After the big releases of OS X El Captain, iOS 9 and watchOS 2, Apple has been releasing smaller updates to its main applications, including Pages 5.6 for Mac
. The new version looks very much like the previous, but it adds some new features (such as Split Screen) to exploit the latest Macs and OS X, plus we're finding that it has restored its previous quick and snappy feel.
There is something peculiar about Split Screen: even Apple can't make it work smoothly. For instance, we tried using it to show two documents side by side. That worked fine and it was genuinely useful -- we truly can't account for why it's more useful than simply dragging two documents near to each other, but it is. Then we took one of the documents out of Split Screen, back to regular view, and for the life of us we could not find the other document.
If we opened up any other application, or any other Pages document, and popped that into Split Screen, we get the Exposé-like display of all apps and documents available to join it, but our document isn't there. It's actually been taken off into a separate Space, and choosing Pages from the Dock brought us back to it.
Split Screen is among the newest Mac features, and this update to Pages does focus on the future. As well as this multitasking, for example, if you have a new trackpad that can support Force Touch, then you can use it to click on and feel yourself manipulating images.
Yet it also has more of an eye to the past than it once did. Apple claims that Pages 5.6 is able to open documents from its ancient predecessors, Pages '08 and Pages '06. We weren't able to test this, because we no longer have documents from nine years ago, and we really don't want to see how bad our writing was then. Er, we mean that we weren't writing very complex and heavily-formatted documents, so we doubt we'd be really giving Pages 5.6 much of a test if we could dig out that text. Still, there are people who have worked hard to stay with the older versions of Pages just to avoid problems opening prior work, so in theory they're sorted now.
Not everybody is. There are also people who've either managed to stick with the older versions, or moved away from Pages entirely because Apple removed outlining. That's still not back, but we're decreasingly fussed about it, because we hadn't found the old outlining feature especially noteworthy. It was better than the one in Microsoft Word, which just somehow makes you feel like you're back in university slogging through academic references, but still it actually took us a time to notice that it had gone.
Strictly speaking, if you were Pages's parent, you would say that it does have outlining, because there is a Note-taking template available. It does let you jot down lines, it does let you indent them so you make headings and sub topics. It does also let you drag those around. Yet you can't collapse the rows to just see an overview, and the dragging is basic. The amount of detail you can fit into a note or outline line is rudimentary, too; you can't drag an audio file into it, for instance.
So you're never going to try the Note-taking template, and become a convert to outlining. The lack of a proper outliner is a strange omission, and makes us feel that Pages is still being cooked but, hand on heart, if Apple brought back outlining to Pages we'd now only use it out of a little curiosity. We're now glued to the separate OmniOutliner, which we maintain is noteworthy.
We're more concerned about the lack of indexing in Pages, but then we say that and we're off into philosophical musing about who needs or uses indexing any more. We do: we've written books where we were paid extra to provide an index, and it is vastly more intricate and delicate and difficult job than we appreciated when we signed the contract. Microsoft Word has a metric ton of tools for indexing, and still it's effectively a job best done by hand, so in theory Pages not bothering to have any of it at all shouldn't bother us. Maybe it's that Pages does have an automatic table of contents generator; it feels again as if Pages is still under construction with some bits working, and others waiting for attention.
All of which is a little vague and nebulous of us. If you list the features of Pages, then you come away thinking it is somewhere between adequate and excellent, but doesn't touch Microsoft Word. If you actually use Pages and Word, though, it's a much closer-run thing. Word tends to throw up every possible feature in the world and crack apart your documents while it does it. Pages tends to hide things away more, which frustrates many users who therefore believe it can't do something when, in fact, it can.
Software is personal, and as writers we'd say this is most urgently true with word processors. Let us give you a personal take: we have moved back to Pages since 5.6 came out. The key reason for that is not a feature, not an upgrade, but the peculiar thing that Pages feels faster.
For some reason that we have simply not managed to fathom, Pages on OS X and Pages on iOS have both felt very sluggish over the last 18 months. If it were just one machine or another, we'd suspect the device -- but we've had it everywhere. Usually, it's a persistent sensation of dragging your feet through water, but sometimes there has been a visible lag between our pressing the keys and writing appearing on the screen. Pages is more than good enough a word processor for just about everyone, but this was a key area and we've not had it since Pages 5.6 came out.
Pages 5.6 requires OS X 10.10.4 or later, and is available on the Mac App Store
. The price is complicated, though: in theory it's $20, but if you have a new Mac then it's free. It's the same with the iOS version, which is either $10 or free in the App Store
. Whichever price it is for you, if you want to write in Pages on both Mac and iOS, get the latest versions of both.
Who is Pages 5.6 for:
Unless you're writing extremely complex documents -- not as in timey-wimey science fiction plots, but ones that involve cross-references, merging documents together, creating indexes and linking out live to spreadsheet data -- then Pages handles just about everything.
Who is Pages 5.6 not for:
Academics who need indexing and cross-references aplenty.
-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher
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