- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

It’s a personal quirk, but I’ve long had a “thing” about word processors. They’ve fascinated me, new ones are intriguing, and old ones sometimes evoke fond memories. (Where have you gone, oh XyWrite?)

Apple Inc.’s iWork 09, announced this week about 18 months after the 2007 launch of the ‘08 version, keeps the single-user price at $79, but adds a ton of new features. Thanks to my idiosyncrasy, I attacked Pages ‘09 first. Doing things with words and documents still fascinates me most.

The program runs on Macintosh computers, and I can’t recall seeing anything that comes close to its ease of use on the Windows side of the aisle. Here with some initial impressions; more on the whole iWork suite, including ‘09 versions of Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote presentation program, will be forthcoming.

Pages might best be described as more than a basic-basic word processor, but less than a full-fledged publishing program. It’s in the middle, where many users might find themselves. This might not be the program to use when setting up a complex mail-merge document, one where the names and addresses change but the basic text remains the same. But it could work quite nicely for an at-home or small-business user who wants distinctive looking documents that are easy to create. That’s “easy,” as in one or two mouse clicks.

When starting Pages, you have the option of viewing a bunch of templates, including enough letterhead designs to satisfy most needs. Select the layout you like, and with a click you’ve got the letter (and some “dummy” text) on the screen, ready to be customized and used. The program draws your name, company name, address, phone number and e-mail from your personal “card” in Apple’s Address Book application, but you can edit these items if desired.

There are also templates for newsletters, business cards, envelopes of various sizes, and even such esoterica as lab reports, evaluations and a surf school brochure. The range isn’t limitless, but it is impressive. Many of the letterhead template designs are parts of “families,” where the letterhead, envelope, resume, business card and invoice templates are all alike. That can be particularly useful for a new entrepreneur.

These templates are particularly useful for folks, such as one gentleman of my acquaintance, who don’t want to concern themselves with a plethora of steps in creating a letterhead each time they want to, well, write a letter. The ease of use of Pages’ templates is also impressive: I could drag and drop a photo into one spot, then resize the “mask” to highlight the area of the photo I wanted to use. Changing or editing other items was also easy.

Pages seems to be designed for those with something of an artistic bent: The default toolbar includes tools for drawing text boxes and adding shapes and charts, as well as a “media” browser to let you pick photos and audio and video clips, the latter two not usually a staple of today’s print documents.

I’ve found one minor annoyance: To export a text file, a user must click on a “Share” menu as opposed to finding this option under the “File” menu, as is traditional with just about every other Mac word processor I’ve seen. Not a deal-breaker, but it took some adjustment. On the plus side, the “plain text” export seems flawless.

Overall, and with a relatively brief exposure, Pages is something to consider, especially since Apple is offering a 30-day free trial. I’ll have more later, but for now, Pages seems more than adequate for many users, especially those who don’t want to learn more complex programs such as Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac.