Pages 08 and Word Compatibility: First Look

One of the oft-asked questions is if Pages 08 is a true Word replacement. The answer is not as obvious as you might think.

It is obvious if you work in a heavy MS Office environment where you exchange files with Word users on a daily basis. At the least, the need to export every Pages document to a .doc file is a hassle and leaves you with two copies: one in .pages format and one in .doc format. At the worse you end up dealing with inevitable file compatibility issues. In that case, sticking with Word is your only real choice.

Pages has gotten much better at reading Word files. During my test run I opened files from three document templates I use often: the manual style I use at my day job; the manual style I’m using for my tech writing class; and the manual style I’m using for a research paper. Here’s how they all fared.

Work File: This one is the most complicated file. There are graphics in the headers and footers, a Table of Contents, tables, and embedded Visio files–pretty much the worse case scenario. Pages 06 took one look at this file, cried for its mommy, and botched the job entirely. Pages 08 did much better. The header graphics came in fine but the footer graphics got cut off. The Visio drawings and the tables looked OK with some minor padding issues on the tables. The TOC didn’t come in well at all–it was too bold, too big and badly formatted. Verdict: Not bad. Most of the issues are minor. I wouldn’t want someone opening the file to collaborate with it, but just for reference reading none of the issues get in the way.

Tech Writing File: This was the second-most complicated file. It has a TOC, odd/even page numbering (where the page number is always on the “outside” of a page as this format is for a double-sided printed manual), call out boxes in the left-hand margin, and section breaks. Everything came in OK except for the page numbering format–that it insisted on putting on the right-hand side of the page. The section breaks, TOC and call out boxes all looked correct. Verdict: If the page numbering placement isn’t a deal-breaker, it came in perfect. I’d feel comfortable working on this in a collaborative environment.

The MLA-formatted Research Paper: Fairly basic document. Just double-spaced all the way through with some quotes indented. File came in perfect. Verdict: Simple file gave no problems. Zero issues in a collaborative environment. Pages also ships with a nice research paper template.

There was one common issue with all Word conversions: all styles were lost during the conversion. The text still looked right, but there were no corresponding Pages styles created.

Pages 08 does use Word-compatible commenting and track changes; it reads and writes them to Word with no problems. If you have occasional need to collaborate or exchange files with a Word user then Pages is a good low-cost solution, but I’d love for the ability to save as a Word compatible file, and save an opened Word file in its native format without needing to re-export the file. If Word compatibility is a daily issue you’ll want to stick with Word. In the past I recommended even college students get Word for ease of exchange. Now I’d recommend Pages for college students. It is possible to use biblio programs like EndNote with Pages, but you’ll need to jump through some formatting hoops–you can site references using the Services menu, but you’ll need to export the file as an RTF and run it through EndNote to do the formatting. I’ll cover how exactly to do this in another post. It’s also worth noting Pages opens files created in Office 2007 on the PC.

I’m undecided if I’m going to buy it. There’s no way I can fully escape Word’s shadow, but having a quick word processor I can load up and use when I don’t need the full weight of Word has value. There’s also no guarantee Word 2008 is going to open any faster than Word 04.

Edit:
I saw a report on the Apple discussion forums about Word files opened in Pages growing in length. This is something I can confirm. The research paper I opened in Pages was seven pages long in Word and is eight pages long in Pages. It looks like it added about 3-4″ of text length somehow. After doing some side-by-each testing, it looks like it’s because Pages line spacing is a point or so off from Word’s, causing a subtle creep in line spacing. This may also be an issue for folks.

Thoughts on the Jobsnote, August 7.

New iMacs: Look good and I like the form factor. Not sold on the keyboard, but I really like the MacBook keyboard so this may be a winner. Video card looks a little anemic.
iLife08: The Events feature looks great. If it also included Flickr uploading I’d stop by the Apple store on the way home.
iWork08: Glad to see Numbers, the spreadsheet, in there. While it handles track changes from Word I’m disappointed you need to import/export the Pages file from and to Word formats.