Pages ’09: Find whole words excludes whole word phrases

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
April 15th, 2009 • 2:54 pm

Even though it is now a fairly mature application (version 4.0.1), Apple’s Pages still suffers from a sometimes rather shocking lack of polish.

One of the main culprits in that department is the application’s Find/Replace feature. I have had the opportunity to discuss various shortcomings of that feature over the years:

Pages 1.0.x: ‘Replace All’ ignores selection

Pages 2: Find/Replace dialog box loses focus

Pages 2: ‘Smart quotes’ feature prevents user from doing manual replacements with Find/Replace dialog

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

Pages 3.0: Can’t find text string with curly apostrophe

iWork ‘08: Don’t trust Pages with batch Find/Replace operations

Pages 3.0: ‘Whole Word’ searching not French-friendly

Pages 3.0: What needs to be fixed

Pages ’09: Still cannot replace straight apostrophes with curly ones

Sadly, many of these problems are still not fixed in the latest version of the application. (Some of the problems have been fixed; most have been only partially fixed or not fixed at all.) Can you believe, for example, that it is still impossible in Pages ’09 to restrict the “Replace All” function to the current text selection? Whatever the current selection is, “Replace All” replaces all occurrences of the found text in the entire document. The Find/Replace dialog does have an option to restrict the scope of the search, but it only provides two options: “Entire Document” and “Main Text Body.” There is no third option called “Current Selection.” Argh.

Another example of the lack of polish is what happens when you use the “Whole words” setting in the Find/Replace dialog.

If you check that option and if the text string you are searching for contains no spaces, then Pages ’09 correctly restricts the search to occurrences of the text string that appear as whole words in the document, i.e. surrounded by spaces or punctuation marks.

But what if the text string you are searching for contains spaces, i.e. consists of more than one word?

Well, here’s an example of what happens:

Find whole words

Here, I am looking for occurrences of the text string “makes no” in my document. The “Whole words” option is checked, which, to my mind, means that I want Pages ’09 to only find occurrences of the text string “make no” surrounded by spaces or punctuation marks. In other words, I want Pages ’09 to find occurrences of “makes no,” but not “remake no” and not “make none” either.

My document, as seen here in the background behind the dialog box, clearly contains one such occurrence of “make no” with spaces around it. And yet when I click on “Find,” why do I get?

Not found.

Ugh. I am afraid that, no matter how you twist the meaning of “whole words,” this is simply wrong.

Of course, the problem is easily solved by unchecking the “Whole words” option. But then Pages ’09 will also include in the results occurrences of “remake no” and “make none,” which I don’t want.

Obviously, in the real world, this is a minor problem, because text strings consisting of more that one word that can be both whole word phrases and parts of whole word phrases are fairly rare. So even if the user gets a few extra occurrences that he doesn’t want, it’s not the end of the world (unless he’s trying to do a batch replace operation involving dozens of occurrences).

But that is not the issue here. The issue is that the “Whole words” option remains active even when searching for a text string consisting of multiple words. (By comparison, in Word 2008, if you enter a text string consisting of multiple words in the “Find:” field, the “Whole words” option becomes disabled.) And if it remains active, it means that it has to have a meaning in the case of text strings consisting of multiple words.

Clearly, the current meaning of the “Whole words” option in Pages ’09 in the case of text strings consisting of multiple words is: “Hey, dodohead, you forgot to uncheck me. I won’t find anything for you until you do.” Which is a highly useful meaning.

If the option is irrelevant in the case of multiple words, then it should become disabled, as is the case in Microsoft Word 2008. If it is still relevant, then it needs to work properly and indeed find occurrences of the text string that are whole words.

But the current situation is totally useless, and is a constant source of irritation, because it forces you to always remember to uncheck the option when you shouldn’t really have to.

And that, in my book, is a clear case of on-going lack of UI polish. In a 4.0.x application, it should no longer exist. Apple’s engineers might have bigger fish to fry, but at some point even busy engineers have to come to the conclusion that, hey, maybe it’s time to finally fix that small issue too (and all the other outstanding issues with the Find/Replace dialog at the same time, some of which are far from small).

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