Usability – When “updating” software goes so wrong.

I recently upgraded my Macbook to a wonderful new version, running El Capitan. Nothing bad to say about the machine itself, it is a wonderful piece of design, and OSX on the whole is great. What is a complete turnoff is the retrograde of software such as Pages. There was intrinsically nothing wrong with Pages 4 (iWork ’09),  yet Pages 5 (5.6) is not well designed. This is not the first time software designers in a company have messed with a product that worked fine before. Often these upgrades exist of removing features that were previously useful, providing only a subset of the original. Here are some of the issues:

  1. Incompatible file formats. So open an old document in Pages 5, and it will ask you to convert it before you can edit it. Backwards compatibility = 0, i.e. you can’t go back.
  2. Removal of features from the Thumbnails view. Pages 4 made it easy to add new pages, or even move old pages around. Pages 5 doesn’t make it easy at all. No ability to duplicate pages, or re-order via drag-and-drop.


    Thumbnails: Pages 4 vs. 5

  3. The information bar has disappeared from the bottom of the document in Pages 5. It is possible to “Show Word Count”, but it puts an annoying bubble on the base of the document. The document zoom feature has also moved in Pages 5 to the top of the application.


    Lower toolbar and word count (Pages 4 (top) versus Pages 5)

  4. In Pages 4, it was easy to create two shape objects and add a connecting line between the two. In Pages 5, you have to modify the arrangement of each object to “Stay on Page” before it allows a connection line to be drawn. On the flip side Pages 5 does allow curved and right-angle connection lines, which is nice.
  5. The new format menu in Pages 5 bites. I prefer the floating inspector palette, much nicer, and seemingly better organized. And I can place it anywhere I want to on the screen.
  6. The lack of a format bar in Pages 5 is also extremely sad – I don’t always want the format menu to have to open to change simple things like a font, or colour of an object. I get that the format menu on the side performs the same task, but it takes up an incredible amount of real estate, and it isn’t just “there”, you have to open it to change basic things.formatBar
  7. The toolbar icons in Pages 5, have become much more simplistic, to the detriment of actually understanding what some of them do (yes, I understand they all have subtext, but that’s not the point). Even those icons with pull-down functionality, i.e. Charts, contain graphics which are sub-par (and sometimes meaningless). Simpler is not always better.


    Toolbar icons old (top) versus new

What else is gone? The ability to customize auto-correct.  The problem with some of these new applications is that Apple has attempted to “simplify” them. After you have used them you begin to wonder if they even involved existing users in the design. Pages 4 was a *good* product. It did most things, and it wasn’t Word. Pages 5 just seems like it’s missing some of the nicer features / layout of Pages 4. Sure Pages 5 has iCloud syncing, and great compatibility between iOS and OSX, but for those that are using it to write larger documents than just a few notes, get a copy of Pages 4, or look for an alternative.

Pages is not just a word processing application, it is also a simple page layout app. I have since installed Pages 4 from CD, and upgraded it to 4.3, and it seems to work quite nicely.


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