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.