I bought the new iWork ’08 suite last week, lured by the new spreadsheet program and the promise of enhanced Word-compatibility which might make it possible to do work from the office on my laptop without having to actually buy Microsoft Office for the Mac.

The compatibility seems okay but I forgot to investigate whether Pages works well with Equation Editor or MathType, which are essential for my work as a technical editor. It doesn’t, so I won’t be using it for office work after all.

Right now I’m trying out Pages for layout, which I usually do in InDesign. I’m laying out the announcement for the New Year’s Billy gathering. It’s pretty easy to use, and so far I haven’t encountered anything I want to do but can’t. It’s obvious at a glance that Pages has fewer capabilities than InDesign, but so far it looks like the ones that are missing are things I don’t use.

Many of the functions are easier and more intuitive to use than in InDesign. Dropping graphics onto a page and adjusting how text wraps or doesn’t wrap around them seems easier. Adjusting how an image in the text is sized and cropped is a bit easier and faster in Pages than in InDesign, and that’s something that comes up a lot because, unless you’re dealing with an image of a painting or an art photograph that should be shown complete or not at all, you want to be able to tweak the image to fill the space available — shaving a little off an edge of a snapshot, for example.

A feature called “Instant Alpha” allowed me to very quickly remove the white background from some graphics (so that the text would flow around the object rather than around the white rectangle containing the object); that’s possible in InDesign, too, but it takes more time; in Pages, it was just a matter of two mouse clicks. Nice.

This announcement is taking me about as long to lay out in Pages as it would in InDesign, but a lot of that time has been spent looking things up in the help file and just generally exploring where everything is. I think for fairly straightforward layout jobs, once I get to know the program, Pages will be faster.

I haven’t had time to look at Keynote and Numbers yet.

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