More on Pages 5

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
October 26th, 2013 • 10:23 am

Since my previous post on Pages 5 was mentioned on Daring Fireball, I have received quite a bit of feedback, both directly and indirectly. I’d like to address some of the issues about my post and this situation that were raised in that feedback, in order to clarify, as they say, “where I am coming from” and better explain why the situation is so discouraging.

First, several people couldn’t help but compare the situation with Pages 5 to what happened with iMovie ’08 or, more recently, Final Cut Pro X. In both cases, Apple took a fairly well established product with a familiar feature set and subjected it to an extensive overhaul, to the point that existing users were shocked, angry, distressed, and so on.

Not being a video editor myself, I am not familiar with either product line, so all I know about these two other situations is the commentary that I saw on the Mac web at the time and afterwards, especially regarding the fact that, after the initial shock, some users were able to get used to the overhauled software and adapt their workflow fairly easily, whereas others experienced much more difficulty and were left very frustrated for a long period.

Apparently, over time, especially in the case of Final Cut Pro X, Apple took pains to bring back the features that had been eliminated, by incorporating them back into the new software architecture. Of course, iMovie and Final Cut Pro are quite different in terms of their target audiences and their price points, so it’s not surprising to hear that Apple’s response to user feedback was much better and more prompt in the case of the latter. (Apple couldn’t exactly “afford” to alienate professional movie makers and videographers for years — although admittedly even at the best of times the revenue generated by sales of Final Cut Pro and related pro-level Mac hardware purchases is clearly dwarfed by the revenue generated by iOS-related hardware, so from a strictly financial point of view, Apple probably could afford to do alienate pro users.)

It is also true that no one was forced to switch the new, overhauled versions right away, and that the previous versions continued to be supported — just like Pages ’09 continues to work just fine in OS X Mavericks. So there is no need to panic here, and I believe that my reaction (as well as the reaction of many other Pages users) is primarily a mixture of heavy dismay and disappointment (especially with the fact that, after waiting for a new version for four years, this is what we got) and strong concern about the future. Eventually, Apple will stop supporting Pages ’09. How confident can we be that, by then, we’ll have a new version of Pages with a more or less restored feature set? Do we really want to continue to generate lots of content in a file format that is now already obsolete and will not be supported forever? (Like other software makers, Apple’s own history in that regard is pretty abysmal. Try opening old AppleWorks files on a modern Mac…)

It is quite clear that, for people like me, the present situation probably means several more years of using Pages ’09 with not a single enhancement or bug fix. The best we can hope for from Apple is minor application updates to maintain compatibility with the OS or for security purposes. And even that is not guaranteed. It is very discouraging.

One other point that was made by some is that Pages is not a pro-level piece of software. So why do “prosumers” or professional users rely on it for their work? Anyone who’s been reading my Betalogue site for a while knows very well why that is. There is no real alternative (although I promise that I will try and explore other products like Nisus Writer more seriously). Microsoft Word is a piece of crap, and there is no hope of it ever improving and becoming a proper piece of OS X software. It’s slow, it’s flawed, it’s buggy, it’s unreliable, and Microsoft does not care about the needs of prosumers much more than Apple does. They only care about the needs of special interest groups with lots of purchasing power, which include IT departments and other technology “experts” who know very little about issues regarding usability, user-friendliness, and so on.

I know very well that it is not quite normal that I have ended up relying on Pages so much in my work. But that’s the way it is, because that’s the way the desktop publishing industry is. The so-called “industry standard” (Word) is junk, and there is no real competition that leads to better products for end users. Pages ’09 was a bit of a miracle, in that it was a well-designed (albeit far from perfect) piece of OS X software with quite a bit of power “under the hood”, if you were willing to spend a bit of time to scratch the surface — hence the attractiveness of the software for more advanced users like myself. My Betalogue site contains numerous examples of things that can be done with Pages ’09 (sometimes with the help of AppleScript and Keyboard Maestro) and that make it a quite legitimate alternative to Microsoft Word. (Even with all my customizations and enhancements, I still have to use Word on a regular basis, of course. But I would say that for about 80% of my work I am able to get away with using Pages ’09 instead, and just export my documents in Word format at the end. My Word-using clients do not really know the difference.)

The reason we are in the situation we are in today is that the desktop publishing industry is not a healthy one at all, and has not been one for decades. Microsoft Word was already driving me mad 20 years ago. Since 2006, I have actually been able to improve my productivity and be much more happy in my daily working life thanks to the availability of Pages (and, to a lesser extent, of Numbers as an alternative to Excel). This is extensively documented on this blog, for anyone who would bother to actually research the issue. The reality is that there has never really been two classes of desktop publishing software, one for “consumers” and another one for “professionals”, so you cannot really blame people like me for trying to build a working environment around a product like Pages, whether it can really be considered “iSoftware” or not. It’s a bit like blaming professionals for using an iMac for their work instead of a Mac Pro.

If Apple does actually opt to restore AppleScript support in Pages 5 or an ulterior version, and bring back some of the functionality that has been lost (and also add new features that are still missing in both Pages ’09 and Pages 5, such as the ability to use different page orientations in the same document, or hierarchical style sheets), then, even if it takes a couple of years, I will be reasonably happy, and I will probably be able to learn how to live with the new Pages then. But what guarantee do we have that this will happen? The history with iMovie and Final Cut Pro is no proof that there is a real commitment on Apple’s part. We don’t know how much of Apple’s response for these two other products was due to the unexpected outcry from end users or was simply always somehow “part of the plan”. Apple won’t communicate at all about these things.

iWork is now free, so it’s rather hard to ask for your money back, or to threaten to boycott the product. All we can do is submit bug reports and other forms of feedback through available channels. But that’s yet more work (= lost productivity) for us with no guarantee of a positive result. It would take me hours to clearly and neatly document all the missing features in Pages 5 and explain why it is important to restore them. With my posts on Betalogue (and my advocacy offline), I feel that I have already done my part in promoting Pages as a viable solution. This has brought me very little reward except for the positive feedback from readers. I just cannot spend my whole working life waiting for the right tool to finally become available. The very fact that Apple felt the need to completely overhaul the Pages interface yet again clearly demonstrates that no one really knows how to design a really good hammer for us wordsmiths and document editors.

Writing in and of itself is a pretty basic computing task, which can be done with a wide variety of tools. (I am writing this in BBEdit right now, and I am perfectly happy.) But as soon as you start talking about creating “smart” documents with quality typography and with structure, tables, illustrations, and so on, the situation is objectively a complete mess and has been ever since I started using a computer as my main working tool. No one should be surprised or shocked that the Pages 5 revamp is generating such a strong response. It’s like asking a taxi driver to relearn how to drive every four or five years. I am, quite frankly, getting a bit tired of all this.

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