For anyone who writes, Apple Computer's new iWork Pages program is a provocative software bellwether. I came into it wondering if I could...

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For anyone who writes, Apple Computer’s new iWork Pages program is a provocative software bellwether.

I came into it wondering if I could finally avoid having to use Microsoft Word on the Mac. I came away thinking the dawn of a longtime dream was nigh.
Because most correspondents, including my wife, send documents as Word e-mail attachments, I wanted Pages to be able to open a .doc file with a click and then give me the option of saving it (again with a single click) as a .doc when it came time to close it. Ideally, Pages would recognize the file as a Word document and automatically save it that way as well.

Not quite. I tried sending a column written in Word and saved in Pages to my editor, who could not open it. I tried another tweak, renaming the file with a “.doc” extension instead of “.pages,” the native Apple format. My editor could read all the text in a Wordbased application, but because formatting was lost, it opened as one long paragraph.

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To save a Pages document as a Word file requires selecting an “export” function and choosing the .doc extension. It ought to be simpler, but at least Pages offers a Word alternative. In the two weeks I’ve had Pages, I haven’t had to open Word once.

But Pages’ .doc capabilities soon receded in significance as I strolled around the software’s powerful but simple feature set. Pages does rudimentary word processing fine, although for complex formatting you’ll need a full-featured program like Word or Nisus Writer Express, a Macintosh third-party product.

But Pages is more a page compiler than word processor, and that’s where its allure lies.

Gradually the Web is changing the way we compose words for others to read. Eventually, I hope to see an “editable Web,” where posting text, photos, audio and video on a Web page becomes as simple and flexible as typing text on a word processor.

Click on a piece of text from my desktop or a Web page and drop it into a site, and it automatically reformats consistent with the site’s design. Pull in a table and the text wraps around it automatically. Slap in a photo. Insert an audio file. Mount a video.

You can do this today with powerful design software. But it’s a life and a half.

With Pages, I put it together in 10 minutes. I drew in text from a heavily formatted, 2,000-word Word document. I dropped in photos imported from my Windows PC. I built and inserted a table.

I grabbed an audio file from the Web and plugged it into the page. I inserted a song from my iTunes collection.

Pages not only handled all of this mishmash of content, it reformatted text to reflect original fonts and sizing, and wrapped text around the media elements. For the clincher, I dragged a 5-minute mountain-biking home video into the file and waited for the page to erupt in flames. Instead, the video played fine.

The step that’s missing from Pages is carrying the content to a Web site. Although the text and display formatting remain in place, the elements have to be entered by hand. That typically means reformatting as well.

My point is Pages is advancing the art of document composition to be Web-ready. Apple is building a unique software ecosystem for the Mac, and I can envision a .mac Web site seamlessly sucking in a Pages file like mine without having to reformat or mount multimedia files.

With Pages, we’re not at the point of the editable Web. But for the war-weary who recall the daunting days of PageMaker and Ventura Publisher, who suffered through hard-coded HTML editing and formatting and who still spend far too much time managing Web pages, Apple’s new program takes us a step closer to Web publishing “for the rest of us.”

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of “Gates.” He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.