Pages 2.0: Find function cycles endlessly through document

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
June 18th, 2007 • 10:28 am

This is another one of those relatively minor, yet not entirely significant ways in which Apple’s Pages application reveals that it’s an application that is not quite as mature and user-friendly as it could and should be.

Let’s say you are working on a 50-page document and you want to review all occurrences of the word “test.” You bring up the Find/Replace dialog box (command-F) and you type “test” in the “Find:” field.

Then you start hitting the “Next” button repeatedly. Each time you hit the “Next” button, Pages jumps to the next occurrence of the word in your document and highlights it (in the background) with the background selection colour, i.e. a shade of grey.

(On a side note, this shade of grey is not always easy to spot, especially when the found text is not a very long string. Maybe Apple should embrace the highlighting trick adopted in Safari 3.0 for found text and adopt it in all its applications…)

The problem with jumping from one occurrence to the next with the “Next” button is that it’s pretty easy to lose track of exactly where you are in your 50-page document. The only visual clue that you have of where you are—aside from the actual contents of the document—is the position of the blue blob in the vertical scroll bar.

More important, it is very difficult to determine when exactly you have been through all the occurrences of the text string in the document. Other applications such as Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign help you out by displaying a dialog box when your search is “complete” and you have reviewed all the existing occurrences of the string in your document. They do this regardless of whether you started your search in the middle of your document or at the very beginning. If you started your search in the middle, then the dialog box appears when you’ve cycled through the rest of the document and then back from the beginning until the first found occurrence.

No such luck with Pages. Once you’ve been through all the occurrences of the string in your document, it just continues to cycle through them endlessly. It gives you no hint that you have already reviewed the occurrences that it is showing you now. So it is very difficult to get a sense that, yes, you have reviewed all the occurrences in the document and haven’t missed any of them.

This is not a big problem when the string of text you search for is relatively rare and there are only a few occurrences of them, so that it’s easy for you to memorize them on the spot and determine by yourself that you’ve seen them all. But when the number of occurrences is larger, it can become a real problem. And this is an area where Pages fails as a search tool in the real world.

One of the great benefits of computer-assisted document creation is that it is much easier to be consistent. It is easier to ensure that you always use the same spelling for some hard-to-remember foreign proper noun, or that you have always formatted some phrase in the same way, etc. All you have to do is use the search tool, right?

But that assumes that the search tool is properly designed to help you get a sense of completeness. Sure, there is the “Replace All” command that you can use to replace all occurrences of a given string with another string. But no all search operations involving the review of a large number of occurrences of a given string are replacement operations. Sometimes you need to look at each occurrence before deciding to replace it with something else or not, or just to see what the context of the occurrence is.

When your needs cannot be addressed by a “Replace All” operation, but you still need to ensure that you have properly reviewed all occurrences of the search string, then Pages is flawed in that it fails to give you a proper sense that you have indeed reviewed all occurrences.

Like I said, it might seem like a minor issue, but serious word processor users need reliability and predictability, and Pages fails them here.

10 Responses to “Pages 2.0: Find function cycles endlessly through document”

  1. AlanY says:

    I think you’re right that Apple is going to adopt the Safari 3-style find highlighting across all applications in Leopard. One of the original Core Animation demo videos showed an example of this, with an added popup animation “swoosh” for each occurrence of the found item. It should be nice. Your other comments about Pages are spot on, as usual.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I hope that they do adopt the Safari 3-style find highlighting in other applications where it’s relevant—but first we need signs that Pages is going to be updated at all! Apple has remained completely silent on this for far too long. It’s a bit distressing, as Pages really does have a lot of potential as a streamlined yet powerful word processor.

    I have submitted a number of bug reports/enhancement requests over the years, but have received very little feedback on those. It doesn’t look like the Pages team is a very big one! And with all the hype and resources devoted to the iPhone and other non-Mac endeavours, the signs are not very encouraging these days.

  3. RefMonkey says:

    I’ve used Word & Pages every day for the last couple of years. I prefer Pages as I use a lot of graphic manipulation, but I still use Word for long papers because of “word count” and other fields that Pages lacks.
    Have you tried using the “Show Search” feature under the View menu? This is a great feature and in some ways more helpful than the traditional find method. You didn’t mention it in your post so I thought I would.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    “Show Search” does have its uses, but also pretty bad limitations, the main one being that it’s unusable without the mouse. When I work on large documents and want to jump from found occurrence to found occurrence in order to edit some of them, I do not want to have to go back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard all the time. Plus the search panel takes up a lot of valuable room on the screen…

    But you’re right that it should be mentioned as a possible alternative in some situations.

  5. bill says:

    Isn’t the highlight color for found text based on the highlight color in the Appearance control panel? I can’t confirm, I don’t have Pages installed.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    The highlight colour is only used when the selection is in the foreground. If the Find/Replace dialog is in the foreground and the document itself behind it in the background, then the selection is highlighted in grey. This is normal (although of course MS Word fails to comply with this and uses the foreground colour; InDesign just uses black. Pick your poison :).)

  7. ssp says:

    This is actually a problem with pretty much any find panel on the Mac: The selection of what has been found will be hard to see because usually the Find panel has focus and the selection will be dimmed. While this may be conceptually a good idea, it doesn’t make much sense in practice.

  8. danridley says:

    That’s part of what makes the Safari 3 / Firefox-style inline Find so sensible; you don’t need to break convention and put strong color highlights on something that’s in a background window; you just don’t leave the window you’re working on.

    The first program I ever saw with that kind of inline find was the word processor Ami Pro, later Lotus Word Pro (there’s a screenshot of the Find bar here). It used a similar bar for spell checking, which makes total sense. (Pages, and other word processors, could actually learn a lot about interface from Ami Pro. It put chapters into browser-style tabs, so you could jump around easily in your document. You could also add tabs for external documents, so you could keep a project together in one window. Search terms are highlighted very brightly. It has many reasons for being impractical in today’s world, but I wish other word processors would learn some lessons from everything it does right.)

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    There’s certainly a major lack of innovation in word processors these days, which says a lot about how the market place has been “neutralized” by Microsoft. I had hopes when Apple first released Pages, but really, we need more frequent updates.

  10. danridley says:

    Did you notice that the Find window’s Advanced tab has a checkbox that lets you choose whether to loop through the search or not? It’s labeled “Repeat search (loop)” in 2.0 and “Search previous text (loop)” in 3.0.

    Unfortunately, you have to start at the top of the document for this to be useful, but since you’ll end up jumping around the document in the course of the search anyway, that’s not so bad.

    It doesn’t give you a total count, but when you reach the last occurrence of the search term, it’ll give a system beep.

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