Pages 2.0: Search tool distinguishes between regular space and non-breaking space when it should not

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
February 15th, 2007 • 4:51 pm

Here’s yet another example of how a U.S.-centric piece of software designed by American developers ends up “punishing” foreigners for daring to use their software in apparently unintended ways.

I have already had the opportunity to discuss, on several occasions, the fact that the non-breaking space is an essential part of French typography, where it is used in combination with certain punctuation marks (notably the colon and the French quotation marks).

What should also be said, however, is that even English writers should use this character more often. It is rather unsightly, for example, when you write “Mac OS X” in a text, be it in English or in French, to see your word processor or text editor insert an automatic line break right after the “OS” and before the “X.”

It is unsightly in the same way that seeing your word processor insert an automatic page break between a heading and the first paragraph that follows the heading is unsightly—which you can avoid by using the “Keep With Next” paragraph formatting option.

The character-level equivalent of the “Keep With Next” paragraph formatting option is the non-breaking space. But I suppose not enough English writers care about this, because I very rarely see English documents that use that characters.

I, on the other hand, do care, and therefore I tend to use the non-breaking space a lot, both in English and in French (more in French, obviously, since it is mandatory with certain punctuation marks, but also in English, precisely to avoid unsightly line breaks).

Unfortunately, I get regularly punished for this, because the software that I use is designed by American developers who could not care less about the non-breaking space. And it’s not just Microsoft developers, although they are typically the worst offenders.

Apple’s own Pages fails to take the use of the non-breaking space into account when it comes to searching for phrases in documents. When you search for a phrase such as “Appendix A” in a Pages document, if the space between “Appendix” and “A” happens to be a non-breaking space, then if you typed a regular space in the “Find/Replace” dialog, Pages reports that no occurrences of “Appendix A” have been found.

This is just wrong. For text searching purposes, Pages should not distinguish between “Appendix A” with a regular space and “Appendix A” with a non-breaking space.

I realize that there are a number of situations where you do want Pages’ “Find/Replace” dialog to distinguish between regular spaces and non-breaking spaces, but this is not one of them, quite the contrary. This is a situation where Pages should not distinguish between the two, but it does.

Unfortunately, in this particular case I have to say that Microsoft Word gets it right. It does let you use the non-breaking space in its “Find/Replace” dialog (either with the “^s” code or by inserting it directly), but when it comes to search for phrases such as “Appendix A,” it finds all occurrences of it, whether they use a regular space or a non-breaking space.

In this particular situation, Pages’ behaviour is too rigid and fails to account for the special nature of the regular space and the non-breaking spaces as “characters” in a text.

Sadly, since this is a problem that will affect regular users of the non-breaking space such as myself, and not the average English text writer, there’s little hope of seeing Apple’s developers address this in a timely manner through a bug fix.

2 Responses to “Pages 2.0: Search tool distinguishes between regular space and non-breaking space when it should not”

  1. AlanY says:

    Good observation. I’m not sure your suggestion about how to fix is necessarily the way to go, since it would make it impossible to search for a specific type of space. What they really need is a checkbox for “typographic equivalence,” which would search for any type of space, any type of smart quote, etc. no matter which one you specified.

    In general, I don’t think Pages is ready for prime time. I gave Pages a try for a project for the last two weeks and it just wasn’t up to the challenge. Granted, I have specific requirements related to legal formatting and citations, but this document did not involve anything that out of the ordinary, and I ran into several bugs, most severe of which was a table of contents that did not properly number the sections, even though the sections in the document itself were properly numbered! I’m going back to LaTeX… not the best UI, but absolutely bulletproof and as easy as anything else once a person spends an afternoon creating a set of styles.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, for the non-breaking space, there should really be what you suggested, i.e. a checkbox for typographic equivalence. It would also apply to quotation marks (straight or curly) and apostrophes (straight or curly). Without the check box, Pages would only search for the specific character. With the check box, it would search for the character or other equivalents.

    I agree that Pages is not really appropriate for high-end word processing. On the other hand, it’s more than acceptable as a substitute for Word when it comes to small projects that are not too complex. After all, even MS’s own PR admits that Word is mostly used to write 1- to 2-page documents with limited formatting…

    That said, I really wish Apple would continue to improve Pages and turn it into a real contender for more demanding tasks. But there are precious little signs of anything like this happening any time soon. For one thing, they should start responding to feedback from users like us :).

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