Pages 2: As a word processor, it’s a major disappointment

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
February 3rd, 2006 • 4:28 pm

I am mostly interested in Pages (part of iWork) as a word processor, i.e. as a replacement for Microsoft Word. I have no use for it as a page layout tool. When I have to do page layout, it’s usually at a professional level, and I do it in InDesign.

As a word processor, Pages 1 was a pleasant surprise. Behind a clean interface, Apple had managed to include a great number of advanced features that made it a viable alternative to Microsoft Word as a word processor.

Still, there were a number of rather basic things that were missing in that first version, and I was really hoping that, after one year of user feedback, Pages 2, included in iWork ’06, would include substantial bug fixes and improvements.

Sadly, I have to report that, as a word processor, Pages 2 features almost no improvements of interest to me, and that most of the issues that I had with Pages 1 remain.

As a long-time user of Spell Catcher X, I have absolutely no use for yet another application-specific automatic completion/correction tool. I don’t need mail merge. And the availability of endnotes in addition to footnotes is just one of those things that should have been there from the start.

Meanwhile, most of the existing problems with Pages remain:

  1. The bug with font smoothing is still not fixed, as we’ve seen earlier.
  2. You still cannot assign keyboard shortcuts to styles. Since Pages’s Styles drawer cannot be accessed using Full Keyboard Access, the only way to apply styles is with the mouse! Given that, in a word processor, most of the time is spent entering text with the keyboard, this is highly unfortunate. It’s not like Apple has to include a complex keyboard customization feature either. All they have to do is ensure that paragraph, character, and list styles are available as menu commands in a submenu inside the “Format” menu in the menu bar. As long as styles are available as menu commands, you can assign application-specific keyboard shortcuts to them using Mac OS X’s built-in “Keyboard Shortcuts” feature in System Preferences. But in Pages, styles are not available as menu commands. They are only available through the drawer. No changes in Pages 2.
  3. The “Replace All” command in the “Find/Replace” window still ignores the current selection. This means that “Replace All” automatically applies to your entire document. It’s an unacceptable limitation. There are numerous situations where you want to do a find/replace operation that only applies to a section of the document.
  4. You still cannot use table cell borders thinner than 1 point. In Pages 1.0, you couldn’t go lower than “1 pt.” Now in Pages 2.0 you can go down to 0.25 pt, but instead of making the border thinner, it turns it into a 1-pt border in light grey! What the hell is that good for? Geez.
  5. You still cannot choose a zoom value by typing a specific percentage. I want to use 175% as my default zoom value. I cannot.

I could go on… I am afraid that, as a word processor, Pages 2.0 is not really worth the upgrade price. On top of it, it introduces a new file format and you have to use a special option if you want to save a copy of your Pages 2 document in a format that Pages 1 users will be able to read—even if your Pages 2 document does not use any of the new features that, presumably, justify the file format change.

It’s all quite disappointing. I am simply flabbergasted that Apple has not even fixed the font smoothing bug. After a whole year, they still haven’t read the bug reports and noticed that Pages fails to use the font smoothing style selected in “Appearance” in System Preferences? Unbelievable. The only rational explanation is that they somehow “forgot” to take the system’s font smoothing style into account when they first created the text rendering engine used in Pages, and now they would have to redo that text rendering engine itself in order to make it compatible, and they have just decided that it’s not worth the trouble. That doesn’t make it any less scandalous. First of all, how could they neglect to use the system’s font smoothing style in the first place? And now, how can they justify forcing users to cope with text in the wrong font smoothing style, especially given than most recent Macintosh computers use flat panel displays?

This is not about esthetics. It’s about on-screen readability and eye strain. It’s a fundamental issue when working with text!


8 Responses to “Pages 2: As a word processor, it’s a major disappointment”

  1. Warren Beck says:

    At least Pages 2 seems to handle option-space nonbreaking spaces without changing the font. You’ll recall how Pages 1 would change the font to Times New Roman (or some other font if TNR was absent from the system) when a nonbreaking space was input while using a Postscript font.

    I am amazed, however, that exact leading is still not provided. Further, the line-breaking routine is still hard to use in technical documents; there is no way (as far as I know) to input a non-breaking hyphen.

    I think that you are probably right about how the text engine is holding Pages back; some unorthodox choices were made in the Cocoa text-rendering library, and there is evidence that it has not improved.

    Until the Pages (and Keynote) team publishes the XML schema and encourages third-party add-ons, Pages will still be more or less restricted to casual use. Perhaps this is the cost of getting the MacBU at Microsoft to support Office on the Mac for five more years.

    Office is still the deal breaker for the whole platform; I recently observed a pair of older customers at CompUSA here in East Lansing asking the salesman if Office ran on the iMac G5 they were considering, and the statement was made that it was a deal breaker if it didn’t.

    One would think that a platform like Mac OS X would have after five or six years a really professional word processor (like Word Perfect or something like that) as an alternative to MS Word. It is sobering to think that the whole platform depends on the availability of MS Office.

  2. danridley says:

    Warren Beck: you can insert a non-breaking hyphen from the character palette (the non-breaking hyphen has its own Unicode entity, and virtually all Cocoa apps will support it nicely). (Textpander will insert it for you too, which is how I do it.)

  3. Michael Tsai - Blog - Font Smoothing in Pages says:

    [...] Pierre Igot: I am simply flabbergasted that Apple has not even fixed the font smoothing bug. After a whole year, they still haven’t read the bug reports and noticed that Pages fails to use the font smoothing style selected in “Appearance” in System Preferences? Unbelievable. The only rational explanation is that they somehow “forgot” to take the system’s font smoothing style into account when they first created the text rendering engine used in Pages, and now they would have to redo that text rendering engine itself in order to make it compatible, and they have just decided that it’s not worth the trouble. That doesn’t make it any less scandalous. First of all, how could they neglect to use the system’s font smoothing style in the first place? And now, how can they justify forcing users to cope with text in the wrong font smoothing style, especially given than most recent Macintosh computers use flat panel displays? [...]

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Warren: I think you are confusing the Pages bug with Postscript fonts with the Word 2004 bug with Postscript fonts.

    I must admit exact leading is not such a big issue for me—if I really want very accurate text compositions, I use InDesign.

    Who knows what Apple really has in mind with Pages/iWork. But the latest version is certainly disappointing with respect to word-processing capabilities.

    dan: Right, but Apple is guilty of not providing an easier way to input a non-breaking hyphen here. The Character Palette is one big monster…

  5. Warren Beck says:

    Pierre: You are right. It’s Word 2004 that changes the font after inserting a nonbreaking space. They’ve never fixed that one, as far as I know. (I’m using Word V.x at this point
    because of its compatibility with Endnote 7.)

    The thing about exact leading comes up especially in scientific documents, where one
    often has to switch back and forth to a symbol font. If the symbol font has a larger x height than the text font you are using (for instance compare Times New Roman and Symbol or Math Pi), then Pages expands the interline spacing just to accomodate, say,
    one symbol character. This makes the paragraph look strange; all of the lines should have the same leading. Word has an “Exact” leading setting that permits use of symbol font without this happening; the “at least” setting of Word behaves the way Pages does. I complained about this behavior of Pages immediately after version 1.0 shipped, and I know that they got similar comments from others (see the Apple support forum on Pages, for instance). I think that this hasn’t been fixed in Pages 2 because the Cocoa library that Pages used to set paragraphs doesn’t permit it; Stone Design’s Create page layout and drawing program, for instance, cannot enforce exact leading.

    I know, one can use InDesign for layouts with precision, but one would think that standard paragraph leading settings, with “standard” defined by Word, would be a priority for Pages.

  6. danridley says:

    Warren: thanks for the explanation about leading; that’s definitely a gotcha for technical documents.

    Pierre: I agree that it would be nice for Pages to have its own method to insert things like this; my comment was intended as a workaround, not a defense of the missing feature.

  7. Pierre Igot says:

    Warren: Thanks for clarifying the issue with leading. It does sound like a significant annoyance. I suppose the only workaround is to decrease the font size for the inserted characters. Not very convenient.

    Dan: Understood :).

  8. HandyMac says:

    My two favorite apps in the classic Mac OS were AppleWorks and (Aldus) PageMaker. Pages has been presented as a replacement for AW, and reviewers have said Pages is a replacement for PageMaker, which I used for not-too-complex text-intensive page layout jobs, where I like to fine-tune the typography.

    I’ve just begun to try out Pages v.1, which I’ve had lying around for a while. I had a 9-page letter composed in TextEdit which I wanted to print with page numbers, so I copied and pasted the text into Pages. Somehow I just assumed Pages would be a more full-featured version of TextEdit, which I use constantly and which I’ve found has some pretty sophisticated capabilities.

    First I noticed that Pages somehow flows text differently than TextEdit; many paragraphs came out a line longer than in TE. Why? Pages’ default letterspacing seems to be subtly different than TE’s, but not entirely consistently so; in some cases I had to adjust a line’s character spacing to -1% to get it to look the same as in TE, but in other cases this wasn’t necessary. Confusing, and annoying.

    Then I noticed that selecting phrases is more difficult in Pages than in TE: In TE, if you double-click a word, then move forward a few words and shift-click anywhere on another word, the entire phrase is cleanly selected. Pages doesn’t have this very convenient capability; as in AppleWorks, you have to precisely (and tediously) click right at the end of the second word, or use shift-right-arrow to get the last few letters.

    And indeed, as noted in this discussion, it seems exact leading (which Pages calls line spacing) cannot be specified. It can in TextEdit, where I’ve learned how to do it especially in cases where non-Latin scripts like Chinese, Devanagari and Tibetan are mixed with Latin-script transliterations and English.

    Apparently the team working on Pages doesn’t talk to the team working on TextEdit? Why not? Wouldn’t it make sense for Pages to build on TextEdit, so Apple’s two word processing apps would provide a continuum of capabilities, from basic to advanced? As it stands, TextEdit is actually superior to Pages in at least two respects I’ve discovered so far. Does this make sense?

    I’ve been hoping I could move my PageMaker work — which really doesn’t require the industrial-strength capabilities (and expense) of InDesign — into Pages, so I won’t have to go back to OS 9 anymore (PageMaker doesn’t work properly in Classic). PageMaker’s one real problem for me — its total Unicode-deafness — is certainly fixed in Pages — no way, for instance, to type Hawaiian, with macrons over vowels, in PageMaker (I actually figured out how to do it using baseline shift and kerning, but it was a real kludge). But otherwise I’m afraid Pages is looking like it’s going to be a disappointment. Even in AppleWorks you can specify exact line spacing, in points.

    Pages seems to be neither fish nor fowl. I still wish AppleWorks had been properly updated for OS X; Pages just doesn’t feel as open, friendly, and easy to use — nor, of course, does it include the well-integrated basic draw and paint capabilities that were what I used constantly together with the word processor. In twelve years I’ve used AW’s spreadsheet once, and its database never. Nor does Pages look like it’ll take the place of PageMaker for me; it’s just not typographically sophisticated enough, nor does it feel like a graphics application.

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