Review: Word 2008 vs. Pages '08 for the Mac

Is Apple's iWork a viable alternative to Microsoft Office?

Is Apple's iWork a viable alternative to Microsoft Office? To find out, we asked Jeffrey Battersby--our go-to expert on word processing programs--to use Word 2008 and Pages '08 to create the same project, progressing from the basics (text entry and formatting) to more-advanced features. Our questions: Which program is better at each stage of the job? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which jobs (and which users) require which tool? (And for our experts' take on alternatives to Office and iWork, see Word Processing Alternatives.)

To compare Microsoft Word to Pages '08, I used each program to create the same four-page newsletter. I created my basic text and layout in each program's word processing mode, and then added a variety of paragraph styles and some design elements, including columns, callouts, drop caps, and graphics. Finally, I switched to each program's page-layout mode to create a more sophisticated, template-based version of the same document.

Text entry, simple formatting

I started by creating the basic newsletter layout: title text, volume and issue numbers below that, a headline for my main article, body text for the article itself, and a page number in the page footer. I used each program's default styles for the initial formatting and then edited those styles to alter the document's look. Both programs make all these initial steps simple.

In Word, I created each element of the document in Word's default paragraph style. To format those elements more distinctly, I then selected the styles I wanted to use from the Style menu in the floating Formatting Palette. I used Word's new Document Elements tool to add page numbers to the document's footers.

It's only slightly tougher to do all that in Pages. Again, I used the default style and typed my text, and then adjusted my paragraph styles. But I couldn't assign paragraph styles from a floating palette in Pages. Instead, I had to open the Paragraph Styles drawer and choose the style I wanted from there. (I could also have assigned a keyboard shortcut to each style and applied it with a couple of keystrokes.)

Word's styles editor makes it easy to go beyond the default styles: From the floating Formatting Palette, I opened the Styles palette, clicked to the right of the field displaying the style of the current paragraph, and chose to modify that style. Word then opened a window where I quickly chose the text color, font sizes, indents, bullets, and other options. Once my edits were complete, every paragraph in my newsletter using that style updated to reflect the changes I'd made.Editing Styles: Because of Word's style-formatting tools, modifying and creating styles is easier in Word than it is in Pages.

Editing and updating styles isn't as easy in Pages. I had to use the standard formatting tools to adjust existing paragraphs, and then open the Styles Drawer and choose to either create a new style or redefine the current style. This isn't necessarily difficult, but Word's way is much more intuitive and easier to use.

Word 2008 has one other advantage when it comes to quickly changing a document's overall look: Document Themes. These are collections of paragraph styles that change fonts, paragraph formats, text colors, and other document features with a single click of the button. Word ships with over 50 of these themes; you can also create your own, but, oddly enough, you have to use PowerPoint to do it. Pages really has nothing that compares.

My verdict: When it comes to basic text editing, Pages and Word are perfect equals. But when it comes to editing and creating styles, and quickly overhauling the look of your document, Word is better.

Advanced document elements

With my basic text and formatting in place, I then began adding more-complex elements, such as sections, columns, drop caps, images, callouts, and tables of contents.

While both programs easily handle sections and columns, they use a somewhat different vocabulary to do so. For example, what Word refers to as a Continuous Section Break, Pages calls a Layout Break.

Adding a drop cap in Word was equally easy; it's a simple matter of selecting a menu option. Pages doesn't have a built-in drop-cap tool. Instead, I had to finagle my own drop cap by inserting a text box with a single character in it. This inelegant solution never really worked; the spacing between my drop cap and the rest of the text was always a bit off.

The first time I ran into any limitations in Word was when I started to add floating objects--such as pictures and callout text around which text flows. For starters, its image-editing tools aren't very good. More significantly, when I changed a column of text, the floating objects in it refused to stay in place. Instead they moved around as if tied to the text they were originally placed next to, destroying my layout. If I selected all the text in a document and deleted it or replaced it with text from the Clipboard, floating objects within the original text disappeared, too. In other words, if you make any major changes to a document after inserting floating objects, you'll probably need to completely re-create your layout.Moving Objects: Floating objects don't float in Word's word processing mode, so they wreak havoc on your layout if you make major paragraph-formatting changes.

Pages' image-editing tools are much better than Word's. You can, for example, change an image mask or add an alpha channel. And Pages treats floating objects much more intelligentlyas separate and distinct from the text that surrounds them. When I edited text within columns containing floating objects, those objects stayed where they were. Select and delete text and, again, the objects remain right where you put them.

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