Pages: Keyboard selection done right

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
March 18th, 2005 • 2:30 am

I have just posted an item about text selection with keyboard shortcuts in table cells in both Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages. But what about text selection outside table cells, i.e. in the body text of a document?

You would expect things to be the same in all text editing / word processing applications. But they are not.

Take, for example, a situation where you have two paragraphs of text in the body of a document, and the cursor (insertion point) is currently at the end of the first paragraph (just before the invisible paragraph mark of the first paragraph).

In that situation, you can normally use the option-shift-Down keyboard shortcut to select the following paragraph.

Not in Word, though. In Microsoft Word, if you are in this exact position and press option-shift-Down once, Word selects… the invisible paragraph mark at the end of the first paragraph, and that’s it. (If your paragraph marks are invisible, all you see is a highlighted section of what looks like empty space at the end of your paragraph. That’s because you are selecting something that’s invisible.) You have to press option-shift-Down a second time to also select the following paragraph.

Now compare this to what happens in Pages. In Pages, if your insertion point is at the end of a paragraph and you press option-shift-Down once, the program automatically creates a selection that includes both the invisible paragraph mark at the end of the current paragraph and the entire paragraph that follows.

This makes sense, because when the user uses a keyboard shortcut that involves the Down key, he obviously expect things to go down. And in Word they don’t — at least not in this situation.

In addition, Pages is smart enough to make the invisible paragraph marks that are selected visible, even if they are otherwise invisible in the document. This way, at least the user does not end up with selections like the one that Word gives you, with what looks like empty space at the end of your paragraph and is actually an invisible paragraph mark. In Pages, paragraph marks are never invisible when they are selected. That’s the kind of attention to detail that Microsoft is simply incapable of.

Interestingly, most of Apple’s other text editors suffer from the same flaw as Microsoft Word. If you have several paragraphs of text in a TextEdit document, in a form field in Safari, or in an e-mail message that you are composing in Mail, if the insertion point is at the end of a paragraph, pressing option-shift-Down once selects the empty space at the end of the paragraph that contains the invisible return character.

There are some people that argue that the (free) TextEdit can be used as a capable word processor. I am afraid this example shows that this is rather debatable. As the name implies, TextEdit is a bare bones text editor, and Apple has obviously not used the same attention to detail when designing it as they did with Pages.

This is not to say that text selection with keyboard shortcuts is perfect in Pages. I’ve just posted an item about the inconsistency in tables. But at least it works in a more user-friendly and intuitive fashion.

(Unfortunately, when it comes to my other favourite text editor, BBEdit, there is more inconsistency: in that program, option-shift-Down extends the selection to the rest of the document. BBEdit is the only application I know that does this, and it’s a constant source of irritation to me too.)

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