Pages 3.0: Inappropriate behaviour and default settings when opening RTF documents

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
September 12th, 2007 • 11:41 am

Like versions 1.0 and 2.0, Pages 3.0 is capable of opening documents that are in the Rich Text Format (RTF) file format. However, this capability is somewhat marred by some rather questionable choices.

The first one regards Pages’ behaviour when opening an RTF file. Unlike Mac OS X’s bare-bones text editor TextEdit, which works natively with RTF files and opens and saves them directly, Pages actually imports RTF files when you attempt to open them with the application. In other words, instead of opening a new document window for the file with “XXXX.rtf” in the window title, Pages actually opens a new Pages document window bearing the name “XXXX,” but with the “.pages” file extension.

This makes it look like you are actually working on a file called “XXXX.pages” that exists somewhere on your hard drive, but appearances can be deceiving. In actual fact, the file called “XXXX.pages” does not exist, as is indicated indirectly by the fact that there is no proxy icon next to the window title in the window title bar.

So what happens when you press command-S to save the file? Well, since the file does not actually already exist, command-S causes the “Save As” dialog box to appear, which invites you to save the document as…  “XXXX.pages,” in the location of your choice.

Maybe I am just too demanding, but I don’t find this behaviour particularly elegant… I expect the “Save As” dialog box to appear when I hit command-S if the document window’s title bar indicates that the document as no name and says something like “Untitled.” I certainly do not expect a document window which has “XXXX.pages” in its title bar to behave as an unsaved document. Unsaved documents should have no title, or rather a title like “Untitled,” with no “.pages” extension (which is what you get when you open a new Pages document using the “New” command: the newly created document has “Untitled” in its title bar, not “Untitled.pages”).

The problems continue when you start working on the document. I suppose that the RTF file format specification does not include a zoom setting in the information that is stored within the RTF document when you save it, because Pages systematically opens all RTF files with a zoom setting of 125%.

My problem here is that 125% is an arbitrary choice, and is too small for my eyes. Unfortunately, this zoom setting is actually a fixed value, which is not at all related to the window size. In other words, even if you make the Pages document window bigger, Pages does not automatically increase the zoom setting, like it would if the zoom setting was “Fit Width” or “Fit Page.”

Again, this is a questionable choice, because if 125% does not suit you, you have to both change the zoom setting to something else and resize the window manually. It would be much more appropriate if Pages used the “Fit Width” option by default and opened the document window with a window width that causes the “Fit Width” zoom setting to result in a zoom value of 125%. The end result would be the same, but it would be much easier to adjust the zoom value after opening the document, by simply resizing the window.

Finally, for some reason, Apple has decided that all RTF documents opened with Pages should have their “Hyphenate” option checked by default (in the Document Inspector, under “Document”). Here again, this is a rather arbitrary and inappropriate choice. Many documents are in Letter US format and do not need hyphenation.

I checked with Word 2004, and when I open the same RTF files with Word, there is no automatic hyphenation on by default. It can be turned on manually if necessary (in the “Tools” menu), but it’s not on by default. This is the correct behaviour as far as I am concerned. Automatic hyphenation is primarily used for documents with multi-column page layout. It is not needed in plain vanilla word processing documents in Letter US format.

Who makes such decisions? Who do they consult with before making such decisions? It is disappointing that Apple’s engineers don’t seem to be paying sufficient attention to such “details,” which are not at all insignificant.

UPDATE: The 125% zoom setting is actually the default value defined in Pages’ preferences, so it can be changed to something more appropriate by default. But still it has to be a fixed value, and cannot be a “Fit Width” 0r “Fit Page” setting with a starting value.

4 Responses to “Pages 3.0: Inappropriate behaviour and default settings when opening RTF documents”

  1. AlanY says:

    I think you’re off the mark on this one. The difference between TextEdit and Pages is that TextEdit can edit RTF files non-destructively. That is, it recognizes the full RTF feature set (though not all features are supported or displayed) and if you open and then save an RTF file in TextEdit, nothing is lost. In contrast, Pages only supports its own file format internally, so there is an inevitable conversion when you open documents. Similarly, there is a conversion on save for non-native file formats. If things worked the way you suggest they should, it would be too easy for someone to absent-mindedly hit Save or command-S and overwrite the original RTF file, losing information but not realizing it. The way it works now, you have to intentionally overwrite the original file, which is good.

    The conversion is not really a big issue with RTF, because it’s not a particularly rich file format to begin with, but the real reason it works like this is for Word documents. Imagine someone from the office sends you a Word document, you open it, make some small change by clicking something, accidentally hit save, and then send it on to someone else. A whole lot of Word-specific features would get lost or changed (for instance, Wingdings is not present on OS X systems without Office installed; that gets converted to another font) and Apple doesn’t want this kind of conversion loss to happen behind the scenes. The way things work now, it’s explicit. Keynote works the same the way.

    A related complaint, however, is that non-iWork documents don’t show up listed in the “Open Recent” menu. That is a real pain in the butt, and there’s no reason for it. I use Keynote to view PowerPoint documents people send me, and I would like them showing up in the Open Recent list. Makes them easier to find again.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I think you misunderstood me. What I find inappropriate is the use of the “XXXX.pages” window title in the window title bar, which misleads the user into thinking that a file called “XXXX.pages” actually already exists. I fully agree that Pages’ approach is different from TextEdit. But then when Pages opens a RTF file, it should open it in a document window with “Untitled” as the title (and without the “.pages” extension), in order to fully reflect the unsaved state of the document in question.

    I should also note that this was the behaviour in Pages 2.0. They changed it in 3.0, and I don’t agree with the change. I fully agree with the need to convert/import the RTF file. I just don’t agree with the window title bar behaviour.

    And I agree with the need to have the RTF listed in the “Open Recent” menu too. Thank God for Default Folder X :).

  3. Paul Ingraham says:

    Pages 3.0 mangled an RTF document created in Nisus Witer Express 2.7. It wasn’t a simple document, but it wasn’t overly complicated either: a few images and basic tables. Pages ignored the images, and stripped the tables into long lists of cell contents delimited by carriage returns (i.e. difficult to turn them back into tables).

    Somewhat embarassingly for Apple, Word had no problem importing the same document. Only after re-saving the document in Word was I able to successfully import it in Pages.

    Indeed, several times lately I have actually — argh — relief on Microsoft products to solve problems that Pages and Numbers could not handle.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    The problem, I believe, is that RTF is far from being a truly reliable standard. I remember reading that there are many “versions” of the RTF file format out there and I am not really surprised that Pages is not that good at handling all of them. In that respect, Microsoft Word definitely has the benefit of experience. After all, it has to be able to deal with the many flavours of RTF that Microsoft’s own applications spit out.

    It could also very well be that the culprit is Nisus Writer Express and that, in this case, it produced a RTF file that failed to comply with certain standards.

    It’s just speculation on my part. But what is certain is that, in the absence of one true open standard for word processing documents, we’ll have to continue to deal with such situations for many years still.

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