mac.column.ted: Pages vs. AppleWorks

mac.column.ted: Pages vs. AppleWorks

Originally posted Wednesday, February 9th

Ted Landau
February 2005

I am a long-time hard-core AppleWorks user. Yes, I use Microsoft Office when I have to (which is actually fairly often; it?s pretty much required for the books and magazine articles I write). But I retain a fondness for AppleWorks and use it whenever I can.

My relationship with AppleWorks goes way back ? to when it first arrived on the scene as ClarisWorks. I was a reviewer for MacUser ? and was given the assignment of comparing a bunch of ?integrated software? packages. The competition included ClarisWorks, Microsoft Works, BeagleWorks, GreatWorks (from Symantec), and a few other stragglers. ClarisWorks was clearly ahead of the rest of the pack, primarily on the strength of its ground-breaking approach to integrating its different modules. To use a spreadsheet within a word-processing document, for example, you could simply open a spreadsheet box on the text page. This was a trick that no other package could equal. Eventually the competition died off ? and no new contenders emerged. Microsoft Office, although really a collection of separate applications, is about the only comparable offering.

Unfortunately, AppleWorks has been more than showing its age in recent years. It feels very much like what it is: an Mac OS 9 program stuck in an Mac OS X universe. Its graphics lack the fine detail possible with Mac OS X. Its text often does not have the smooth look that Mac OS X can generate.

Enter Pages, Apple?s new word processing program included as part of iWork. My initial reaction to Pages was enthusiastic. At last, here was ?AppleWorks? truly updated for Mac OS X. My enthusiasm was tempered, however, by what I feared might get lost in the translation. Was Pages so focused on multimedia page layouts, as suggested by Apple?s emphasis on the application?s stunning collection of built-in templates, that it did not have the beef to act as a more mundane text word processor? And what about all the other elements of AppleWorks (drawing, painting, spreadsheet, database, presentations); how did they fit in to Pages? Or didn?t they fit in at all?

These were the questions I set about to answer when my copy of Pages arrived. Here is what I found.

Pages vs. AppleWorks: round by round

This is not a review of Pages as much as it is a comparison of Pages vs. AppleWorks. In particular, I am looking at whether current AppleWorks users will be satisfied with a switch to Pages (really, Pages and Keynote, as they come together as iWork).

Word processing. How well does Pages stand up to AppleWorks as a basic word processor? Very well indeed. In fact, as I went through a checklist of AppleWorks' features, virtually all of them were there in Pages. Where you had to go to find them was often different (and not always for the better in my view), but they were there. For example, Pages still supports AppleWorks-type outlining ? although it does not include the convenience of AppleWorks' Command-Shift-R and Command-Shift-L to indent and outdent. [I was in error here; Pages has similar shortcuts: Use Command-[ and Command-] to indent and outdent.]

Given Pages emphasis on multimedia layouts, I was a bit surprised that Pages doesn't really offer too many new features here. With either program, you can easily combine graphics and text, do multiple columns, and select various word wrap options. Pages adds a few new wrinkles, such as linked text boxes and a table of contents generator. But overall, they are quite similar. The differences are more in how they work than in what they do:

  • Graphics and text just look better in Pages, because it takes advantage of Mac OS X's Quartz and Unicode technologies; AppleWorks cannot match this. This is the main reason that the page layout templates in Pages appear to be created by an entirely different animal than AppleWorks.

  • Pages is aware of iLife applications, making it as easy as the proverbial pie to get photos from iPhoto or movies from iMovie into a Pages document. AppleWorks has none of this.

  • All of Pages functions work within a single module, accessed primarily through the different options in the Inspector window. In AppleWorks, each major function (such as word processing and drawing) has its own independent module, although you can also combine the functions into a single word-processing document.

Draw and Paint. Most of what you can do in AppleWorks' drawing module, you can do in Pages. Pages may be a bit less convenient in some cases, but it gets the job done. For example, you can rotate objects in Pages, but you do it via a rotate wheel located in the Metrics section of the Inspector window. In AppleWorks, you can free rotate an object directly. [Actually, you can rotate objects directly in Pages; hold down the Command key when clicking on an object's handle.] Pages is also missing a few AppleWorks' Draw features, most notably the ability to make irregularly shaped objects. But Pages adds some cool effects of its own, such as instant drop shadows with adjustments for angle, size and opacity. In general, Pages gives you a finer level of control over graphic settings than you get in AppleWorks.

Overall, if your use of graphics is mainly to include them as elements in a page layout, you'll likely find Pages to be a distinct improvement. On the other hand, if frequently do tasks such as making a floor plan of a house, you'll miss AppleWorks' modular approach, where you could open a separate draw-only document.

Pages has no equivalent to AppleWorks' Paint module for bitmapped graphics. For me, this is no big loss. I almost never use this module anyway. And for those who do want this capability, they likely want something more powerful (such as Painter). As it stands, the Paint module in AppleWorks is mainly a nostalgic reminder of the Mac's original MacPaint. Nice, but not very practical anymore.

Presentation. AppleWorks includes what can best be described as a rudimentary set of presentation tools. Keynote, included with Pages as part of iWork, runs circles around these tools. If presentations are your thing, you long ago gave up on AppleWorks for either Keynote or PowerPoint.

Spreadsheet. Pages does not include a spreadsheet module, but it gives you two partial substitutes:

  • Tables. Yes, Pages does tables. However, AppleWorks also includes a Tables feature in its word processing module, separate from its more math-oriented spreadsheets.

  • Charts. If your use of a spreadsheet is primarily limited to creating charts, Pages will fill the bill.

Of course, tables and charts only scratch the surface of what you can do with a more full-fledged spreadsheet, such as found in AppleWorks. Missing are all the formula functions. You can't make a Mortgage Loan calculator in Pages, to take a simple example. For me, the lack of a spreadsheet is the most sorely missed feature in Pages. I use AppleWorks' spreadsheet module quite often ? such as to create financial data analyses when I am doing my taxes and just about any time that I want to sum up columns and maintain a record of all the data. Sure, you can use Excel instead. But many potential iWork buyers will want it as an alternative to Office, not an adjunct to it. If you are like me, even if you move up to Pages, you'll still want to keep AppleWorks handy.

Database. AppleWorks includes a simple yet effective database module. It doesn't threaten FileMaker, especially not as a commercial tool. But it works fine for quick-and-dirty database tasks. I recently used it to create a custom database of the employees working with me on Doctor Mac Direct. It is also great for making labels. The learning curve for creating a database is steep enough that many users admittedly shy away from it. But databases remain a selling point for a significant number of AppleWorks users. Heck, even Microsoft Office doesn't compete well here (Excel has some database capabilities and Word can do labels, but AppleWorks is better).

Why'd Apple do it?

This all leads to the final often-asked questions about Pages ? and more generally about iWork: Why did Apple make these omissions? Most notably, why isn't there a spreadsheet and a database in iWork?

There are three popular theories circulating as answers:

  • Almost no one uses the spreadsheet and database modules of AppleWorks anyway; so there was little or no point in working to put them in iWork. This was the theory Apple seemed to be pushing at Macworld Expo. According to people I spoke with, Apple claimed to have data supporting this view. I am sure that the percentage of people using these modules is on the low side, but not so low as to be discounted altogether.

  • Apple intends to come out with these modules eventually. There just was not enough time to get them out this time around. Just as Pages followed the release of Keynote, we can expect further additions to iWork '06. This theory has a definite appeal. However, it remains just speculation at this point. Apple is certainly not publicly saying this. And no one outside of Apple, not even Think Secret, knows for sure what Apple will do next year.

  • Apple deliberately crippled iWork, especially by omitting a spreadsheet, so as not to make it too competitive with Office. Why? Because Apple was worried that Microsoft would drop support of Office ? as it did with Internet Explorer after Safari was released ? if iWork was too good. Or as Adobe did with Premiere after Final Cut Pro came out. There is still too much value in having Office on the Mac for Apple to risk losing it. Personally, I don't place much stock in this theory. First, the analogy to Microsoft dropping Explorer doesn't hold up well. Explorer was free. Office is a huge money maker for Microsoft. And even if iWork came with a basic spreadsheet, I doubt that Office sales would be significantly hurt. Even as a word processor, Word still offers significant features that neither AppleWorks nor Pages can match (starting with tracking and support for more complex styles). PowerPoint also has a few key features missing in Keynote (notably its superior Presenter Tools). And Excel is still the best spreadsheet money can buy. Plus, if Windows compatibility is important, Office retains a clear edge. Concern about Microsoft might have been on Apple's collective mind while developing iWork. But I doubt it was a decisive factor.

My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in a combination of the first two theories. Apple did first what most important to do. As for the rest, they will wait to see how much people clamor for what's missing. If they take a lot of flak for the current omissions, they'll respond. Otherwise, probably not. Let's face it, Apple won't devote the resources unless it anticipates making money as a result.

Bottom line

Apple continues to support Pages and AppleWorks. The day may come when AppleWorks no longer works in the latest versions of Mac OS X. But that day has not yet arrived. For now, you have a choice.

The main things you'll lose by entirely abandoning AppleWorks for Pages are: a spreadsheet (beyond charting), a database, a paint module, a few drawing features and an ability to work with different modules independently.

What you'll gain are superior page layout features, an updated user interface, integration with iLife applications, and an application written from the ground up to work in Mac OS X. If your page layout needs are not too demanding, you can be up and running in one tenth the time it would take to do similar tasks with Quark or InDesign. And Pages still functions well as a standard word processor.

Of course, if you already own AppleWorks, you can move up to Pages and still keep AppleWorks around for when you need it. You won't be able to fold your AppleWorks efforts into Pages as easily as you could switch and combine modules in AppleWorks alone. But otherwise, you'll be very happy.

If you don't own either program, and you only want to buy one, it comes down to an evaluation of your personal needs. You'll need to ask yourself questions such as: "What is more important: a spreadsheet or an ability to have my word processor work with iPhoto?" If the answers to such questions point towards Pages (and Apple is clearly banking on this being the case for many users), then Pages is what you have been waiting for. It's a great companion to iLife ? when you're done playing and need to do some serious iWork.

[Note: Bracketed italicized comments were added to the article after its initial publication.] This is the latest in a series of monthly mac.column.ted articles by Ted Landau. To see a list of previous columns, click here. To send comments regarding this column directly to Ted, click here. To get Ted's latest book, Mac OS X Help Line, click here.

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