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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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