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Three To Tango

Biswajit.HD

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Usually regarded as a cheaper and less capable alternative to Microsoft Office, iWork users were always at a disadvantage due to the relative roughness of the applications, and the lack of a spreadsheet application. While this new release addresses one of those problems, iWork has a number of shortcomings that mean it is still not in any position to take on Microsoft Office for serious office work.

The new suite is clearly targeted at users who don’t need a huge number of options while creating documents. These applications are perfectly suited to home users, school and college students, and those who need to make the occasional presentation or report at work. The emphasis is strongly on the finished product; with features that add a polished sheen to all your work.

One potential shortcoming is still the lack of a dedicated, powerful Outlook equivalent. While OS X ships with the perfectly capable Mail, iCal and Address Book, there still isn’t an all-in-one personal information management program that can help you arrange meetings, track workflow and plan out your business day. Even Microsoft Office for Macs ships with Entourage.

Nevertheless, it’s gratifying to see the amount of work that’s gone into iWork ‘08, and the number of changes and upgrades that the applications now incorporate. Who knows what else Apple will decide to include in future iterations of the suite?
Overall, we’re quite impressed with iWork ‘08. There might still be times when we’ll feel the need to fire up an Office application for some specific task, but until we review Office 2008, that situation probably won’t come up very often. At just $79 (approximately Rs 3,150), you get tremendous value for your money. Very soon, Microsoft’s going to have a serious contender on their hands.

Pages

Perhaps the most drastically overhauled of the bunch, Pages comes across as a program with a distinct split personality. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s a word processor or a page layout application, so it makes you choose what you want it to be every time you fire it up. When you try to open a blank document, Pages will ask you to choose one of the two modes, and presents you with a number of templates in both categories. Selecting a template will open Pages in the applicable mode.


Word processing mode is what you’re most probably more used to. Just like any other program you start typing, and format your text, insert images and tweak things around as you see fit. Pages 2008 feels familiar enough, though users of Microsoft Word under Windows will need to get used to plenty of quirks.
Page layout mode, on the other hand, will take a while to get used to if you’ve never used Adobe Indesign or QuarkXpress. Rather than just clicking and typing (which is what you’d expect to do in a word processor,) you have to create text boxes for individual elements on your page. You can drag them around to create headlines, paragraphs and captions; you can place images and have your text wrap around them; and you can format it all for professional printing.

Using a single application, though in separate modes, for word processing and page layout makes sense considering that many functions of the two types of programs overlap. However it also leads to a certain amount of confusion, since you can work only in one mode per document. Unfortunately, Pages is only an average layout application with nowhere near the flexibility of dedicated page layout packages.
New in the 2008 version is change tracking (long overdue), which functions in almost exactly the same way as it does in MS Word. A thin toolbar appears, allowing you to turn tracking on or off, jump between edits, and accept or reject them. Comments and notifications appear in a column on the left, but you can also switch to Markup View, which shows the changes inline.

Also new is a Format toolbar that changes contextually depending on the element selected. Text brings up font control options, while a table will bring up data sorting and ordering tools (somewhat similar to the Office 2007 Ribbon). In addition, a tabbed Inspector window can be set to float alongside your document, with all the detailed formatting and setup options you could need. Whether it’s a simple font adjustment, paragraph spacing, or controlling the behaviour of embedded multimedia elements, the Inspector holds all the options you’ll need.

Minor tweaks include a grammar and style checker that can proofread your document and suggest changes based on contextual word usage (though it will work perfectly only under OS X 10.5 when it is released) and a revamped set of document templates in dozens of categories.

Keynote

Fans of Steve Jobs who follow the speeches he makes while launching new products will be more than familiar with Keynote. It’s the program he uses to run the slideshow that’s always in the background to emphasize the points he makes, and to show off giant graphs or images of all the cool new stuff.

Keynote incorporates the same contextual Format toolbar and the tabbed Inspector as Pages does, as well as a new image manipulation tool called Instant Alpha which can isolate a subject from its background.
Keynote’s graphics seem more elegant and refined than the usual PowerPoint fare we’ve all been subjected to at some point in our lives. You’ll find a lot of rounded corners and glossy icons. You can manipulate photos, add shadows and reflections or crop them till you’re satisfied with what you see.

The 2008 version adds a few more options you can use to impress your audience, including a voiceover recorder and slick new animation and text effects. But the most interesting addition has got to be what Apple calls Smart Builds. This somewhat unintuitively-named feature allows you to turn a set of images into a spinning cube, have them dissolve into each other, or even spin around just like the icons in the FrontRow media interface. It’s just a simple drag-and-drop process.

Similarly, A-to-B Animation lets you move, scale, rotate and adjust the opacity of any on-screen object. You can create a simple path for objects to move on, (a simplified version of shape and motion tweening in applications such as Flash).

Combine these effects to add an impressive visual edge to your slides. Together, they eliminate the need to set up complex multi-slide transitions that require either precise timing or manual control. You can even record a separate narration for these effects, with pauses before each stage is triggered.
And finally, when you’re done creating your presentation, you can export it directly to YouTube, turn it into an iPod-compatible video file, or even an Adobe Flash animation.

Numbers

It’s safe to say that Numbers isn’t like any spreadsheet application you’ve ever used before. An all- new addition to the iWork suite, Numbers rounds out the set of office productivity applications with a unique take on data presentation.

While you can still use Numbers to type data into a single large grid, the beauty of the program is revealed when you use one of the templates, or create a blank document in the Interactive Print View. Imagine your workspace as a blank canvas, on which you can position any number of tables, photos, graphs, text elements and graphics. It’s a bit of a challenge to get used to the idea, and this approach has its ups and downs.

You can position individual elements as you like, if that makes workflow easier for you, but the main advantage is that you can arrange the elements so that they print exactly the way you imagine them. Elements can simply be dragged and dropped, with ruler guides popping up to help you align everything perfectly. Calculations and cross-references of course will stay intact. The concept works well, but seems aimed more towards generating jazzy school projects than corporate financial analysis sheets.
Each table can reference cells in any other table, and this is made even easier because you can type names for row and column headers and footers, and use those as references rather than an obscure combination such as $AF$148.

The main interface also has a column down the left that lists a number of quick styles that you can apply to your tables. In the lower left corner you’ll find the sum, average, minimum/maximum values and numerical count for any selected range of cells. Dragging one of these indicators onto footer cell in a table will automatically apply the respective formula to that cell. Now, when you add or delete rows to your tables, the new value will be displayed. What’s more, each time you select a cell with a numerical value, a little slider appears under it, allowing you to change the value just by dragging the mouse. You can use this to check the results of calculations when one variable changes.

You can even add rows to a table by dragging a corner and stretching it as much as you need. If a single column in a table is likely to spill over to another page while printing, Numbers can scale them to fit on a single page.

Excel power-users will find that Numbers lacks a large number of the analysis tools and any kind of support for pivot tables or macros. However this is only the first version of what will undoubtedly blossom into a much more powerful tool in the future. We look forward to evaluating version 2.

SHARING AND INTEROPERABILITY

One of the great things about the three programs that make up iWork ‘08 is the fact that they are interoperable with Microsoft Office 2007. This means that the iWork applications are actually the first and only programs cabale of opening Office 2007 documents on a Mac!
With Office 2008 for OS X delayed till early next year (the last version to be released for the Mac was Office 2004), this news will be welcome those who need to multitask between the two platforms. The conversion process isn’t always perfect, especially in documents that rely heavily on macros or features such as Track Changes.
Text formatting in Word 2007 documents remains largely intact in Pages, as do embedded images, charts, footnotes, and numbered lists.
Numbers can’t handle Microsoft Excel PivotTables or Visual Basic scripts, but all data is readable. Beware though, some of your extremely complex forumlae and calculations might or might not survive the transition.
Keynote can open PowerPoint files, but don’t assume all your transitions will make it through unscathed.
Of course there are loads of other options for sharing your files. All three applications can save to Microsoft Office formats for easy accessibility, or even export to PDF files so you can share them with friends or clients.
And just in case you were wondering, users of the erstwhile AppleWorks who have large collections of files in old formats are in good hands as well.

Source : Chip magazine
 
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