Apple’s iWork suite is one of the most underestimated and underappreciated pieces of software that many Mac users may not even know they own. Standard equipment on many Macs and available for less than $80, iWork ’06 consists of two programs: Keynote 3 and Pages 2. Between the two of them they provide some of the most user-friendly tools most people will want for creating papers, proposals and school, academic or business presentations.
Keynote is presentation software, similar in some ways to Microsoft’s PowerPoint, if PowerPoint had taste and was used by production artists. Steve Jobs uses Keynote for his presentations, Rush Limbaugh has praised it and even Al Gore used it for the presentation shown in the 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” If you go to the opera, it is probably keynote you have seen on stage, and a lot of the better web slideshows you see on corporate sales sites are done in Keynote and then exported to PDF, Quicktime or as a Flash animation.
Pages fills the niche where a lot of people find themselves, working as more than a word processor but less than a full-blown page layout program such as Quark or Adobe’s InDesign. Pages is designed for the person who needs to produce professional-quality brochures, flyers, reports and newsletters but doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel each time they do so. Drawing heavily from technologies already built into Mac OS X, Pages not only produces quality documents but does so using documents, data, sound files and pictures you have already worked with in programs such as iTunes, iPhoto and the OS X Address Book.
When you first open up Pages or create a new document it presents you with a collection of templates, organized to try and address the sorts of documents most people or businesses are likely to need: flyers, newsletters, brochures and proposals. There is even one for the very formal structure of a screenplay! The difference is that these have been tastefully designed by professional designers and are made up of almost entirely modular content, making it trivial to substitute your own text and pictures for the content that is already there. Even those who have used design software before would be well-advised to spend fifteen or twenty minutes exploring two or three of these templates.
Because Pages is so modular, one can literally click on a picture to select it, choose the “Media” tool from the tool bar and substitute your own pictures from the iPhoto library or a particular album. Placing multimedia files such as MP3 audio or video from iMovie is as simple. Is an article in the right position but not your own text? Rather than retype or even copy-and-paste text, RTF word processor documents from Text Edit can simply be dragged and dropped into the Pages text box. For most users, this sort of substitution will probably be all the advanced technique they require, but for real designers there are tools one wouldn’t expect.
The “Objects” tool, for example, allows one to place shapes or text boxes, but one can also place tables or charts this way and Pages will automatically do basic math, effectively including a small spreadsheet which can be changed and will adjust itself in real-time to automatically update averages, totals and other calculations. Because OS X’s two-dimensional graphics are based on postscript, all objects and pictures placed contain alpha channels, and can be made transparent much as in InDesign. The savvy designer (or lazy business person) could even create one good brochure, newsletter or proposal and then save it as a template for the client to modify or to use oneself later. Modularity allows for time-saving shortcuts which really do save time.
One of the most useful features of Pages is its ability to create built-in “master” pages, as has been standard in professional layout programs for years. Similar in concept to Microsoft’s PowerPoint which allows one to choose from a dozen or so slide-styles with each new slide, such master pages are built in to many of the included templates. Select the “Club Newsletter” template and notice that besides the attractive front page which occurs, there are also built-in master pages for two-column layouts, three columns, full-page text, a color back page or a back-page mailer.
For mailers and letters, Pages includes a built-in “mail merge” function which allows you to substitute information from Mac OS X’s Address Book program, like a mailing label or embedded within body text. Whether your mass-mailings consist of a bi-weekly newsletter or a single Christmas letter, this feature alone may be worth learning. If you only do mail merges once or twice a year, the new “Comments” feature (familiar to users of Acrobat Professional) provides a simple way to track notes on how to do things or changes to be made later.
Pages can create beautiful, full-color layouts, but printing such loveliness can get expensive. Fortunately Pages includes the option to export documents in a variety of formats. For simple documents, these can be saved to Word format, but one can also export as web pages to HTML (including multimedia files such as movies or sound) or save complex print jobs to PDF. With so many folks downloading complex documents, the PDF option is a good one, and also sometimes the quickest and surest way for a small business person to forward a print job to the local copy center, since the fancier new machines can create multipage and double-sided output from PDF’s quite easily.
For anyone who has ever tried to do a brochure or complex document in Microsoft Word, Pages is very much worth a look, and any business person should take twenty or thirty minutes to browse through the Pages templates to get ideas for newsletters, brochures and flyers. The time and frustration you save may be your own.
Fort those who want a simple word processor, Pages can do this as well, with built-in paragraph styles and an automatic tool for generating a table of contents to whatever level of detail (as defined by heading numbers) you choose. Standard word-processing tools such as footnotes, headers and footers are built in, and writers who were fans of the long-term AppleWorks feature for creating Harvard-style outlines will be glad to see that here. Writers who have used programs such as Works and Word will be pleased to see the most-frequently-used tools in planning, drafting and formatting a typescript are ready for you in pages, and in ways both simpler and more intuitive than such previous programs. It is not FrameMaker or Nisus Writer, but it is more than adequate for creating manuscripts, monographs and dissertations. Frustrating to many will be the almost total absence of keyboard shortcuts for common tasks such as inserting footnotes, but there are shortcuts for such practical tasks as quickly zooming in or out for a better view. I haven’t had time to try it with large text documents (more than 100 pages) but assume the same rules that applied to Word and PageMaker apply here: Don’t experiment with large and complex documents but break your work into smaller chapters until you REALLY understand the program.
The help pages in Pages are also much improved from iWorks 05, and Apple has a brief, seven-minute video on its web site which covers many of the most useful gee-whiz features. For those who still read manuals, Pages comes with a 250-page manual in PDF format, an appreciable upgrade from the mini-manual that came in the box with iWork 05.
If you have half an hour or so to play, I encourage you to consider taking Pages for a spin.