Tue, 27 Jan 2009 Pages '09 review
Valuable update makes Apple's iWork word processing program almost perfect
- Manufacturer: Apple
- Pros: Mail merge works with Numbers spreadsheets; excellent Numbers chart integration; handy Full Screen and Outline modes; seamless integration with popular third-party academic programs; warns you if you are going to overwrite a shared file that someone already saved changes to.
- Cons: No global update for embedded charts; can’t preview mail merge documents beforehand; some mail merge operations were not intuitive; no “shared file” warning if you open a document someone else is editing.
- Min specs: Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (500MHz or faster) processor; 512MB of RAM; 1GB recommended; Approximately 1.2GB of available disk space; 32MB of video memory; Mac OS X v10.4.11 or Mac OS X 10.5.6 or later; QuickTime 7.5.5 or later; DVD drive required to install.
- Price: £69
- Star rating:
The introduction of Pages ’09 marks the fourth release of iWork’s handy word processing and page layout application. Each new release of the program has featured major improvements to Pages’ word processing tools, capable page-layout features, and beautifully designed interface. Unfortunately, each previous release was also marred by missing or poorly implemented features or tools that didn’t quite live up to their potential.
I’m very happy to say that with Pages ’09 Apple has hit a sweet spot: it added necessary features, enhanced existing tools, fixed minor annoyances, and gave users exactly what they asked for, although there are still some minor issues Apple needs to address in order the make the program perfect.
Back to business and school
Pages’ past shortcomings have been mostly related to business, science, and academia. Pages’ mail merge features were abysmal, updating a Numbers () chart inserted into a Pages document was complex, and users working in scientific and academic settings found that creating footnotes, bibliographical reference listings, and sophisticated mathematical equations was difficult. Apple has addressed all of these issues in Pages ’09.
Pages now lets you to use a Numbers spreadsheet as the source database for a mail merge. The process is straightforward; you have to prep your spreadsheet before it’s ready for a merge. To test this, I used Numbers to open an existing Excel () spreadsheet with over 1,000 records.
To prep the spreadsheet, all you need to do is select the row you want to use for header data—name, address, and so forth. After that, a very small arrow appears next to the cell number. Clicking that arrow opens a menu from which you can select the Convert To Header Row option. Once you’ve done this, saving the spreadsheet makes it ready for Pages to use as merge data.
But this wasn’t obvious at first. In fact, when I initially attempted to select the Numbers spreadsheet as my merge source I got a cryptic error message about the header row that was not at all helpful. But once I managed to fix the header row, merging data in Pages worked as expected. I added fields from the spreadsheet to my document, including personal information stored in the Address Book such as my name, home address, and e-mail address, and the data merged with ease.
While I’m thrilled that users can now merge data from other sources to a Pages document, there are still elements of Pages’ merge feature I’d like to see changed, or at least enhanced. First, short of completing an entire merge, there is no way to preview the merge data in your document. I’d love for Pages to provide some means of previewing the data without first requiring you to merge the entire document.
Pages' new Full Screen mode lets you easily work with two pages of content at once, revealing menus and tools only as you need them.
Second, it would be easier if Pages could give you an option to use the first row of your spreadsheet as the header information. While creating header columns wasn’t a total hassle, the intermediary step was initially confusing, and I ended up having to figure out how to create a Numbers header column before I could even select the file as a data source.
Finally, there was a small bug when I attempted to merge an e-mail address from the spreadsheet. After the merge, not only did the e-mail address appear, but there was additional text—mailto:email@example.com—in front of the merged address. Apple acknowledged this bug and says that it will be corrected in a future update.
Charting is progress
One of my complaints about Pages ’08 was that it wasn’t possible to update a Numbers chart inserted into Pages documents when the chart data changed. This too has been fixed in Pages ’09.
You insert a Numbers chart into a Pages document by copying the chart from Numbers and pasting it into your Pages document. Clicking the embedded chart in Pages reveals a small black pointer containing a small sync button. Click the sync button and—if the chart data was changed and saved in Numbers—the chart in Pages will reflect the updated information. The pointer can also be expanded to reveal a hyperlink to the original Numbers spreadsheet and a button to completely unlink the chart data.
It’s now very easy to update changes to charts that you created in Numbers and embedded in Pages documents.
You can also make changes to the way charts appear in your document, giving them a 3-D look, for example, without affecting the original Numbers chart.
My only disappointment with the chart-linking feature is that there’s no way to globally update all the charts in a document at once. So if there are many embedded charts in your Pages document, that potentially means many clicks to update chart data.