Pages 3.0: More of the same

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
August 27th, 2007 • 2:56 pm

After a few days of using the newest version of Pages (3.0), included in iWork ’08 and clumsily named “Pages ’08,” I am afraid I have to report that very little has changed indeed from the point of view of a word processor user.

The new “modes” introduced in Pages 3.0 (“Word Processing” and “Page Layout”) are pretty much irrelevant, since the “Word Processing” mode is pretty much identical to the default mode in Pages 2.0. Even if you are not using Pages as a page layout tool, you are still forced to view the blank margins of your document in your document window, which represents a valuable waste of screen real estate, especially when you are trying to view several documents side-by-side. And even in word processing mode, where transparency support really is not a priority, Pages still does not support subpixel font smoothing.

The only major new feature is the (non-customizable) “contextual format bar,” which is OK but not particularly useful. If you are a serious user of paragraph, character and list styles, you’ll still want to have the Styles drawer visible at all times, because the format bar does not show you the current styles of the selection. If you want to see what style(s) the selection is in, you have to bring up the corresponding pop-up menus by clicking on them, and then scan them to see which style is checked in the menu. I would gladly have traded the useless (from my point of view) buttons for italics, bold, and underline for more descriptive controls for paragraph, character, and list styles.

The Styles drawer meets that particular need, but again it takes up a lot of room on the screen. When you are viewing a Pages document at 150% with the margins and the Styles drawer visible, the total width is well over 1000 pixels. It’s impossible to have three document windows side-by-side on a 30″ screen, which really should be possible on such a big screen.

I don’t particularly care for the automatic list formatting. Pages 2.0 already had a number of automatic list styles that were just a click away.

The change tracking feature might be useful to me in some cases, if indeed it is compatible with Word’s feature, but I’ll have to wait until the next opportunity to use it in my work.

The user interface still requires way too much use of the mouse. Support for keyboard shortcuts is still very limited. Apple has added the ability to assign a hot key to each style in the Styles drawer, but the choice is limited to… the F1 to F8 keys, which is woefully inadequate in real-world word processing. It just boggles my mind that Apple cannot seem to realize that word processing users spend most of their time typing on the keyboard, and that having to use the mouse when a keyboard shortcut would do is simply a constant source of irritation and a waste of time.

And sadly, that’s about it for what’s new about Pages 3.0. Most of the existing issues I had with Pages 2.0 remain unaddressed. Initially, I was under the impression that Pages 3.0 was a bit faster, but today I once again experienced the problem with the slow response of the “mouse over” behaviour in the Styles drawer, which I described in Pages 2.0 last year.

The noncontiguous selection (with command-click) still does not support Copy/Paste and is only good for applying manual formatting.

Apple has partially fixed the problem with the “Following Paragraph Style” feature not working when you press Return before the very end of a paragraph, but they have only fixed it when there is a single trailing space character between the insertion point and the end of the paragraph. Anything else (like two spaces, or a non-breaking space), and the feature still fails miserably.

And the “Keep with following paragraph” option still does not work reliably and still causes occasional pagination madness.

I could go on and on. It really is quite sad. Was it really worth waiting for two years? Definitely not for Pages 3.0. It still is an OK word processor, and works relatively well for some tasks, in a much more Mac OS X-friendly way than Microsoft Word. But the serious lack of improvement of the word processor and the absence of bug fixes makes me really wonder whether Apple listens to word processing users in the real world any more than Microsoft does. Unfortunately, if the length and nature of the transition between 2.0 and 3.0 are any indication, it will take not years, but decades before Pages becomes a real word processing alternative and professional Mac users can seriously consider adopting a “Microsoft-free” work environment.

6 Responses to “Pages 3.0: More of the same”

  1. AlanY says:

    As usual, great comments. Though I should point out that it’s actually Pages 2.0, not 3.0. The first version was very impressive for a 1.0 application, like Numbers is, perhaps that’s why it seems like it should be 3.0.

    It’s hard to judge Apple’s progress strictly in version numbers. Microsoft has now moved to a four year development cycle for Office for Windows, while Apple is still on a faster two year cycle, so that has to be kept in mind as well when comparing.

    I’m not entirely disappointed by 2.0; it’s a solid upgrade in general. It just could have used one or two more big features. It’s still not clear to me how the new Proofreading tools in Pages will interact with the supposed system-wide grammar checker in Leopard; I’m hoping those will dovetail into a decent system, since the proofreading tools are fairly structural right now. I do think system-wide grammar checking is a killer feature; it will certainly be huge for me in LaTeX.

  2. AlanY says:

    Oops, I just realized it is Pages 3.0. Sorry, need more coffee this morning.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Alan: Yes, it is 3.0 indeed. Which makes it even more disappointing :).

    I don’t know about grammar checking. Unless artificial intelligence and natural language parsing have made great progress in the past few years, I doubt very much that a grammar checker can be of much use, because of the far too high rate of “false positives” and the impossibility to “teach” the system about them (unlike a spell checker, which can “learn” words). But I speak mostly from experience with Word’s existing French grammar checker. Maybe things are not as bad in English. (I have never bothered testing Word’s grammar checker in English.)

    Certainly in theory system-wide tools are the ideal approach—although I suspect they’ll never be properly supported by Adobe and Microsoft. One of the great things about Spell Catcher X as a system-wide spell checker/glossary is that it works with Adobe and Microsoft applications as well (except for the piece of utter crap that is PowerPoint for Mac OS X, that is).

    But I remain skeptical about the real-world capabilities of an automatic grammar checker at this point in time. From my own postgraduate studies in French linguistics, what I remember most is the sheer complexity of natural language parsing. (Admittedly, that was over 15 years ago, but I don’t think natural language has changed much!)

    I suspect that a grammar checker might be useful to people who make lots of pretty fundamental mistakes and don’t write with a very high level of complexity in their own language. While I certainly am not entirely immune (who is?), my grammar is usually pretty good, and my texts tend to have a certain level of complexity. Hence my skepticism.

  4. AlanY says:

    Yes, I don’t expect a grammar checker to work magic, but catching little things like repeating the word “but” twice (for some reason my brain misses “but but” frequently while proofreading on paper) or highlighting passive voice is helpful. In French I’d imagine catching masculine/feminine errors would be fairly straightforward and helpful for many.

  5. Paul Ingraham says:

    FWIW, my father mentioned to me yesterday that he’d gotten a surprising amount of benefit from Pages’ new grammar checking. He has experience with grammar checkers from days of yore, so he wouldn’t have been enthusiastic if it hadn’t actually been a reasonably good experience. Also, he noted that ignoring the false positives was easy, so he didn’t mind them: he was just happy that a number of genuine problems had been brought to his attention.

  6. Warren Beck says:

    I guess that fulfillling my request for exact leading used up all of the development time for Pages this year. :) It probably did require a complete rewrite of the Cocoa typesetting engine. Perhaps now that good typography is possible, the Pages developers can finish the work on the rest of the standard word processing features.

    Pierre, what Apple really needs to do, of course, is to release a Pro level version of Pages. This would be the long-awaited FrameMaker replacement, equipped with proper autonumbering styles, cross referencing, a full external API (so that Endnote and other add-ons can be developed), and book handling features. It should also have a true “editing” mode (no margins, just the text of the working flow, something like InDesign/InCopy’s text editor).

    For the record, I’m really happy with the “new” page layout mode.

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