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Eric: Because it is On... it is a snark on Pages.

This is not a review. Nor is it a critique. This is a rant. A full on, undisguised, "God damn it all" rant. You want to see me be unreservedly and unfairly negative on a subject without even acknowledging the other side of the story? You got it!

And what is the target of my ire? What has earned so great a share of my anger? What has me so utterly cheesed off that I'm willing to go into it with the words "Fuck" and "you!" together before I even explain why?

Apple Pages.

That's right. I'm pissed as hell... at a crappy Word Processor.

My God I'm a geek.

Apple Pages is part of iWork (alongside Keynote), and it seemed like it was the long awaited successor to Appleworks, which was Clarisworks for a long time (largely because they didn't want to confuse fans of Appleworks, the Apple II's all purpose office suite of software. Though that original Appleworks wasn't as good as the old Apple Writer II. Damn, but I loved that program. But I digress.) Appleworks hasn't seen any new versions in quite some time. After Keynote came out, however, the rumor came up that Apple was finally taking on Microsoft in the one area Microsoft dominates on the Macintosh -- office productivity software.

Note, I'm not saying Microsoft Office is the best software on a Mac, or even the best office software. I'm just saying it's the dominant software.

Anyway, Pages looked like the long awaited second stage of Apple taking its platform back. Keynote is a gorgeous piece of software -- easily as capable, more fun and prettier than Powerpoint -- but it's presentation software. I mean, who cares? Word processing, on the other hand... that's something everyone needs to do. And unless you're the kind of person who knows from all this and vastly prefers to work in the most stripped down text editor possible, you want your word processor to be mature without bloat.

Microsoft Word has bloat. A lot of it. Superfluous features no human needs. "Helpful" systems that inhibit your productivity. A "Mac" that looks more like a Banana Junior offering to help you format a letter.

Yes. We have something even sillier than Clippy. But again, I digress.

The thought was Apple would produce a Word Processor without bloat -- that would take advantage of Apple's rendering engines to be pretty to work with, and clean enough to not get in the way of your composing your documents. And, of course, it would be a triumph of User Interface. Apple's User Interface engineering's really what made them famous, after all.

Though, it's worth noting they've been forgetting that over time.

I got a copy of iWork so I could help evaluate it for the school. Yes, we paid for it. And I loaded it on and have spent the last couple of weeks doing all my non-Websnark writing in it (Websnark I write directly in an MT window. Font tags and all.)

These are two weeks I won't get back. No matter how desperately I want to. As God is my witness, this program sucks.

First off. It's not a word processor. Oh, it claims to be. It says "Word Processor" on the back of the package. It says "word processor" on the website. It sounds for all the world like they want you to... oh, I don't know... process words with this piece of shit. It's only when you actually look at the ad copy more closely that you begin to see the problem:

The word processor with incredible sense of style.

The easiest way to look good on paper, Pages lets you create documents that look like you had a design team working round the clock. But, no, itĚs just you, taking advantage of a new word processor with great style, an easy-to-use powerhouse that gives you all the tools you need to create superb-looking documents.

All that, it's worth noting, is true. Pages is optimized to help you create superb-looking documents. It comes packaged with a ton of templates designed to lay out graphics and columns and shit oh so easily.

What this program sucks like a thousand vacuums set on "too fucking high for safe cleaning of homes" at doing is the creation of content. It is wholly oriented to presentation.

I'm a writer. I write. Sometimes I get paid for it. The words I put down matter to me. And I like to have the tools at hand to simply create and convey them. I have no more interest in setting them into ad copy layouts than I do putting them into a plastic binder. I want my word processor to stay out of my way until I get stuck, and then help me jolt my brain into being unstuck. Most of all, I want the word processor to be as intuitive as humanly possible. To just do what I need it to do, in ways that require a minimum of thought and a minimum of fuss, while giving me the feedback I need to keep track of what I'm doing.

Impossible, you think? Well, here's a short list of Word Processors that have managed to do this, to the point that deciding between them is usually left to whim, technology (I can't easily use Wordperfect for Mac, for example, due to its Classic-only implementation) editorial fiat, or some other intangible:

Mariner Write. Nisus Writer. AbiWord. Openoffice.org. WordPerfect for Mac. WriteNow. WordPerfect for Windows (any version), Wordperfect for Linux. WordPerfect for DOS 4.2 through 6.0+ inclusive. Appleworks (Mac version). Mellel. Steveperfect. And yes, Microsoft Word. Many versions. (Though none of them were ever as good as Microsoft Word 5.1 for Mac, which has to be the best Microsoft product ever.)

So, please don't assume I'm overly picky. I have used every last of the above programs cheerfully, and found they've provided the feedback I needed and the features I used, and (mostly) either got out of my way or let me turn off the features I didn't like. I might not be easy to incredibly impress, since I have so many choices, but I'm not that hard to please.

And then we have Pages.

Fucking Pages.

First off, it has incredibly dense controls for document appearance. Ways of setting not just the margins and the columns but the word spacing, the character spacing, the kerning, the ligatures. Templates aplenty. Powerful style selection features. I was actually impressed when I first booted it up.

And then I decided to change the font I was working in. No offense, but I don't like to write in helvetica. I prefer a serif font for composing. It's a little easier on my eyes.

Why I'd think that would offend you is beyond me.

Anyway, this is when I discovered it had no integrated font controls.

This stunned me. So I opened up its inspector. And the inspector had kerning controls and media controls for graphics or music files or movies and list controls and tab controls and... and....

And no font controls. No list of what the font is. Or the font size is. To get that, you have to open the font control panel. The font control panel which is the same OS X default cocoa font control panel used in things like Textedit. The font control panel designed by a retarded vole who only really wanted to use one font and felt everyone else should do the same.

This stunned me. I mean... this was font choice. I was used to word processing programs giving me multiple routes to go about doing this -- a window in the toolbar listing it. Something in the "inspector." A font menu item that would list all the fonts in alphabetical order. The idea that there was only one place for it stunned me. It was cumbersome

Fine. I decided to change the default document font. I might as well not have to go through this very often, right?

Only... there's no way to do that.

Let me say that again, with italics to properly describe my shock: there is no way to change the default document font.

You see, Pages does everything with styles. And styles are set up in your template. Period. If you want to change the font you work with, you need to change those styles, save them into a new template, and set up your program to open that template by default instead of "blank template."

Here's the thing, though. If you decide to do that... you have to change all the styles. Before you start typing, I would add, because you don't want your content to actually get saved into your template. You can't just change the body style and be done with it. If you do that, when you do a list, your list will draw off of list template and boom -- helvetica. And while you're at it, you should turn off all the crappy things Apple turns on by default in their 'blank' template. Like the extra 12 point space after paragraphs which most people who write online don't use because they need to do two hard returns to make it look right. Or hyphenation. They have fucking hyphenation turned on by default.

So. You spend a good long time creating a template that just gives you a nice, simple, basic sheet of paper, doesn't add in shit you don't want it to add in, working in the font you want to work in. At last, you begin typing. And one of the words you're typing for one of your projects is 'perception,' but you realize it's not exactly the word you want to use. So you decide to hit the old thesaurus.

Only there's no thesaurus.

They have a convenient slidebar for adjusting the spacing between letters but they don't have a thesaurus.

Fine. You open up fucking Dictionary.com and select the fucking thesaurus function and find another word that means fucking perception and you move on and you decide to right justify the next line, so you hit command-r....

And nothing happens.

So you try command-shift-r. Still no go.

So you look it up. And discover that the fucking alignment tools -- which have been command or command shift L, R and C since the beginning of fucking time on the Macintosh -- are now Command-{, Command-}, and Command-|.


If you want to center something, you have to press command, shift, and the straight line key.

It gets even better. Font size has been controlled by hitting either command or command-shift and the greater-than or less-than keys in every program where font has been an issue since Mac OS 2 at least. But not Pages. Oh no! Those are zoom keys. And the zoom keys in those programs -- Command Plus and Command Minus? Those are the font size changers. In other words, they reversed the function of those keys compared to every other program on the market for no reason at all.

And it hit me. This software program breaks the cardinal rule of the Macintosh. This software program actually breaks the single greatest innovation the Macintosh brought to software of any kind. Through all evolutions of the Macintosh Operating System, every program works basically the same way. The same keystrokes do the same thing in every package. The same menu items do the same thing. There is unity. There was a day when you could excitedly tell a DOS or even Windows user "hey, it's a Mac -- all the software works the same way. You know how to use one program, you can use any program."

Pages requires me to learn how to run Pages. It gives me pseudo page layout capabilities (not as effectively as Microsoft Publisher did in 1995, I would add -- and Publisher sucked) but lacks basic tools for writing. It makes me work for the feedback I want and it interrupts my train of thought so I can remember how to center. It's a pretty program, and I admit that it saves files about half the size of Word's files (though it's worth noting that I don't care as much in these days of 120 GB hard drives -- a 300 kb file or a 144 kb file makes little difference to me), but that's not enough.

Oh, and it reads and saves Word files. But then, I have Abiword. And Openoffice.org. And Mellel. And Microsoft Word. So opening and saving Word files really doesn't impress me.

Oh, and it saves HTML files.

I swear to Christ, it renders HTML code that's worse than Word's.

And that's the total crime of this software. Not only does it break all the rules... not only does it lack things any Word Processor should have while loading it down with layout options that prepress professionals would rarely use... but it literally makes you compare it to Microsoft Word the whole time, and Word comes out ahead in essentially every category.

The Word-killer? This piece of shit software is the best advertising Microsoft Word has had in years.

I've evaluated it. I'm done. I'm going back to Mellel for my own projects and -- for those times when Word compatibility is completely required -- I'm going back to Word. If I want something clean and simple? I'll use BBEdit or Textedit. Or fucking Emacs. If I need something Word Processed, I'll use a program designed to create content, not stock flyers.

Someone call me when Apple decides to release a word processor.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at April 9, 2005 11:03 PM


Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at April 10, 2005 1:30 AM

Wow. That's frelling hideous. Apple has clearly been infiltrated by some sort of evil gerbil-based lifeform that wants to destroy it from within.

Comment from: gwalla posted at April 10, 2005 1:52 AM

In other news, Darren Bleuel just snarked the Snark. See: Nukees front page, news section.

Comment from: Aerin posted at April 10, 2005 2:03 AM

Wow. That sounds beyond horrible. And I've used a glitchy version of MSWord to write hundreds of pages of manuscripts. (It highlights the entire line black, margin to margin, as soon as you type anything, then when you scroll down and back up, it goes away.) I couldn't possibly imagine trying to use that.

Comment from: DarkStar posted at April 10, 2005 2:15 AM

"This software program breaks the cardinal rule of the Macintosh."

This is not just the cardianl rule for the Mac, this is the cardinal, primary, world-breaking rule for ALL FREAKING SOFTWARE WRITTEN. Ever. Period. Except for the possibility of some Unix/Linux software, everyone follows this rule. Game Designers follow it (if they want their games to sell well).

If there is an esablished interface, no matter how awkward, no matter how much better you think yours is, no matter how much more efficient, do NOT break or ignore the standard. Allow your "better" interface to be selected, but for God's sake keep your default interface the same as all the others.

It's a make-or-break point.

I can't believe Apple would do that. They were design gods.

Comment from: Merus posted at April 10, 2005 2:46 AM

The straight line key, I understand, is called 'pipe'.

Comment from: Doug posted at April 10, 2005 4:08 AM

There I was, getting the same results that you'd gotten after exposure to the thing, some common human genetic response to finding out that magic Software is not only not magic but not even labeled properly, yeilding results perfectly in accordance with the expected statistical population's response curve- being mainly a slow, burning anger and feeling that someone had just screwed you. Then it hit me. I'd seen this stuff before.

It's not a word processor. It's the same thing as that I used to make money with back when Quark and Pagemaker ruled the small publishing market; pre-packaged design templates made up for the end-user to dump their content into.

It's Keynote, only for PDF files or printed material. It's for folks that don't want to plonk down the funds for Quark or Indesign. It's for that small company's in-house letterheads and house organ, or someone cranking out a manual for their shareware program. It's for use by that person that's capable of typing 120 WPM but can't figure out how to make it print in a nicely laid out form and simply can't make heads or tails out of Adobe's Acrobat and who is certainly not going to splurge for the high-end suite of tools 'cause he just wants to make his stuff look _nice_ with little fuss and bother.

It is a poor man's page layout application. It's not a total ripoff, considering the price. In fact, it's not at all that bad when used for quick, simple layouts. The problem is that they must've mixed up the labels after they'd finished coding it, 'cause what it ain't is a word processor.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at April 10, 2005 9:21 AM

You can justify the lack of interest in your own word processing program by writing essays on why the popular word processing programs are really crap, or you can use that time to examine where your OWN word processing program could be improved upon.

Comment from: Alex Cline posted at April 10, 2005 9:50 AM

Oh god. It is *horrible*. I got it with the new iLife, and I was expecting a really jawesome word processor. It ended in pain. Just for fun I tried using the charts too, and they are equally inintuitive.

One good trick with the "styles" shit is to have a blank document with your choice styles saved somewhere, then you just import styles from that document as you begin and replace all of the other ones.

Oh, the shame!

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at April 10, 2005 10:35 AM

It fits roughly with the purpose of the other iApps, though, which is to offer a poor man's X, where X is a DVD burning program, a video editor, a music editor, or, now, a desktop publishing program. Why they tagged it as a word processor I'll never know.

And don't knock Publisher. Many a high school project that had to be a "newspaper" was created in Publisher.

Comment from: TheNintenGenius posted at April 10, 2005 2:35 PM

Sounds pretty bad. I've only ever had experience with Microsoft Word (which I've never really liked all that much), so I wouldn't have any idea just how horrible something has to be to actually be worse.

The main reason I'm commenting, though, is the Bloom County reference. Banana Junior? Come on, tell me I'm not the only person that picked up on that.

Comment from: Liriel posted at April 10, 2005 10:23 PM

Didn't really read all that Eric, but have you tried http://www.thinkfree.com/ ... it's what I use. Good luck.

Comment from: Liz posted at April 10, 2005 11:00 PM

I should preface this by saying that I am a bit of a snob when it comes to page layout software. I've been using either PageMaker, Quark, or inDesign since I was in high school. I shelled out the big bucks (admittedly at the far more reasonable student rate) to get a copy of inDesign for my PowerBook, and I adore the program.

There are things page layout programs can do that no word processor is capable of doing well. Placing, cropping, scaling, and arranging images inserted in a Word document is incredibly frustrating and counterintuitive. It should tell you something that "insert/picture/from file..." is after "from clip art..." I can't speak for the Pages interface, not having used it (and I certainly have no interest in trying it at this point), but the ways word processors and page layout programs work are fundamentally different. I admit that word processors should have some limited page layout capabilities for people who don't have the inclination to invest in another program, but that, by all means, is not their primary purpose.

Not to mention that writing and graphic design are incredibly different domains. They take an entirely different sort of mental energy. As Eric pointed out, probably the last thing you want to do if you're sitting down to write is address how you want the document to ultimately look. A word processor should allow you to get your ideas onto paper quickly and effortlessly, and make formatting after the fact relatively painless. It sounds like that is the absolute inverse of what Pages does.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at April 10, 2005 11:07 PM

Exactly, Liz. I have InDesign on my machine too. I used to be a DTP jock (back in the Pagemaker days, of course). When I want to lay out a document, I go to a layout tool.

I actually know one or two people who write in Pagemaker/Quark/InDesign. But I personally can't imagine it.

(Is this where someone chimes in about Framemaker or TeX/LaTeX?)

Comment from: DarkStar posted at April 11, 2005 1:22 AM

But the question is WHY do these programs have to differ so much? Why can't you make a layout program that is intuitive enough to write into? Why can't you design the word processor to do layouts that would make any design major cream himself?

As a wanna-be programmer and software designer, I don't understand why after all these years of making and using program we still have to put up with software that doesn't work. It's not as if we can't sit down and figure out what doesn't work, it's that nobody bothers. The interface shouldn't just look nice, the power of the program shouldn't just be superior, the whole design should be unified.

Most of us using computers now have used them for years. Some of us, for the majority of our lives. This stuff should be a no-brainer for us. A perfect interface is one you never have to think about because it is next to invisible. The fact that it isn't already and that it doesn't look like it will be for some time means that there is something wrong with the whole process and the whole industry.

As you can tell, this frustrates me to no end.

Comment from: Maiki posted at April 11, 2005 3:23 AM

Latex/Tex is good for writing and laying out documents if you are not scared by code. It is especially good for writing if your document contains any fancy symbols, figures that should stay where you want them, and has lots of different section headings or numbered figures because its something like a thesis.

to write latex/tex on a mac, I use TexShop. It lets you automatically preview your documents, and has a spellchecker in a few languages, and some templates/macros to get someone who never has written tex started. It has all the basic libraries installed. and it can output to pdf, dvi, etc. I dont have to worry whether there will be compatibility issues because everyone can open a pdf file. For tex/latex, it is a good interface. Doesn't eliminate the high learning curve for the languages though, just makes it easy to use if you do.

But really the only reason I use tex is because the tex font is the most gorgeous incarnation of a serif font ever. and Knuth is brilliant. Also, 50% of my classes require that I do.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at April 11, 2005 9:04 AM

To this day, I swear that I once saw Clippy flip me off...

Comment from: otter posted at April 11, 2005 2:47 PM

I'm with Maiki on that. I wrote my thesis using LaTeX and it was totally worth it. The default TeX typeface is beautiful, and I found learning LaTeX even easier than HTML. Plus, since you're running OS X, you can run the whole shebang from a terminal window. Emacs and LaTeX have completely replaced my word processor -- not bad for free software.

If you're looking for an introduction to or refresher course on LaTeX, there's a wonderful set of resources here.

Let us know if you decide to give it a try!


Comment from: larksilver posted at April 11, 2005 3:01 PM


But then, I hate Word. I use it, as I sort of have to as an Admin in a PC-oriented world. It's a very powerful program, loaded with features.

Give me WordPerfect 5.1 or even freakin' DisplayWrite.. how about THAT for a clean, invisible interface? Heck, with DisplayWrite you had to know what you wanted to do anything! There was literally nothing on the screen but a ruler at the top!

But I could create amazing things with WordPerfect 5.1. Letterhead, Presentations, tri-fold brochures, newsletters... quickly. Easily.

Sure, Word (and Corel's co-op of WordPerfect) are incredibly powerful. But I don't want a word processing program that thinks it's smarter than I am. I *know* when I want to italicize something. I *know* that the word I just typed is not in the directory, because it's a medical term and I haven't added it to my personal dictionary yet, so don't freakin' CHANGE IT. augh!

We ask for power, simplicity, and utility. What's so hard about delivering THAT? Apparently, everything. For they give us power, sure, but also overly complicated interfaces and freakin' Clippy, the wonderClip who thinks he's not only smarter than me but psychic, too (and is really .. well, NEITHER). sheesh.

Comment from: miyaa posted at April 11, 2005 11:31 PM

Wow. Talk about being in my wheelhouse. Where to begin?

It's funny, but Apples aren't made for the Word Processing, they're made for graphic design and illustration. Darkstar, to answer your frustration, I think part of is that too many word process programs try to be a bit of a Jack of All Trades kind of software that tries to do a bit of everything. This gets even worse when you have batches of "Office" programs for word processing, spreadsheets, speech props, and web pages. I wish there was a word processor with the singularity of design of WordPerfect, but the straightforward functions of Word. But I digress...

The other part, Liz and Eric have already answered. Writing and putting the writing into a graphical context are completely different thing altogether as well. I'm also a graphic arts snob (Yes, Adobe is my bitch) and my biggest lament as I finish my Master's Degree is that I won't be able to afford the next installment of Adobe InDesign CS at $500 (vs. $5,000).

Finally, does anyone know why did WordPerfect originally began with a blue screen in the first place?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at April 11, 2005 11:49 PM

It didn't. The blue screen didn't show up until 5.0, and wasn't a default until 6.0.

Comment from: vortexae posted at April 12, 2005 2:38 AM

I'm just tickled to see so many mentions of WordPerfect for Dos all in one place.

I haven't had to learn much of its advanced features, but WP51 is my most favoritest for drafting and polishing fiction manuscripts. I ordered a parallel-to-USB adapter cable, and then network-shared the printer thus connected, and then did "net use lpt3 /sharedrive/sharedprinter" ... just so I could keep printing directly from WP51 to my Canon BJ10sx like I used to when it was new-bought in 1994 and I was using a Compaq Aero subnotebook and things like USB ports and network drives were as yet undreamt of in my little world.

There is no other interface that A) stays the hell out of my way so well B) with which I'm familiar enough not to have to relearn everything from scratch.

Comment from: larksilver posted at April 13, 2005 3:22 PM

Forgot one other beautiful feature of that old workhorse, WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS: it's tiny.

Ever tried writing a 500-page grant proposal in Word, all in the same document? Unless you've a fabulous computer (which I don't), it locks up, throws a fit, or even internally combusts somehow, which leaves you with no choice but to split your proposal up into several documents. This, of course, negates the easy reference options and makes you have to do all kinds of wacky adjustments to make your table of contents and other such indexing features work properly.

Now, when I wrote grant proposals and technical manuals for our software on my old machine (this was 10 years ago, and the computer was 4 years old then, if that gives any indication), I could do this in one document. Because WordPerfect itself didn't eat all of the operating system.

Of course, some of that may have been that it ran in DOS, which also didn't take up much of the pc's power to run, and Windows is a monster full of unwanted features that just sit there hogging the memory, but I digress. The program loaded in 30 seconds or less, even on the oldest systems, and, no doubt because of its very simplicity, it seldom crashed, wasn't buggy, and was generally just an incredible tool. Seems that programmers for Word Processing programs have forgotten that that's what we want: an incredible tool.

I do not mean to sound like a Luddite, because I'm not. I love my beautiful new pc with all its bells and whistles. I am firmly addicted to EQII, and am considering developing a similar addiction to WoW. That said, there are days when I wish I still had my old Commodore 64 and a working copy of Questron. Now there, there was a hell of an RPG.

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