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The Grave Unhappiness Wrought by the Failure of the iWork Pages Update

A bite at the Apple: thoughts on an "unmitigated disaster."

Roger Kimball


October 29, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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Even as the world careens from crisis to crisis—will Iran get (and use) The Bomb? Will the euro finally fail? Will ObamaCare put the nail in the coffin of the U.S. economy and America’s tradition of self-reliance and individual liberty? No one’s crystal ball is sharp enough to say. But even as the world conjures with these and other pending catastrophes, there are still local tempests to conjure with. In the somewhat rarefied world of word-processing software, the corporate giant Apple has precipitated a category five storm in the teapot inhabited by users of its iWork suite of software: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, the Word, Excel, and Powerpoint of the Apple eco-system.

Last week, in the course of a big Apple event in San Francisco, The Corporation announced, to considerable fanfare, new versions of iWork. There were smiles everywhere as a couple of Corporate officials took to the stage and demonstrated that, at long last, users would be able to collaborate on the same document simultaneously over the internet, on their Macs and/or their iPads and iPhones, even on PCs. This is a feature that Google has offered for some time, but Apple’s implementation was supposed to be more elegant (if less robust technically). The software had been rewritten from the ground up, they announced, adding many new features. It was a particularly welcome announcement for those who use the software because the last major update to the iWork software was in 2009, eons ago in the chronology of software. Patience was about to be rewarded. A new Apple triumph was about to be born. The new software, which Apple was offering for free, would make serious inroads into the hegemony of Microsoft’s Office suite, which is a de facto world-wide standard.

The celebratory mood lasted for about 15 minutes. Then a few people downloaded and started using the software. Uh oh. In its effort to make iWork compatible with the version that runs on the iPad and iPhone, Apple decided to neuter the desktop version of its software. “Big deal,” you say. “Use Microsoft Office.”  More and more people will do just that, I suspect. But in the meantime, there is high drama at the Apple support site and App store, where the hostile comments about the software vastly outnumber the positive comments. One independent reviewer summed up the verdict: “Pages 5: An unmitigated disaster.”

I’ve been using Pages myself for a couple of years. I’ve never liked Microsoft Office, and I’ve always harbored a particular dislike for Word, which I find bloated and unwieldy. Before using Pages, I wrote using a DOS- and then Windows-based programmer’s editor. It was a bare bones approach, but I liked the simplicity of the software and the control it offered over text manipulation. Together with a DOS-based PostScript layout tool, I was good to go.

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I've been an Apple fanboy for 20 years but as my current MacBookPro passes its third birthday I'm starting to consider 'life after Apple'. In recent years Apple has become prone to the behavior you describe: Removing valuable functionality with no warning whatsoever. After upgrading Safari to version 6, I suddenly discovered that Apple had removed the RSS reader from it. As part of Lion, Apple ripped out the up- and down-arrows from the vertical scrollbars. (Didn't they understand how important those arrows are to software developers?). At the same time they changed Color Meter and made it completely useless to graphic designers. Same story with Final Cut X. And now iWork.

As a result, I've come to the conclusion that Apple has decided to focus on 'Content Consumers' and also decided that us 'Content Creators' can go to hell.

Apple lost its way in the mid-1990s and several years passed before it would its way back. From the look of things, I'd say that is starting to happen again.
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