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17 Things You Might Not Know You Could Do with iWork

by Giles Turnbull
04/12/2005

Editor's note: If you've installed iWork on your hard drive but haven't had a chance to really dig into it yet, maybe this article will inspire you to do so. Giles Turnbull takes you on a romp through this production suite showing you lots of fun and useful things you can do with it. I'd say this article is a tad more "iPlay" than "iWork." Either way, fire up Pages and Keynote and see what happens.

Pages Is iMovie for Paper

When Steve Jobs announced iWork, one of my first reactions on seeing Pages' features, and the initial screenshots that appeared on the Web, was that it was essentially iMovie for paper. Spending some time in Pages has only served to reinforce that opinion; as iMovie did before, Pages takes a task previously locked up in expensive, expert-level software (Quark, InDesign), and opens it up to the rest of us.

Pages works fine as a word processor, but everything about it is designed with your printer in mind. The idea is to help you create beautiful printed documents, just as iMovie is geared towards beautiful movie files, and iDVD, beautiful TV presentations.

Sure, Pages offers nothing like the detail and feature set you'll find in Quark or InDesign, but it offers enough to satisfy the needs of a huge number of people, both consumer and professional.

Keep an Eye on Your Output

All serious writers need to keep track of how many words they are producing. When your text is going to be slotted into a space in someone else's publication, and they've asked you for 2,000 words, you're only going to annoy them by getting carried away and filing 2,500.

One of Microsoft Word's strengths is the live word count that appears at the bottom of every window. "Live" is the important bit of that sentence; when you're writing to a precise requirement, it helps to know exactly how much more you need to do before you finish.

It's a pity that something similar has not been built into Pages, but you can use the Inspector panel to provide a live word count as you type. The statistics in the panel will update in real time, so the next hundred words are easy to create.

Watching your words in the Inspector panel Watching your words in the Inspector panel

Create Simple Web Pages

Pages isn't designed to be a web editor, but if the need arises, you can use it to make decent web documents with minimum effort, thanks to the File -> Export command. This won't work terribly well if you're trying to export one of Pages' more extravagant pre-designed templates, but remember they were designed for use as printed documents, not online ones.

A simple Pages document exported to HTML A simple Pages document exported to HTML
And here's what the raw HTML output looks like. And here's what the raw HTML output looks like

It will work OK, however, if you've created a new blank document in Pages and have few images, or none at all. The HTML it spits out is by no means the most efficient you've ever seen, but if you have a copy of BBEdit at hand, you can use its built-in HTML Tidy command to turn it into something neater.

Browse PDF Files in the Media Inspector

This is an inelegant and inefficient hack, crying out for a better solution. But until that better solution turns up, here's a way of browsing through PDF files in the Media Inspector, first mentioned in a tip on Mac OS X Hints.

First, grab your chosen PDFs, or better still, make copies of them. Put these copies in your top-level /Movies directory, and then (this is the really dumb part) change their extensions from .pdf to .mov.

Now open up the Media Inspector, select Movies from the pop-up control, and your PDFs appear as neat little thumbnails. After that, it's a skip and a drag to get them into your document. Yup, it's not exactly the neatest way of doing it, but it works. Incidentally, someone made a comment on the original Mac OS X Hints post about simply dragging PDFs into the Media Inspector to get them to show up, but I was unable to replicate this.

For the effort it takes to make this work, you might as well just open up a bunch of PDFs in Preview, and drag the document icon of the one you want straight into your Pages document. This is also far from elegant, but it's probably quicker, involves no file extension munging, and it achieves the desired result just as well.

The Inspector allows you to adjust how your Table of Contents will be calculated The Inspector allows you to adjust how your Table of Contents will be calculated

Let Pages Create a Table of Contents for You

This is worth mentioning because it's the kind of feature you don't normally find in low-cost applications like this.

Pages encourages the use of stylesheets. Instead of marking each individual heading with the font type, size, and alignment you want it to have, instead assign those details to the Heading element of a stylesheet. After that, just write your headings, highlight them, and choose Heading from the Style toolbar control.

This does more than just help you with formatting. It adds semantic data to the document, helping the computer understand what parts of it are body text and what parts are headings. The same applies for other bits of documents; sub-headings, bullet lists, captions, and so on.

The upshot of this is that when you've finished your masterpiece (novel, thesis, article for MacDevCenter.com), all you need do is click Insert -> Table of Contents and everything's done for you.

In the Inspector, under Document, the middle tab is titled TOC. This is where you'll find some rudimentary controls for adjusting what parts of the document (based on the stylesheet) are used as Table of Contents items.

Create Linked Text Boxes

Other than normal body text, you can create boxes of text that can be treated like other objects--dragged around, given certain styles, be wrapped by other text elements.

That's quite standard, but Pages text boxes go one step further by being linkable; again, this is another feature you used to find in expensive, feature-laden layout applications, and is now made cheap and very easy in Pages.

To create a text box, just select Insert -> Text from the menu bar and start typing. Use the Inspector to change the look of the box, add borders and shadows, and wrapping settings. Then drag your box to wherever you want it. Keep typing to the end of the box, and a little "+" sign appears. Click this, and a new box is created just below the first. The text from the first box will flow into this one, no matter where you place each of them in the document.

Using linked text boxes Using linked text boxes

Having created a style for the first box, you can apply it to other boxes easily. Select the box, then choose Format -> Copy Graphic Style from the menu (or hit Option-Command-C). You can paste this style to as many boxes as you like.

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Make a Photo Collage

Pages uses the same alignment guides that you may have seen before in Keynote. When you drag an object into any Pages document, the guides appear to show you what's lining up with what. Add to this the clean, fast method used for scaling images, and you have an excellent tool for creating collages. The Media browser's integration with iPhoto comes in especially handy here.

Putting together a collage takes seconds Putting together a collage takes seconds

Ctrl-clicking on any object in your document brings up a context menu, with options for bringing that object forward or sending it back. This is a great way of messing around with a bunch of photos to get them looking their best as a collage. Don't forget you can also use Pages' Mask feature to create the effect of cropping an image, without having to go to the effort of opening it in an image editor.

Make a Chart--Fast

The troublesome thing about producing charts is going through all the fuss of entering data beforehand. While iWork does not (yet?) include a spreadsheet application, it is possible to create simple and nice-looking charts within Pages. If all you ever use Excel for is creating charts, this might well be a more attractive option, since it's faster and easier than fiddling with .xls files.

In your Pages document, just select Insert -> Chart from the menu bar. Instantly, a dummy chart is inserted and you can start messing about with it in the Chart Data Editor.

Editing a basic chart in Pages Editing a basic chart in Pages

As you'd expect, the Inspector offers all of the controls you'll need for customizing your chart. There's nothing terribly complex or advanced about the features offered here, but many users might find the simplicity attractive. If you're someone who tends to hesitate before opening Excel for simple tasks, you should certainly check this out.

A new feature in Keynote 2 lets you scale down your presentation to one of a bunch of pre-defined pixel sizes

Exploring Keynote

It's not really fair to say Keynote is iMovie for presentations. But it is a simpler, cheaper, easier to use application for building presentations and slideshows. It doesn't offer anything like the feature set of Microsoft PowerPoint, but it does have all the essentials. Just enough for most people.

Scale Things Down

When you're working on a presentation, you might need to export it into another format, or display it on something other than a computer or a projected computer display.

A new feature in Keynote 2 lets you scale down your presentation to one of a bunch of pre-defined pixel sizes.

By selecting the smallest default of 640 by 480, you open up all kinds of options, the most interesting being exporting the presentation for viewing on a TV screen--or an iPod photo. The guys at KeynotePro have an excellent tutorial explaining how to get your presentation into iDVD, which takes this tip several steps further.

Get Flashy

New in Keynote 2 is the ability to export your completed presentation as a Macromedia Flash (.swf) document for posting on the Web. What's cool about this is that it's so simple, just a two- or three-click process to get your finished Flash file. Hyperlinks work after the export, too, making this especially handy for online distribution.

When I tried this export, though, I saw some evidence of an annoying bug: spaces in text were removed, or replaced with other characters, in the Flash file. Other objects were fine, though, so this still might be of some use if you wanted to create a Flash photo demo for posting on a website. Hopefully this will get fixed in future updates.

Insert OmniGraffle Graphics

If you own OmniGraffle and have been looking for neat graphic items to put in your presentations, it's well worth dragging some of the OG widgets into a Keynote document. They look great.

OmniGraffle graphic elements work well in Keynote documents OmniGraffle graphic elements work well in Keynote documents
Lots of new options for building slides in Keynote 2 Lots of new options for building slides in Keynote 2

Better Builds, Tighter Transitions

Keynote 2 offers much more options for "building" slides, or controlling the way each one is pulled together on screen in front of the audience. If you want a chunk of text to fly in from one side, then a photo to fly in from the other side three seconds later, you can control it all in the Builds tab of the Inspector.

Create a Kiosk Presentation

New in Keynote 2 is the option (in the General tab of the Inspector) to make any Keynote file play automatically when opened and loop itself continuously. A nice simple slideshow for a kiosk-style computer.

What's more, the new Hyperlinks feature lets you turn any text or embedded object into a clickable link to another slide, Keynote file, or web page. You can now create an interactive display of products, artworks, photography, or anything else and set it up on a public-facing computer with only a mouse, or no peripherals at all, on show.

Odds and Ends

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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