Pages Tip: Adding keyboard shortcuts

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
July 19th, 2005 • 2:55 pm

When it comes to keyboard shortcuts, Apple’s Pages application is pretty stingy. Fortunately, the application is also a reasonably well-behaved Mac OS X application, which means that it is fully compatible with the keyboard shortcuts feature that is built into Mac OS X itself and is accessible through the “Keyboard & Mouse” preference pane.

For example, say you use the “Export…” command fairly often to save Pages documents as Microsoft Word documents, in order to share them with other people. Sooner or later, you are going to get tired of having to grab your mouse, travel to the “File” menu, pull it down and then go down to the “Export…” command to select it. We are in a word processor after all. Most of the time, you are typing and your hands are on the keyboard. If there is one type of application that needs keyboard shortcuts, it’s word processors.

In order to remedy this particular problem, just open the “Keyboard & Mouse” preference pane in Mac OS X’s System Preferences application. Then go to the “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab and click on the “+” button on the left-hand side below the list of existing shortcuts.

This brings up a dialog sheet. In that dialog sheet, you have to first specify the application that the keyboard shortcut you want to add will apply to. Pages probably won’t appear by default in this list, which only includes the standard Mac OS X applications that are installed with Mac OS X. Just select the “Other…” command and then locate your Pages application on your hard drive.

After that, you have to enter the exact “Menu Title” of the menu command you want to create a shortcut for. I don’t think this “Menu Title” phrase is a particular clever choice of words on Apple’s part. To me, “Menu Title” is rather difficult to distinguish from “Menu Heading“, which is the official way to describe the name of the menu that appears in the menu bar itself. “Menu Command” would probably have been a better, less confusing choice.

In any case, that’s where you type in the menu command for which you want to create a shortcut. If your menu command includes an ellipsis (as in “Export…“), just make sure you type the ellipsis correctly, i.e. not by typing three consecutive periods, but by typing the actual ellipsis character on your keyboard. (The actual keyboard shortcut for the ellipsis on your keyboard depends on which keyboard layout you are using. On my Canadian CSA keyboard, it’s option-shift-L.)

Finally, type in the keyboard shortcut you want in the third field in the dialog sheet. If the shortcut is not acceptable (because it’s already used for some system-wide command), then the system will play an alert sound, and, when you click on “Add“, your new shortcut will be listed with a warning symbol indicating that there is a conflict with a keyboard shortcut elsewhere. It’s probably not the best interface behaviour — the dialog sheet should do more than just play an alert sound, which doesn’t tell the user much about what the problem is — but it’s the way it is.

In order to make sure your keyboard shortcut works as expected in Pages, you need to quit and relaunch the application, because new shortcuts only get added to the interface when the application is launched. After that, the keyboard shortcut you’ve chosen will appear next to the menu command in the appropriate menu. It is probably something that should be explained somewhere in the preference pane (which should also indicate that system-wide shortcuts will only work once you’ve logged out and back in, and that Finder shortcuts will only work if you quit and relaunch the Finder, which you can do through the Activity Viewer application).

Also, please note that, if you want to change an existing shortcut in the “Keyboard & Mouse” preference pane, you won’t be able to do it through the same dialog sheet that was used to create it. There is no “Edit” button to edit existing shortcuts. Instead, you need to click once on the shortcut in question in the list to select it, and then click a second time either on the description (to change the command) or on the shortcut (to change the shortcut itself).

Again, I don’t think it’s the best choice of interface on Apple’s part. The preference pane should be more consistent and have an “Edit” button that would bring up the same dialog sheet that was used to create the shortcut.

Apart from these user interface issues, the keyboard shortcuts feature in Mac OS X works quite well, and provide an easy way to add keyboard shortcuts to Pages.

Unfortunately, there is no way to add keyboard shortcuts for styles in Pages, simply because Mac OS X’s keyboard shortcuts feature only works for menu commands, and paragraph and character styles do not appear anywhere as menu commands in the Pages interface. They only appear in the “Style” pop-up menu in Pages’ toolbar or in the Styles drawer — neither of which are accessible through the keyboard shortcuts feature.

The lack of keyboard shortcuts for styles in Pages is a glaring omission, and one that will need to be rectified in the next application update — if Apple is serious about developing this alternative to Microsoft Word, that is.

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