To compare Microsoft Word to Pages ’08, we used each program to create the same four-page newsletter. We created a basic text layout in word-processing mode and then added a variety of paragraph styles and some design elements, including columns, callouts, drop caps and graphics. Finally, we switched to each program’s page-layout mode to create a more sophisticated, template-based version of the document.
Text entry, simple formatting We started by creating the basic newsletter layout: title text, with volume and issue numbers below that; a headline for the main article; body text for the article itself; and a page number in the footer. We used each program’s default styles for the initial formatting and then edited those styles to alter the document’s look. Both programs make all these initial steps simple.
In Word, you can create each element of the document in Word’s default paragraph style. To format those elements more distinctly, you then select the styles you want to use from the Style menu in the floating Formatting palette. We used Word’s new Document Elements tool to add page numbers to the document’s footers.
Because of Word’s style-formatting tools, modifying and creating styles is easier in Word than it is in Pages
It’s only slightly tougher to do all that in Pages. Again, use the default style to type your text, and then adjust your paragraph styles. However, you can’t assign paragraph styles from a floating palette in Pages. Instead, you have to open the Paragraph Styles drawer and choose the style you want from there. You could also assign a keyboard shortcut to each style and apply it with a couple of keystrokes.
Word’s styles editor makes it easy to go beyond the default styles: from the floating Formatting palette, we opened the Styles palette, clicked to the right of the field displaying the style of the current paragraph and chose to modify that style. Word then opened a window where we chose the text colour, font sizes, indents, bullets and other options. Once your edits are complete, every paragraph in your newsletter using that style will be updated.
Editing and updating styles isn’t as easy in Pages. We had to use the standard formatting tools to adjust existing paragraphs, and then open the Styles Drawer and choose to either create a new style or redefine the current style. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but Word’s way is much more intuitive and easier to use.
Word 2008 has one other advantage when it comes to quickly changing a document’s overall look: Document Themes. These are collections of paragraph styles that change fonts, paragraph formats, text colours and other document features with a single click of the button. Word ships with over 50 of these themes; you can also create your own, but, oddly enough, you have to use PowerPoint to do it. Pages really has nothing that compares.
Verdict: when it comes to basic text editing, Pages and Word are equals. But when it comes to editing and creating styles and quickly overhauling the look of your document, Word is better.
Advanced document elements With basic text and formatting in place, we then began adding more complex elements, such as sections, columns, drop caps, images, callouts and tables of contents.
While both programs easily handle sections and columns, they use a different vocabulary to do so. What Word refers to as a Continuous Section Break, Pages calls a Layout Break.
Adding a drop cap in Word was equally easy; it’s a simple matter of selecting a menu option. Pages doesn’t have a built-in drop-cap tool. Instead, you have to finagle your own drop cap by inserting a text box with a single character in it. This inelegant solution never really works; the spacing between our drop cap and the rest of the text was always a bit off.
The first time we ran into any limitations in Word was when we started to add floating objects – such as pictures and callout text around which text flows. For starters, its image-editing tools aren’t very good. More significantly, when we changed a column of text, the floating objects in it refused to stay in place. Instead they moved around as if tied to the text they were originally placed next to, destroying the layout. If you select all the text in a document and delete it or replace it with text from the Clipboard, floating objects within the original text disappeared, too. In other words, if you make any major changes to a document after inserting floating objects, you’ll probably need to completely re-create your layout.
Pages’ image-editing tools are much better than Word’s. You can change an image mask or add an alpha channel. And Pages treats floating objects much more intelligently – as separate and distinct from the text that surrounds them. When we edited text within columns containing floating objects, those objects stayed where they were. Select and delete text and the objects remain right where you put them.
We were disappointed with each program’s handling of tables of contents. While both use paragraph styles to gather information for a table of contents, neither would allow us to place the resulting table inside a text box; they insisted on putting the table on its own full page. To get the table of contents we wanted, we had to create it manually in a text box.
Verdict: When it comes to adding more complex formatting to basic word-processing documents, we give the nod to Pages.
Templates Our next step was to switch from word-processing mode to page-layout mode. Neither program allowed us to convert a word-processing document directly into a page-layout document, so we had to start over from scratch: we used a built-in template to create a page-layout document, then copied over the text we’d created when in word-processing mode.
Word and Pages each have a lot of templates, all of which you can modify and personalize to suit your own needs. But Pages offers a far more complete set and it makes customizing them easier.
Templates in both programs are designed with placeholders for text and images. While both allow you to drag and drop images onto placeholders, they handle placeholder text differently. When we dragged and dropped text onto a Pages placeholder, it replaced the template text with our dropped text. When we did the same thing in Word, the dropped text appeared in a new text box. In both cases, it’s far easier to copy text from the original document and then paste it into a text box in the new document.
If the text we pasted into a text box was too large for the box, both programs provided visual cues, so you know there is overflow, and both allow you to link text boxes so that the text would flow from one box or page to the next. In Word, each text box is colour coded and numbered in sequence to make it obvious where the text flows. If you hold the cursor over a text box, the other linked boxes popped into view. Pages also shows how text boxes are linked sequentially, but you have to click on a text box to see how it links to the next box.
The program then displays a thin blue line that started at the first text box and connected in sequence to the last.
Both programs let you rearrange the pages in your document by dragging and dropping them into a navigation drawer. When you move pages, the page numbers automatically update. If you already have linked text boxes in the document, neither of the programs reflowed the text in the proper sequence.
Verdict: When it came to more advanced word-processing chores, we again found Pages to be more capable than Word.
The final word Word may be the standard for business word-processing, but Apple’s Pages ’08 is a great alternative. If you’re constantly changing the way a text document looks, Word’s document themes offer a distinct advantage over Pages. For other types of documents, however, from basic word-processing to sophisticated page layouts, Pages is equal to or better than Word.