Pages '09 is still a work in progress, despite being a part of the $79 iWork suite. It still can't beat Word in a head-to-head comparison of features, though with its simplified interface and streamlined commands, Pages '09 has become easier to learn and master. Its latest features make it trivial to create simple desktop publishing projects, particularly using its many templates. Anyone currently tied to Word may not want to switch, but those looking for a capable word processor with desktop publishing functions should be more than satisfied with Pages '09.