Microsoft Word has long been the word processor for the masses. Whether people like it or not, they have to use the .doc format to submit things to their superiors. Slowly, however, a new generation of apps is arising. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are leading the way in open source word processors, and there are lots of great Markdown tools out there for the pseudo-coder. For the average user, though, the best way to write an essay or report for work is using Pages.
Unfortunately, Apple’s small app doesn’t get much recognition, since it’s not available outside their ecosystem. It also didn’t appeal to some people because of the cost. Well, that’s all about to change in Pages 5. During the special event this week, Apple unveiled a new version of its word processor, making it more powerful and attractive than ever. Best of all, people who buy new Macs get it for free. So just how good is this essential piece of the new iWork suite?
Format by Selection
Apple thought it was time to switch things up a bit. No longer are all the formatting options in the toolbar. They have now been moved to a sidebar, which is called the Format Panel. Everything is rearranged to fit in a vertical layout. It actually makes editing significantly easier than before. Having a cleaner toolbar allows you to concentrate more on the work itself, not on all the buttons surrounding it.
How does this new panel work? At first it will ask you to select some text so it has something to work with. From there, you’ll be able to customize all sorts of things (see the next paragraph) related to the selection. I’ve found it to be a much more user-friendly way of editing text. It helps you to focus on formatting more than before, and helps you along the way.
The Format Panel includes basic and advanced features. In the Style tab, the usual font options are available. You can make something italicized rather and bold, then center it and add a strikethrough if you wish. Spacing is also available here, for the many students who have a very hard time setting things to the right format. (You have no idea how many times English professors remind their students how to double-space something.)
Also in the Format Panel is a Layout tab, which has settings for organizing thoughts in tabs, columns, indents, and borders. In the More tab, you’ll find pagination options, whether you want to start all paragraphs on a new page or prevent widows and orphans. You can, of course, set a paragraph’s style to something permanently.
Easier Printer Setup
Format Panel is just half of what you can use the new sidebar for. The other half is Setup, which helps you ready your document for printing. It’s nice to see that Apple is making this more present than before. Rather than opening another window to change the page’s appearance, you can do it while looking at the document. Altering anything does so in real time, so you can see what the document will look like before you’re even finished. (To do this, zoom out using the drop-down menu in the top left of the screen.)
Better, But Slightly Confusing Sharing
Sending a project to a friend is a lot easier now that Apple has included share sheets in Pages. When you click the Share button in the toolbar, you’re presented with two options: Share Link via iCloud and Send a Copy. The first has a submenu that will allow you to send the link to people on Twitter or Facebook, via email or Messages, or copy the link and paste it where ever you’d like.
Send a Copy allows you to AirDrop or Message someone a Pages, PDF, Word, or ePub version of the document. You can even add a password to protect your work.
It’s important to note that only documents in iCloud can be shared. When you try to share a file from, say, Dropbox, you’ll be asked to move the document to iCloud. This can be confusing, and if you do store your documents in Dropbox, don’t elect to move them to iCloud, as it does move them. Unfortunately, things cannot be copied. If you want to do this, send it as a copy instead.
It’s common to help friends out with their school, or coworkers with a project you’re experienced with. The new Pages makes this much easier with true collaboration. It’s not quite at Google Docs level, with live cursors and all that, but it’s definitely getting there.
I was hoping to see a way of commenting in the iCloud Pages Web app, but there isn’t one. This means I can’t tell someone why I made a correction in one area or another, which is a serious constraint on collaboration. As I said before, there’s also no live cursor. This means you can’t see what someone is changing, even though the changes are implemented in real time.
My real complaint about collaboration, though, is that there’s no way to open a document in the Mac app. If you have Pages, the link should automatically open in the app (like iTunes and the App Store do), not in Safari. This makes things half-baked at the moment. I’d love to see some true integration for collaboration, but the initial feature set is not impressive.
Very User-Friendly Redesign
The best part about Pages 5 is its beautiful new design. All the buttons flow better with OS X and they have a fresh feel to them. It’s nice to see Apple slowly bringing a newer look to the desktop. Buttons aren’t quite flat, as someone familiar with iOS 7 might say, but more pleasant on the eyes than the previous ones. The same goes for the new icon, which is now much less like an actual pen and inkwell. The modern icon shows how much Apple has grown up since it Pages was first announced. From ink, a pen, and paper to just a pen and paper.
Fullscreen mode is finally bearable for editing thanks to the change of layout. Before, I always felt like I had to move my mouse to get something done. Also, more than half the screen seemed to go to waste with the older Pages. Now, like with the rest of the app, there are a lot less distractions. I enjoyed editing an essay in fullscreen, where before I would immediately exit it for something less constrained.
A Much-Needed Update
Pages really did need a “stunning” redesign, as Apple deems it. If you’re coming from an iPad, this app will make a lot more sense. It doesn’t feel nearly as desktop-centered as it used to be. Still, it’s unfortunate that Apple decided to leave out half of the collaboration experience. Everything must be done in the browser, and features like realtime editing aren’t available. There are other small quibbles like the lack of RTF support, which, to no one’s surprise, most of the reviews in the App Store are complaining about.
Despite the things it doesn’t have at the moment, this update should restore the average user’s faith in Apple’s development of its word processor. If you buy a new Mac, you get it for free. If you already own it, the update is free. You need Mavericks, but we’ve found it to speed up your machine. There’s not much to lose, really. It’s yet another great tool to have with your computer, and it’s far easier to use than Microsoft Word — you don’t have to go through a few online courses just to get started. Pages 5 is a fresh start for Apple’s main iWork app, and I genuinely enjoy using it.
Apple takes its paid word processor further into the cloud with its latest update. The redesign is the best part, but the new collaboration feature still needs some work. Overall, it's much more streamlined than Word for significantly less.8