Pages has always been a powerful application with some interesting capabilities. It has also inspired fierce loyalty among those users who learned to utilize its somewhat quirky interface. But without a cross platform version, Pages never came close to challenging Word as the industry-standard word-processing software.
But the new version of Pages is free when you purchase new Mac hardware or for those who purchased the earlier 2009 version. Cross-platform compatibility is no longer a limitation, since Pages 5 also works across a wide range of platforms by using the iCloud version in a browser.
Given Microsoft Office's subscription model with a yearly fee of just under $100 and Page's new capabilities, Microsoft could have a fight on its hands.
Turning The Pages
The new Pages is very different from the old version. There were some advanced desktop publishing features that worked very well in the 2009 version of Pages.
Years ago, I used one of Pages' default templates to create a tri-fold brochure with linked text boxes. It was drop-dead easy to get text to flow from one box to another. I published my brochure monthly in relatively small quantities and on the right paper it looked very professional. When I tried to move up to larger volumes, though, I ran into what has often been a problem for Mac users in the business world. I never could find Mac drivers that worked properly for our much faster office printer.
Eventually I moved my brochure document to Microsoft Word just to use the faster printer. Because I was able to modify the document in Word without losing the formatting it inherited from Pages, I never went back to Pages. Word became my word processor of necessity for the brochure. Pages was just different enough that if you did not use the application regularly, you could easily stumble while remembering how to use it again.
Taking Pages 5 For A Spin
While the new Pages 5 will not do everything the old Pages 2009 would do, it is far easier to pick the product up and use it casually.
With Pages 5, Apple seems to have hit a sweet spot of ease of use, while still covering basic capabilities for a large number of users. Unfortunately, some missing features might alienate the most faithful and serious Pages users.
The biggest complaint I have heard is the inability to link text boxes and have text flow from one text box to another—which was one of the features I appreciated the first time I used Pages. While text flow is an important capability for longer, complex documents, I suspect the wider appeal of the new simpler Pages interface might outweigh a loss in capabilities like this.
In order to test the new Pages and its iCloud cousin, I wrote this article using the application. I exported the file as a docx or Word file and saved it to iCloud. I tried editing the document using the iCloud version of Pages 5 in a variety of browsers. I really did not find surprises except I managed to edit the document in Firefox in Linux.
Both Word 2011 on the Mac and the full version of Word 2013 on Windows were able to open and edit the docx file. I was also able to open and edit the file using Office 365 mobile on my Android phone. You really should not have a problem moving a Pages 5 document around among different platforms.
While it has added better cross platform compatibility through the use of the iCloud version, the new Pages 5 has not lost the traditional Apple ease of use in graphics. I tested this by dragging an image from my desktop to a Pages document with text and comparing that to doing the same thing in a Word 2013 document in Windows.
For non-Word experts the context-sensitive Pages 5 image tools are probably easier. Once you have an image in the Pages 5 document, you are presented with a very nicely designed set of tools in a panel on the right side of your screen. You can apply styles to the image, change the exposure and saturation among other things, rotate the image in degree increments and set how you want it to interact with the text. I think Apple has done a very good job redesigning the image tools.
It is very simple to take a basic Pages document and add a chart to it. Once you have selected what type of chart you want to use, just drag it into the document, resize it, and edit you chart data. I found creating a simple chart easier than it is in Excel. Plucking some data from an Excel spreadsheet and creating a chart in Pages is about as easy as it gets.
I also selected text in three different word processing packages on the Mac and just dragged it into a Pages 5 document with no problems. In essence you can use Pages 5 as a tool to put together a lot of different bits of information quickly and easily. If you are not a Microsoft Word expert or if you find yourself always asking someone how to do something in Word, Pages 5 might be worth considering. Certainly the price is right if you are buying a Mac.
A Few Blemishes On Pages
The new Pages is not perfect. I found a few challenges. Mixing bulleted list styles in Pages 5 is not as easy as it is in Google Docs, which is a favorite feature of mine for simple documents—but that is a very minor issue.
I do miss the ability to export RTF (Rich Text Format) documents from Pages 5. However, in a rather unique twist you can export your document to the old Pages 09 and then use Pages 09 to export a RTF version. It is a little weird seeing Apple accept the Microsoft docx format as a standard format for exports from Pages, but it works.
Also, if you are looking a way to do mail merge, that capability has been dropped from Page 5 altogether.
Pages 5 did crash on me once during my tests and I did have to rewrite a tiny part of the document. Apple is not noted for bullet proof first releases, but they generally provide early updates quickly.
Finding The Best Pages User
People with complex business needs might be disappointed with the new Pages. However, those of us who want a simple word processor with a basic set of very powerful tools could end up being Pages fans. Having the ability to access the documents on multiple platforms through a browser is a real win.
For years, I have heard some of my Apple friends saying that they would like the simplicity of the old MacWrite with the added power of some simple desktop publishing tools. Pages just might be that package and you can also collaborate on a document. While collaboration does not seem as sophisticated as available Google drive documents, the current collaboration in iCloud Pages is a good start.
I am often a hard-to-please Apple critic, but I like Pages 5. I think most people will. Unfortunately to get Pages to work across as many devices as it does, Apple had to give up some features. I think it was a positive trade off.
Image courtesy of Apple.