Pages 2.0: The trailing space mystery

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
June 6th, 2007 • 5:24 pm

I have been using Apple’s Pages on a daily basis for quite a while now. I cannot use it exclusively, simply because its support for Word and RTF documents is not perfect, and also because there are things that it doesn’t do very well and that a heavily customized Word 2004 still does better. (It is also an application that can get quite sluggish when dealing with large documents, especially when they contain tables.) But I still use it regularly, because for many types of documents it provides a more pleasant interface and experience that Microsoft’s lousy Word and the Export to Word function works reasonably well for sharing documents with others.

Ever since I started using Pages in my daily work, I have been experiencing a recurring problem that I simply do not experience in Word. The problem is that, whenever I am working on a document, I always end up getting extra space characters at the bottom of the document, in the last couple of (empty) paragraphs.

It is a problem because I use keyboard shortcuts for text navigation a lot, so I frequently move to the next empty paragraph with a sequence of option-Right keyboard shortcuts.

Pages’ default behaviour with option-Right is to jump from word to word, regardless of what kind of white space is in between. This means that, even if the space separating two words in a Pages document consists of multiple manual paragraph breaks and space characters and tab characters and what not, a single option-Right keystroke jumps directly across all that white space to the next word. In fact, it does this even if the white space contains punctuation signs (period, colon, etc.).

It’s a behaviour that is decidedly different from the standard in most other word processors and text editors, and I have already had the opportunity to discuss its several drawbacks, the main one being that, obviously, since every one else uses a different standard, one has to constantly adjust one’s text navigation habits when switching from Apple’s applications to non-Apple applications and vice versa.

The problem here is that, because of this behaviour, whenever my Pages document has an empty paragraph that only contains a few stray space characters, Pages automatically puts my I-beam cursor after these spaces when I want to start the paragraph, and then I end up with a paragraph which starts with a space or two, which is rather annoying. I find myself having to constantly erase these extra space characters at the beginning of my paragraphs.

For a long time, my question was: Where are these space characters coming from? I also use Word 2004 a lot, and I never get stray space characters in my empty paragraphs at the bottom of my documents.

In order to try and elucidate this mystery, I tried using Pages with the “Show Invisibles” options on, but this option is really painful on the eyes, because the visible mark for the regular space character is a pretty big blue dot that makes text quite significantly harder to read. (The tiny light-grey dot used by Word is much less intrusive.) So I wasn’t able to do this for very long in Pages. But while I had the option, I didn’t notice anything that would explain the extra space characters that I keep getting.

The extra spaces are annoying not just in these empty paragraphs at the bottom of my documents. I also frequently have a trailing space after the last word in a paragraph. This is not a problem in itself, but becomes a problem when you realize that some pretty important behaviours fail to work properly because such trailing spaces. One obvious example is the “Following Paragraph Style” option when you use a paragraph style. I have already explained elsewhere how having a trailing space at the end of a paragraph causes this option to fail.

Here again, my question remains: Where do all these extra space characters come from?

I am still not sure, but after thinking about it a bit more (these extra spaces really do get in my way on a daily basis), I think I now have a general idea, and it’s actually part of the whole problem with the non-standard text navigation behaviours that Apple has adopted in Pages.

I think that what happens is that, as indicated above, the text navigation shortcuts that I use in Pages do not work exactly the same way as they do in Word (and other word processors / text editors), yet I do tend to use them exactly the same way as I do use them in Word and elsewhere. And the different behaviours mean that, where in Word I would insert a paragraph break after the trailing space, in Pages I end up inserting a paragraph break before the trailing space.

I don’t notice it, because the trailing space is invisible, but then it ends up at the beginning of the next empty paragraph. And this can happen repeatedly while I am editing my documents, and that’s how I end up with this accumulation of extra space characters at the bottom of my documents or at the end of my paragraphs.

Sadly, this probably also means that there’s not much I can do about it, except for one thing: I need to try and use option-Down and option-Up more often as text navigation shortcuts.

As indicated above, I use option-Left and option-Right a lot to jump from word to word, but I also use them to jump from one paragraph to the next, simply because it’s easy to quickly press option-Left or option-Right a few times to jump across the few words that separate me from the beginning of the next paragraph or the end of the previous one.

The option-Down and option-Up shortcuts, on the other hand, are direct shortcuts that take you to the end or the beginning of the current paragraph in one fell swoop. These shortcuts have been around for a long time (as long as the other ones), but for some reason I have never developed the habit of using them instead of repeated option-Left or option-Right keystrokes.

But the thing is that, in Pages, option-Down and option-Up really do take you all the way to the end/beginning of the paragraph, including the extra space characters that you might have. And that’s a crucial difference, in light of what I have attempted to explain above. So by using option-Down and option-Up, maybe I can minimize the number of stray space characters that I end up generating in my daily use of Pages.

It’s all rather subtle, but it’s the kind of subtle thing that ends up having a significant impact on one’s work, because these extra space characters definitely are visible when they are at the beginning of a paragraph and they need to be deleted manually all the time.

Of course, if you are the kind of person who does not use text navigation shortcuts and does all his moving around with the mouse, you don’t have this problem. But really, text navigation with the keyboard is so much more efficient when entering/editing text… Yet I think people like me are still a small minority, and it’s partly because of this that problems such as the ones introduced by Apple’s non-standard behaviours tend to remain unaddressed. After all, if every word processor user did use text navigation shortcuts, I am sure that there would have been more noise made in the on-line community about Pages’ non-standard text navigation behaviours.

As it is, I am afraid that all I can do is try and adjust my own habits to match these non-standard behaviours, and it looks like increased use of option-Down and option-Up is the way to go here.

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