Pages for Mac review

There’s a brand new version of Pages for the Mac that’s free for many users. But it’s dividing fans down the middle.

Pages is the document processor from the suite-formerly-known-as-iWork - now a standalone app. Over a series of previous upgrades it became quite a beefy text editing and layout tool. It was never direct competition for Word, but still proved attractive to power users who appreciated its AppleScript capability.

The fifth version, released alongside OS X Mavericks, splits opinion. Like other apps once in the iWorks range, Pages has been rebuilt from stem to stern. The interface overhaul is comprehensive, bringing a look similar to Pages iOS sibling and iCloud integration to make editing between devices seamless. Read more Apple Software reviews.

Styles and layout formatting have been moved to a new Formatting Panel that you can pop out as you give your document its final polish.

In the process of simplification many dozens of features have gone AWOL. Some are fairly minor, like missing templates. Others are the kind of thing that get writers tearing at their own eyeballs in frustration, like the inability to export to Rich Text Format. The hardest core of users are disappointed by the removal of cripting features.

So, is this the terrific, cutting edge upgrade Apple says it is or the software disaster described by more cynical critics?

The truth, as always, lies somewhere between black and white. Like 2011’s controversial overhaul of Final Cut Pro X, Apple’s redesign of Pages is a reboot. It cleans the decks for new ways of doing things, for tablet to computer work flows and cloud based collaboration. For a moment, we’re going to imagine that we’re coming to this entirely fresh and consider the app as though it was version one.

Through neophyte eyes, Pages 5 is exactly what you’d expect from Apple in 2013. A cloud savvy document creation tool aimed at the design conscious, with ease of use in the foreground.

On first launch, the minimal interface displays a blank page (or one chosen from a template). There are few icons and much of the “feedback” you might expect from a word processing app isn’t turned on by default. Head to the “View” menu and you can bring back some of that furniture; Rulers, Page Thumbnails and, crucially for many, Word Count. Hover over the lozenge that pops up and you can see character and paragraph counts too.

Some of the functionality that critics inititally claimed was missing has actually just moved - over to the new Format Panel. Pop it open and its purpose changes depending on your selection, giving access to styling, layout and other options for text and media objects. The tab “More” actually gives you access to text and pagination toggles.

Pages still integrates with and includes functionality that it shares with former iLife stablemates iPhoto, Numbers and iMovie. You can still insert images, charts and movies from your machine or cloud. It’s a just few easy steps from boot up to creating media rich documents.

One of the biggest changes is one that Apple is rolling out across all former iWork apps; greater iCloud integration. Apple, clearly cognisant that apps are shifting from the desktop to the cloud, is beta testing free versions of its apps at www.icloud.com including Pages. Your documents are automatically saved to iCloud and you can share them directly from the web via iMessage, Facebook, Twitter or email.

A slew of new templates emphasise Pages visual capabilities - though some long term users have complained about the loss of their favourites.

Not only that, you can invite others to collaborate with you from Pages, via iCloud. At the moment, this feature has a little way to go. It has none of the real-time wonder that greets first time Google Docs collaborators as you see fellow editors crawl over a document making changes. But it does have an interface that looks very close to Pages on the desktop.

You can import Word documents into Pages too, which gives you a way to collaborate on an Office created document without delving too deep into that murky world.

Overall, the new Pages feels like a solid attempt to bridge the gaps between several platforms. It’s a desktop tool that also has to look and feel the same on tablet and in the cloud.

Pages 5 will be a challenge for some. Users who have invested much in the old workflow, who have hacked and automated frequent tasks will find that their way of doing things is no longer supported. And that will be quite a blow. Fortunately, for those upgrading (rather than installing fresh) the previous version isn’t wiped by Pages’ installer. You’ll find it in the iWork folder in Applications.

OUR VERDICT

Though only good in parts, we understand that Apple’s strategy with Pages is part of a longer game. Unlike most software developers, application design ties directly back into hardware and the changes being made are incrementally nudging us towards convergence. And for the price - £13.99 if you’ve never bought it before and free on new Macs - there really isn’t much in terms of competition.

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