My mother is not anti-Apple. She owns a Mac and an older iPad but has always been perfectly satisfied with her trusty copy of Microsoft Word.
"That's what everyone uses," she says.
She may want to think about switching.
The new version of Apple's Pages word-processing software - part of a trio of applications the company calls iWork that includes a spreadsheet program and a presentation manager - seems tailor-made for someone like her: It's simple to use, easy to learn and has sharing features that should finally put an end to her complaints about friends who are unable to open the documents she sends them.
There are plenty of people who will find that Pages does not meet their needs (more on that later). But Apple has rethought its approach to the most boring of computer applications - the word processor - with some impressive results. It particularly shines in three areas: appearance, compatibility and sharing.
To appreciate the improvements, it might be helpful to offer a comparison between Pages and Word.
Round 1: Appearance
Ever since text-based programs like Word Perfect gave way to the point-and-click variety, companies have crammed more and more buttons into their programs. The latest version of Word has a bevy of tiny icons for every function imaginable.
Pages takes a different approach, with just a handful of icons across the top and a contextual panel that slides out from the right. Editing text? Out pops the buttons for bold, font size and justification. Inserting a table? The panel switches to let you modify the rows and columns. Add a picture and you automatically get options for borders and shadows.
I compared Pages with a version of Office 365 on a Surface Pro tablet. Microsoft groups its icons in different tabs along the top, but they don't automatically appear when you need them as they do in Pages. And each tab has too many buttons, most of which are not intuitive. Longtime power users will figure it out, but I suspect that mum would be happier with the simpler interface.
The decision for appearance: Apple.
Round 2: Compatibility
The previous versions of Pages had a serious problem: Documents created on Pages for the Mac didn't open easily on Pages for the iPad. Even worse, the two didn't share anywhere near the same capabilities; they supported different headers, graphics, tables of contents and charts. A document created on the Mac looked different on the iPad, which also supported fewer fonts.
But the new version of Pages on a Mac is identical to Pages for the iPad or the iPhone. And the company now has a version of Pages that runs amazingly well in any modern Web browser, even on a Windows PC.
I opened it on the Surface Pro in Internet Explorer. Mum can start a letter on her Mac, edit it on her iPad and send it to dad's Windows XP PC for some final edits. (Dad is afraid of upgrading his system, but that's a topic for another column.)
In fairness, Microsoft is no slouch in this area.
The company has versions of Word for the Mac and the PC, although they look different. And a web-based version of Word, introduced recently as part of the company's Office 365 software, is a good, pared-down likeness of the desktop counterparts. The company supports minimal editing of documents on iPhone or Android phones, but it does not have a full version of Word for iPads or Android devices. For now, the company reserves that for Microsoft's own tablets, although it has announced that an iPad version is coming.
The decision for compatibility: Tie.
Round 3: Sharing
OK, let's say it. The reason most people don't switch from Word is that everyone else they know uses it. Sending a Pages document to a friend who doesn't have the program installed has been an exercise in futility and frustration that always leads to the same sentence: "I can't open that document you sent me."
The new version of Pages introduces an all-new sharing option, powered by Apple's iCloud service, that works remarkably well. Type in a person's email address, click send and that person receives a link to your document. When they click the link, the document opens in a web browser that looks like a fully functioning Pages application.
The decision for sharing: Apple.
But the Apple programs are not for everyone.
Pages seems like a bad choice for anyone who works in an office environment dominated by colleagues with Microsoft Word on their computers. Even though co-workers could open the Pages documents, they most likely won't want to, just because it's not their default. And going back and forth between formats is still a pain in the neck.
The new version of Pages may also frustrate people with highly specific needs. In trying to make the different versions of Pages identical, the company decided to remove many editing and formatting tools that had been in its previous Mac software.
And as with any software, there are still frustrations: Creating a document in the web-based Pages, which is technically still labelled a "beta" service, leaves the user wondering just how to give the new document a name. And sending a copy of a document, instead of a link, is more difficult than it should be.
Still, for many people who own a Mac and an iPad, Pages can now legitimately serve as their only word-processing software. They may even find they like it better than Word.
New York Times