Sunday, 3 July 2016

Word Processors: Mac Pages vs Microsoft Word

Although I mostly blog here about the books I read and the movies I see, as a professional writer I also occasionally discuss the tools of my trade.  

In fact one of my earliest posts was about my beloved laptop writing table, Dave.  (I'm not actually crazy enough to name my furniture. Ikea called it Dave.) Indeed, it's so important to me I wrote about it again.

Which brings us to this current discussion of word processors. I recently replaced my ancient (almost ten years old) Mac laptop with a wonderful new MacBook Air. I love this new computer almost embarrassingly. But when I got it, there were a few teething problems...

Microsoft, the treacherous blackguards, had introduced a destructive revised update of their Word software which created a new file format (.docx versus the old .doc) which no longer worked on the old version of Word. 

So I was stuck with this out-of-date software. I looked into getting the new version of Word to go on my lovely MacBook Air. But it was pricey — well north of £100. And then my friend the computer expert said "Why bother with Word? The Mac comes with a word processor called Pages."

Well, I've been using Pages for over six months now and I have discovered precisely why I should bother with Word...

Pages has a nice, clean, inviting user interface and some helpful features. But in the final analysis it is badly designed and madly flaky. 

For a start, you woud frequently, and I mean frequently, end up with non-curly apostrophes and quotation marks instead of the real thing. By deleting and typing again you could generally, eventually, get real apostrophes and quotation marks instead of these straight fakes... because what a busy user needs is to repeatedly retype things...

Also, one of the most important features of a word processor, if you type as quickly and carelessly as I do, it to fix misspellings on the fly. In Word this function is called Auto Correct. 

Well Pages did the same thing, sort of... But its guesses about what a mistyped word should really be were often insane. For instance, "iriginal"  instead of "original" results in this guess: “irisinal” — and as far as my research can determine, this isn’t even a word...

And why would it change “wrestln" to “wrestleg”? — again, there is no such word. Instead of changing “despote” to “despite" it changes it to “despotte." Another non-word. 

And wouldn’t “struggle" be a better guess for “stuggle" than “stagele”? 

These are just a few of dozens of examples that cropped up every week. As I said in a vexed tweet on the subject, it's more a Lewis Carrol poem than a word processor.

Anyway, I've now given in and bought Word instead. And the new Word has some useful features. For instance, search and replace is now local to each document, which means every document remembers what you were looking for last time, instead of it being imported from whatever other document you used recently.

On the other hand, Word lacks some really useful features from Pages... I used to love the way Pages would open a document and return me to the exact point where I was typing last time I left it. Word, which doesn't even have the memory of a goldfish, always reverts to the beginning.

And in Pages I used to be able to move to the top or bottom of a long document with a couple of simple keystrokes. In Word it's such a lengthy and error prone process you might as well forget about it. 

Perhaps worst of all, while Word is smart enough to automatically make corrections like changing "thikn" to "think", any more complex error defeats it. So if I type "iriginal" it just highlights the mistake, then gives up in bafflement. At least Pages tried. It was crazy, but it tried...

Oh well, maybe someday someone will invent a word processor which can actually process words.  

(Image credits: I wasn't sure how to illustrate such an abstract discussion, so as you can see I went retro with these typewriter shots. Most of the pics of sirens typing — non-tinted — were obtained from OzTypewriters; the really vintage shot, which I used as my header, is from BoingBoing; the pink typewriter is from Etsy; the blue one is from My Typewriter, and if you hurry you can actually buy it.)

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