Using styles in word processing: Apple’s Pages vs. Microsoft Word

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
May 6th, 2010 • 1:03 pm

When you have a fairly long document in Pages in which the text formatting is done using a variety of paragraph and character styles, and you do “Select All” to select the entire contents of the document, here’s what the styles drawer looks like:

Styles drawer in Pages

When you open the exact same document in Word 2008, with the exact same use of paragraph and character styles, and you do “Select All” to select the entire contents of the document, here’s what the “Styles” section of the Formatting Palette looks like:

Styles in Formatting Palette

And here is what the “Styles” control in the formatting toolbar looks like:

Styles in formatting toolbar

And here is what the “Styles” dialog box looks like:

Styles dialog

If there is a better illustration of the contrast between the approach and usability of Pages and the approach and usability of Word 2008, I don’t know what it is.

In Word 2008, you have at least three different ways of viewing the same information (the style[s] of the current selection), i.e. a palette, a toolbar control, and a dialog box, and none of them is able to provide any useful information. In addition, each of them provides a difference piece of false information!

In Pages, you only have one way of viewing the information, i.e. the styles drawer, and it gives you all the information that it can give you, by highlighting all the styles that are currently in use somewhere inside the selected text.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I do wish that Apple would provide at least one other way to edit styles, because the drawer is not exactly the ideal interface for modifying style attributes. (You have to select an occurrence of the style you want to edit and apply the changes you want to apply to the style definition, and then choose the command to redefine the style based on the selection.)

But at least Apple does not try to pretend that it offers a useful, flexible user interface like Microsoft does. It actually does offer one. Whereas the user interface for working with styles in Word is still lousy, after all these years, and it still fails to provide any useful information when you have a mixed selection that uses a variety of styles. Heck, it’s not even able to display both the current character style and the current paragraph style at the same time.

I should also note that, unlike earlier versions, Pages ’09 does provide more than one way to view/apply styles, since it also has controls for styles in its Format Bar, in the form of two separate menus for paragraph styles and character styles.

But here again, Apple does the right thing and, in case of a mixed selection, it shows in the menu these styles that are applied to parts of the selection as partially checked items, with the conventional dash:

Para styles menu

Char styles menu

(As you can see, the font smoothing in these menus is pretty bad, however. But at least that’s a purely aesthetic problem.)

Do you think we’ll ever have a version of Microsoft Word that is capable of displaying both the current paragraph style and the current character style at the same time, and is able to reflect the mixed nature of a selection containing multiple styles by following the standard conventions in Mac OS X for such a situation?

I don’t, and that’s why I switched from Microsoft Word to Pages as my main word processor several years ago. I’d love to see Microsoft prove me wrong and actually make such improvements, so that Pages would actually have some competition. But I just don’t see it happening. As far as one can tell, Microsoft’s MacBU is a completely ossified institution that just keeps churning out version after version of the same old crap.


3 Responses to “Using styles in word processing: Apple’s Pages vs. Microsoft Word”

  1. Apple’s Pages vs. Microsoft Word | Finshake says:

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  2. Using styles in word processing: Apple’s Pages vs. Microsoft Word - Lee Packham's Corner says:

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  3. Usability and Styles - Buggin' My Life Away - Site Home - MSDN Blogs says:

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