Apple Pages '09 review: Which is the best word processor program for Mac?

Apple Pages '09 - occasionally known as Pages version 4, and part of Apple's iWork '09 suite of office productivity software programs for the Mac - is a fully featured word-processing and page layout tool. But is it a better option than Microsoft Office for the Mac, or the myriad free alternatives such as Google Docs and OpenOffice?

In our updated review of Pages '09 we look at how well Pages '09 now compares to its rivals in 2013, and consider the best office software options for Mac users. 15th August 2013

The good news is that Apple Pages '09 sees a pleasing blend of entirely new features, enhancements and tweaks to existing features, and fixes to long-term annoyances in the Pages series. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. What's changed from Pages version 3 (which was part of Pages '08)?

For reviews of other products in Apple's iWork '09 range click one of these links:

Macworld's iWork 09: Keynote review

Macworld's iWork 09: Numbers review

Pages '09 review: Full screen mode

Let's start with the simplest new features of Pages '09: full screen mode. Go to View > Enter Full Screen (or hit the Full Screen button in the toolbar, or hit Shift + Apple + F) and everything but your document will drop out:

Pages 09 review

Certain toolbars appear when you move the cursor over them, such as the top toolbar pictured here, but while you're working on the document itself everything else disappears.

It's also possible to view documents two pages at a time, which is handy in full-screen mode.

Pages 09 review

[Related: Microsoft announces Office Mobile for iPhone | Microsoft Office for Mac 2014 release date, rumours and leaked images]

Pages '09 review: Mail merge

One of the biggest steps forward from Pages '08 to Pages '09 is improvements to Mail Merge: the handy tool that allows you to import data from an email address book or similar when creating a large number of mostly identical documents. Pages '09 adds the ability to import data from a Numbers spreadsheet (or an Excel spreadsheet opened in Numbers).

Let's say, for example, you've got a spreadsheet of names and addresses of clients, and wish to send letters to them all. You would then create a single letter template, insert merge fields into that for name, job title, company and so on, and run a mail merge. Provided these details are present in the Numbers document, Pages would happily create however many documents were needed, each differing only in the required particulars. It's a powerful function and far more versatile than in the previous version of Pages, where you could only import data from Address Book.

Pages 09 review

Pages 09 review

Pages 09 review

This isn't always the simplest of operations, however: for one thing, the menu of possible merge fields varies depending on which data source you're using, but doesn't necessarily update as soon as the source does - we added a field to the Number document and saved, but the Pages document didn't offer this as a merge field option until we went back into the Merge pane and reselected the Numbers document as a source.

As Jeffery Battersby observed when we originally reviewed this program, too, there's no preview for Mail Merge - potentially irritating, since the source document could well have several hundred entries and the merge can therefore take a few minutes.

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Pages '09 review: Chart attack

Pages has always had nice-looking charts, and Pages '09 is no exception. The angled, 3D graph will be familiar from the obligatory 'business' segment of Apple's iPad adverts, but it's a neat effect nonetheless. You can easily adjust the angle in the vertical or horizontal plane, and there's a good range of colour schemes, textures and decorative flourishes to jazz up dull reports.

As with mail merge, the data for your charts can be imported from Numbers. You can paste the data from a spreadsheet (Excel would work as well) into the spreadsheet-esque data editor window for your chart, but a neater option is to create a chart in Numbers and then paste that into your document. In this version of Pages that option has the added attraction of being able to sync the two documents: if you've updated or added to the Numbers document you can hit the sync button in Pages and bring that one up to date.

The nifty 3D effects mentioned earlier can be applied to charts you've pulled across from Numbers, too, without the formatting you apply syncing back to Numbers.

Pages 09 review

Pages '09 review: Additional tweaks and new features

What else? Apple now allows you to Save As a Microsoft Word document from Pages, instead of having to export in that format, which is a small but appreciated convenience. There's a live word count displayed at all times. There are greatly expanded features aimed at academic users: Pages '09 is integrated with MathType and EndNote X2, which enables you to insert citations and complex equations if you've bought these (costly) programs.

And there are new templates to enjoy - the range is now substantial, and live up to Apple's usual standards of simple elegance.

Pages '09 review: Apple Pages vs Microsoft Word (and other alternatives)

Which is the best office software for Mac: Microsoft Word for Mac, Apple's Pages, Google Docs, OpenOffice or another free alternative?

Well… that depends. For one thing you need to consider what your friends and colleagues use most often, because sharing documents for collaboration is a lot easier if you're all on the same platform. Pages, of course, has the appeal of iCloud, which means you can easily sync the documents you've created on your iPad on to your Mac. Those who use their iPad to create documents on the go will naturally veer towards Pages on their Mac.

What about cost? Microsoft Word for Mac isn't a cheap option - the full Office for Mac 2011 set, which admittedly also includes Powerpoint and Excel, will cost you almost £100, whereas Pages can be bought alone for £13.99 and the entire iWork '09 suite is available for under £50. But there are free alternatives.

Google Docs is a solid option; it doesn't have the visual appeal of Pages or the full feature set of Office, but it's terrific if your acquaintances are also Google-based. OpenOffice is widely liked, too; as with Google Docs it falls somewhere between iWork and Office, lacking the simplicity of Apple's suite and the power of Microsoft's, but it's free so you may as well give it a try.

Buy Pages '09 now

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See also:

How to speed up a Mac hard disk

How to get more space on your Mac

How to recover your Mac from a back up

How to get Microsoft Office Mobile on your iPhone

Microsoft offers some details on future of Office for Mac and iOS

Microsoft Office 365 preview

Microsoft gives Mac users cold shoulder with Office 365 deals

Analysis: What Office 365 has to offer the Mac and iOS

OUR VERDICT

iCloud syncing may be Pages' trump card in a crowded market for word-processor software, offering effortless updating between your Mac and iOS devices. Otherwise, this is a distinct and genuine rival to Microsoft Office for Mac, offering a less comprehensive feature set but considerable simplicity and visual appeal. It's also a lot cheaper than Word, although if price is your top priority it's worth giving Google Docs and OpenOffice a try. There are some good upgrades here: charts are easier to work with now, and mail merge has been enhanced with its ability to use Numbers as a data source.

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