Monday, July 07, 2014

Microsoft Word versus Apple Pages—A comparative review

Creative Commons
Occasionally, you have to hand it to the dark side. For years, over a decade, in fact, I’ve known and acknowledged that Microsoft Word is the best word processor.

I did not want to acknowledge that, though. I wanted there to be something better than the market leader and de facto standard. But my latest experience in publishing my latest book has only reinforced that conclusion.

I used OpenOffice's word processor and then Pages to write the book, which were fine when the goal was producing an e-book. I found Pages especially useful in that I could use it on both my desktop Macintosh and my iPad.

But when it came to formatting the book for print, well, using OpenOffice is downright aggravating, and Pages lacks some of the feature essential to producing a professional grade printed book.

My reaction to Pages

Pages is a light and easy to use application. It only costs $19.99 from the App store, and the iPad version is only ten bucks. On the other hand, Word for the Mac can only be had as part of the Microsoft Office, which costs $139 for the Home version, or $99 per year for the Web-based subscription.

One of Pages' productive feature is the way that it automatically saves your new files and updates in iCloud. This made it simple to switch between using my desktop computer in my office and my iPad while mobile. 

Pages’ user interface is characteristically clean and inviting on the desktop computer. The iPad version, though, features a shade of orange that I, personally, don’t like.

I reached the iPad version's limits quickly. It’s almost impossible to format paragraphs using the ruler at the top of the screen. I don’t know if my fingers are too thick and blunt or what, but the only way I could change the paragraph indents was to enlarge the view to at least 200 percent, and even then, it difficult to select the icons to move the margins.

Also, there doesn’t seem to be a Styles feature in the iPad version, where I can set the typeface, font size, paragraph spacing and other typographical features for blocks of text and headlines and change them with one command. This is standard in full featured word processors.

Finally, the major limitation on both the mobile and desktop versions of Pages is the lack of a facing pages feature. It just doesn’t seem to have entered the programmers’ minds.

What I need for print layout

Formatting an e-book is relatively simple compared to print output , because much of the format of the e-book is determined by the e-reader device. Sure, you can choose typeface and whether paragraphs are double-spaced or indented on the first line. But when you go to print, there are many aspects beyond those that you have to control.

When laying out a printed book, you have to consider the page spread—two facing pages, left and right. If you look at a professionally produced book, especially a textbook, you’ll see that the page layout elements are mirrors of each other. For example, if the page number (“folio” in old book layout parlance) is on top right corner of the right-hand page, it will be in the left corner of the left-hand (even-numbered, if you do it right) page.
The page spread. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Word has a simple means of allowing this: you just check “Different Odd & Even Pages” when formatting the Header or Footer.

Without this, you could put your page numbers in the centre of the header (top) or footer (bottom) of the page. But you cannot set your document to have the book title on the right hand pages and your name as the author on the left. There’s just no way to do that in Pages.

What I like about Word

Word offers everything you could ask for in a word processor: typing aids, a fully featured Styles menu, control over every aspect of not just wording, character style and page layouts, but also output to .pdf and e-pub format.

I can use Pages, but I have to use work-arounds. For instance, if I want to save the document in a format (like .doc) so that a non-Mac user can share it, I can’t just Save As a .doc. Instead, I have to Export a copy of the file. That means I now have two separate files, which leads to version control problems.

Just use the .doc version from then on, you say? Easy enough with Word, or most other programs. But the people at Apple have taken a bizarre approach. It will open the files with the .doc filename extension, but convert it on the spot to .pages format. Saving it in Word format requires saving it first as a .pages document, then Exporting it again to Word format. It’s not a big deal, but it is an extra step that gets annoying.
Workarounds. Image Creative Commons

Word is a big, expensive program with more features than any one person will ever use. But it does give me all the tools that I need for electronic and print publishing. For that reason, it will have to remain my word processing choice.


  1. One of the sad things: Before the most recent version of Pages, it HAD most of those features you're griping about (and others that I'm guessing you didn't notice were missing, because they're equally gripe-worthy). When it first updated to the new version, it even lost internal hyperlinking ability, and Numbers lost custom cell formats.

    I use Scrivener for formatting now, but when I have to choose between Pages and MS Word, MS Word tends to win, these days. Unfortunately. I miss the old Pages.

  2. I use Pages and have absolutely loved it UNTIL they did a major overhaul. The latest version of Pages is terrible. The cut out about 100 features, several of them best suited for writers. I actually went back to using the old version, 09. I like the easy conversion to epub, and the old version has facing pages and all the other tools needed to format a book.

    Thanks for the comparison!