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Apple dropped a minor bombshell delivering free new versions of OS X and iWorks. Although everyone knew a new operating system was coming, there was little warning of changes to the productivity apps and even less warning they would be free.

As someone who writes for a living, I was most interested to see the changes made to Pages.

Apple describes Pages as a “word processor and page layout app”. In marketing material there is an emphasis on Pages’ ability to create beautiful documents.

How does Pages fare as a tool for someone like me who earns their living from writing?

Looking good

It’s too soon to say for sure, but so far I like what I see.

Last month I wrote an overview of the Mac writing tools I’ve seen in my three months or so working with a MacBook Air. When I looked at Pages I wrote:

Pages is well overdue for an update, the ’09 is a dead giveaway. Four years ago it may have been ahead of its time, today it feels somewhat old-fashioned.

That’s no longer the case. Apple redesigned the software with a new flatter user interface that looks a lot like iOS 7.

That’s no accident because the big change to Pages is that the software delivers a similar whether you work on a Mac with OS X or on an iPad or iPhone with iOS. There’s a unified file format which means files created on one device travel quickly and smoothly to others. 

The glue holding these aspects together is iCloud. You can write a document on your Mac, edit it while on the move using an iPad, then give it a last read before sending it to a client while using your iPhone.

Better online collaboration

What’s more, people using  Apple devices can collaborate on documents in real-time Google Docs-style. I haven’t had a chance to test this, but it can be a powerful to0l for an editor working with a writer before sending something to a website or PDF.

Another change is there is now better document compatibility with Microsoft Word. That’s important because Word remains the most popular word processor. In the publishing business you can’t function without dealing with the format. I doubt things are much different in any other industry.

Pages can quickly switch to gloriously minimal user interface. It’s possible to hide everything so there’s nothing on screen other than your words. Completely distraction free.

And the competition?

The New York Times says Apple targets Microsoft Office with free apps. I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Apart from anything else, there are probably more than 100 active Microsoft Word users for every Pages user. Many big companies are unlikely to change their software policies in a hurry. Office is the standard, it delivers, companies aren’t going to jump ship just for the sake of shaving a few dollars off their software bill – especially if it means adding more dollar to their hardware bill.

On the other hand, I Apple’s move will wipe out just about every small software developer that produces writing tools for the Mac, iPad or iPhone. That might be less of a victory.