Pages is a strange beast – it’s not just a word processor, or a page layout program, but its both. Its closest equivalent on Windows, depending on who you ask, is either Microsoft Word, or Publisher. Count us in (and perhaps you too) among the confused, but it doesn’t really matter, as Pages does both word processing and page layout equally well, and stands out as a great all-in-one program for print documents.

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180 templates to choose from

If there’s anything in this world that can get snail mail back in fashion again, it’s Pages. Using the excellent templates included (out of 180 available), we were awed by how easy it is to create documents that look like they took ages to design. Chances are you’ll be hitting Pages when there’s a need to work on something which will eventually make its way into a print queue.

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Word processing never looked so good

For word processing duties like letter and report writing, Pages works exactly the same as you would expect from a typical word processor. Tables, text boxes, page numbers, headers and footers – you name it. All essential features are easily accessible with just a few mouse clicks.

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Get to know the Inspector for quick access to formatting functions like background fills and character spacing.

New in Pages ’09 is the feted new feature of full-screen viewing, which keeps usual distractions like the web browser and email program out of sight. This consequently improves user’s concentration on the open document, which sits in the middle of a solid-colour background (you can choose any colour you want, black being the default).

Information like word count and page number are displayed along the bottom of the screen. Students will find this feature useful while writing papers.

Word 2008 has a full-screen mode as well, but it merely hides the toolbar. How is that a full-screen mode is beyond us, but we’ll mention it anyway.

A word processor isn’t worth its weight in bytes if it doesn’t work with files created using Microsoft Word. Fortunately, we had no such problem with Pages. The more common formats like the latest DOCX documents generated by Word 2007, and the trusty DOCs put out by Word 2003, open just fine in Pages. The only caveat is that some documents may not be fully reproducible in their intended layouts, which is within the limits of expectations.

It can’t be any easier going the other direction, exporting a Pages document to Word-compatible formats. Just specify saving a Word-compatible copy of the document while going through the file saving process. This would work well for simple documents, but for those with more complicated page layouts, the exported document may not translate the original layout perfectly. If there is no need to edit the exported document, saving to PDF is an excellent option – everything you see on screen is reproduced in its full glory and in perfect alignment.

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In any case, you’ll be warned.

For those who live and die by the more esoteric capabilities of Word, like macros (not totally missing in Pages, but you will need to know AppleScript), or vertical script for East Asian languages, Pages falls just short, and certainly isn’t capable (yet) of being a drop-in replacement for your current word processor. However, if your aim is to impress, there aren’t many alternatives.