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A Bite at the Apple: Thoughts on an ‘Unmitigated Disaster’

October 28th, 2013 - 4:40 am

sad-face
It is also extraordinarily buggy. For example, because of the new file format, it is not generally possible to email a Pages document as an attachment. Most email servers (Gmail, for example) reject the new format as suspect. Should that have been tested? Many popular add-on pieces of software do not work with the new versions of the iWork suite. It also turns out that the new file format is incompatible with the previous version of iWork (meaning, for example, that if you use the new software to open a document you created with the previous version, you will no longer be able to open it with the previous version). Fortunately, installing the new software on a Mac does not overwrite the previous version, so it is a relatively simple matter to restore the old version—relatively simple.  You still need to uninstall the new version in order to get the system to use the previous version by default. But switching back to the previous version on a mobile device, while possible, is much more complicated. If you make the change on your Mac, though, you more or less have to make the change on your mobile devices because, again, once you open a file with the new system you’re stuck. (You have one escape option: using the new software to export the file you’ve opened to the old file format.)

iWork does not enjoy anything like the user base that Office does. But there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who use it. Some are casual users. Some are professionals: lawyers, designers, publishers, etc. These are the folks who will be most harmed by the new version of the software. For on top of everything else, the new version of iWork breaks many features of document templates created with the previous version. So let’s say you are working on a book that has images in the headers and footers. Open it with the new version and, bang! the images are stripped out without warning because the new version doesn’t support that feature. It’s easy to see how hours of work might be flushed down the drain.

The situation is actually much worse than I’ve made it sound—worse, anyway, in this little hothouse universe. I’ve never seen a shoddier release. The fate of particular pieces of word processing and spreadsheet software may not signify much in the world at large. But among the population of people who use and depend on it, there is grave unhappiness. Apple really messed up on this, and it is interesting if unedifying to ask what it portends about the giant company’s future. So far, the company has said nothing about this little disaster. Many commentators have speculated that they don’t much care about it. Their revenue comes more and more from consumer gadgets like the iPad and iPhone. But part of the appeal of those gadgets is that they were supposed to be “magical and revolutionary” as well as elegant—that is, they were capable of doing important work as well as entertaining us. Does “work” still figure into the equation? A few years ago, Apple Computer dropped “Computer” and became “Apple, Inc.” Maybe they need to change their name again: “Apple Entertainment,” perhaps, or maybe just “Apple Sauce.”

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