August 27th, 2007 • 2:56 pm
After a few days of using the newest version of Pages (3.0), included in iWork ’08 and clumsily named “Pages ’08,” I am afraid I have to report that very little has changed indeed from the point of view of a word processor user.
The new “modes” introduced in Pages 3.0 (“Word Processing” and “Page Layout”) are pretty much irrelevant, since the “Word Processing” mode is pretty much identical to the default mode in Pages 2.0. Even if you are not using Pages as a page layout tool, you are still forced to view the blank margins of your document in your document window, which represents a valuable waste of screen real estate, especially when you are trying to view several documents side-by-side. And even in word processing mode, where transparency support really is not a priority, Pages still does not support subpixel font smoothing.
The only major new feature is the (non-customizable) “contextual format bar,” which is OK but not particularly useful. If you are a serious user of paragraph, character and list styles, you’ll still want to have the Styles drawer visible at all times, because the format bar does not show you the current styles of the selection. If you want to see what style(s) the selection is in, you have to bring up the corresponding pop-up menus by clicking on them, and then scan them to see which style is checked in the menu. I would gladly have traded the useless (from my point of view) buttons for italics, bold, and underline for more descriptive controls for paragraph, character, and list styles.
The Styles drawer meets that particular need, but again it takes up a lot of room on the screen. When you are viewing a Pages document at 150% with the margins and the Styles drawer visible, the total width is well over 1000 pixels. It’s impossible to have three document windows side-by-side on a 30″ screen, which really should be possible on such a big screen.
I don’t particularly care for the automatic list formatting. Pages 2.0 already had a number of automatic list styles that were just a click away.
The change tracking feature might be useful to me in some cases, if indeed it is compatible with Word’s feature, but I’ll have to wait until the next opportunity to use it in my work.
The user interface still requires way too much use of the mouse. Support for keyboard shortcuts is still very limited. Apple has added the ability to assign a hot key to each style in the Styles drawer, but the choice is limited to… the F1 to F8 keys, which is woefully inadequate in real-world word processing. It just boggles my mind that Apple cannot seem to realize that word processing users spend most of their time typing on the keyboard, and that having to use the mouse when a keyboard shortcut would do is simply a constant source of irritation and a waste of time.
And sadly, that’s about it for what’s new about Pages 3.0. Most of the existing issues I had with Pages 2.0 remain unaddressed. Initially, I was under the impression that Pages 3.0 was a bit faster, but today I once again experienced the problem with the slow response of the “mouse over” behaviour in the Styles drawer, which I described in Pages 2.0 last year.
The noncontiguous selection (with command-click) still does not support Copy/Paste and is only good for applying manual formatting.
Apple has partially fixed the problem with the “Following Paragraph Style” feature not working when you press Return before the very end of a paragraph, but they have only fixed it when there is a single trailing space character between the insertion point and the end of the paragraph. Anything else (like two spaces, or a non-breaking space), and the feature still fails miserably.
I could go on and on. It really is quite sad. Was it really worth waiting for two years? Definitely not for Pages 3.0. It still is an OK word processor, and works relatively well for some tasks, in a much more Mac OS X-friendly way than Microsoft Word. But the serious lack of improvement of the word processor and the absence of bug fixes makes me really wonder whether Apple listens to word processing users in the real world any more than Microsoft does. Unfortunately, if the length and nature of the transition between 2.0 and 3.0 are any indication, it will take not years, but decades before Pages becomes a real word processing alternative and professional Mac users can seriously consider adopting a “Microsoft-free” work environment.