2009: The Year iWork Gets Serious

January 25, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Apple released iWork 2009 at Macworld. Two days later, I had the installation CD sitting on my desk next to my computer. It was another day before I could install it (because I hadn’t upgraded to 10.5.6 yet and I wasn’t ready to reboot my computer for the update just yet. But iWork is installed now and I am ready to talk about it. Clearly I haven’t investigated all of the new features. But there are two additions that bear mentioning because they’re likely to be important to a lot of people.

Mail Merge

Pages 2008 supported mail merge, but only from Address Book data. Address Book is a good application, but I have yet to meet anyone that keeps all of their business contacts in Address Book. It’s just not an advanced CRM application – nor is it intended to be. Pages 2009 now supports using a Numbers document as the data source. That addition opens up a world of opportunity. Virtually every CRM application, including Infusion CRM which we use, allows for exporting data as a CSV file. It’s now a simple matter of loading the CSV file into Numbers and choosing the Numbers document as a data source in Pages.

Mail merge in Pages is a little awkward at first if you’re used to Microsoft Word. But its fairly easy once you learn where the buttons and menu options are located. The only drawback I initially saw was that Pages doesn’t visually distinguish the mail merge placeholders from the surrounding text. The placeholder will appear as the name given to that field in the Numbers document. Using every ounce of my creativity, I realized that adding extra characters to the field names in Numbers would solve the problem. In other words, use ##Name## as the column header instead of just Name.

For a long time I had been using Microsoft Word for many documents simply because it was annoying to have to switch to another application to handle the mail merge. Now that Pages has this important feature, it will open the door to potentially using Pages for much more than just lightweight desktop publishing (its current role in my everyday life).

Linked Numbers Documents

The previous version of Pages supported the embedding of a Numbers chart or spreadsheet. The problem was that embedding a Numbers chart or spreadsheet in this way would make a copy of it. So any changes to the original Numbers document would not be reflected in the Pages document. I admit that I wasn’t aware of the deficiency until Macworld this year. But as I am doing more and more advanced things with Pages, I expect that I would have stumbled across this little surprise sooner rather than later. Thankfully, iWork 2009 solves this by allowing Pages to link to the Numbers document rather than simply embedding a copy.

Other New Features

There are many other iWork features that have gotten quite a bit of press. Of those, iWork.com is probably the biggest one. The Apple Blog has a pretty good review of iWork.com.

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