August 8th, 2007 • 9:17 am
It’s obviously very hard to judge the new Pages that is part of the just announced and just released iWork ’08 application suite. All we have is an overview web page, and then a few highlighted features, with demo QuickTime movies.
I’ve just ordered my copy with the Apple Canada store, and I will obviously have much more to write about once I get it.
In the mean time, I have to make do with these promotional web pages and QuickTime movies. Interestingly, if you explore the overview page, you’ll notice that the “Watch Demo” link under the “Automatic list formating” (sic) feature is actually a link to a QuickTime movie about “powerful image tools.” And the hypertext link for the “Automatic list formating” title itself is a link to a page about… page layout features. Ahem. (These things might be fixed by the time you read this. Then again, it might not.) I sure hope that these blunders are not in any way indicative of the level of care put into the development of the applications per se.
The first good news about Pages ’08 is the headline: “Word processing never looked this good.” The key phrase here is “word processing.” This seems to indicate a slight shift of emphasis away from page layout and towards word processing. Pages has always been a schizophrenic application, and there were reasons for word processor users to feel that too much emphasis was placed on the page layout side of things. The problem with font smoothing in Pages is one prime example. The lack of keyboard shortcuts for key word processing features such as paragraph styles and character styles is another.
Beyond the headline, does Pages ’08 actually address this? Again, it’s hard to tell. Pages now had two modes, writing and page layout. But the demo movies appear to have been all shot in page layout mode—or else the writing mode really does not look much different from what it is now.
There are two ways to read this. One is that Apple is playing catch-up with Microsoft and falling into the “feature creep” trap. The other one is that iWork is actually evolving into a realistic alternative to Microsoft Office.
We all know that, in the hands of Microsoft engineers, features such as “contextual tool bars” and “automatic list formatting” have suffered from really poor implementation, to the point that many Office users actually loathe them and do their best to avoid them in their daily work (which is easier said than done, since they cannot really be turned off and you will have to deal with them if you share files with other people who actually use them, intentionally or not).
I am willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt and hope that these features have a much better implementation in Pages than they do in Word. It’s hard to tell from the QuickTime demo movies that can be viewed on the web site. I don’t particularly want a word processor that tries to guess which tools I might need, but we’ll see. I certainly hope that these new features do not replace the existing tools in previous versions of Pages (namely the Inspector and the list styles), but complement them.
The “change tracking” feature is an unavoidable addition if Pages really hopes to compete with Microsoft Word. It is one of these features that, in spite of its numerous flaws, is actually useful and is used by a number of Word users. I do regularly receive Word documents that make use of the feature, and I have to be able to use it myself. How truly “compatible” with Word’s implementation this feature actually is in Pages remains to be seen, of course. It’s something that can only be verified through the actual use of the feature in the real world.
I also find it somewhat ironic that Apple is now already shipping a complete office application suite that is compatible with the new Microsoft Office file formats, when Microsoft’s own MacBU is still stuck in beta testing mode and will not be shipping Office 2008 until the first quarter of 2008. What does this tell you about the capabilities and commitment of Microsoft’s own developers?
One thing that is absolutely impossible to determine from the promotional materials on Apple’s web site is whether Pages ’08’s “writing mode” offers any improvements over Pages 2.0 in terms of keyboard shortcuts. I personally find that at this point, Pages still requires far too much clicking with the mouse. Here’s a scoop: Writers type. That means that their hands are on the keyboard most of the time. Having to switch the mouse for common, repetitive basic formatting actions is annoying, to say the least. Based on the QuickTime demo movies available on Apple’s web site, there is still way too much clicking involved in the use of Pages, even as a writing tool. I sincerely hope that Apple has implemented some improvements in that respect and is simply not mentioning them in the promotional materials. Hope springs eternal…
My copies of iLife ’08 and iWork ’08 are supposed to ship tomorrow. I hope I will soon have much more to write about the applications and about Pages ’08 or Pages 3.0 or whatever it’s actually called.