Power loss: Reactions to the new iWork for OS X


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With the much-anticipated release of the new iWork, Apple has introduced the first major update to its office suite in nearly four years, with a focus on bringing feature parity between the desktop, mobile, and Web-based versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

In order to do so, however, the company ended up removing a large number of features from the OS X edition of the suite, with both Pages and Numbers boasting fewer capabilities and a general lack of support for automation and scripting.

Dazed and confused

As was to be expected, the reaction from across the Web has been generally negative—and not just from power users who put a premium on being able to integrate iWork in complex workflows.

For example, an ongoing thread on Apple’s support forums lists nearly two dozen features that have gone missing in Pages—everything from advanced search-and-replace to the ability to customize Pages’s toolbar are listed, with one user going as far as claiming that a simple performance update to the old version would have been a better choice.

Ultimately, users seem to be as puzzled as they are angry: the absence of functionality that had been part of iWork for many years is made worse by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why Apple decided to remove it—other than to make the apps compatible across multiple operating systems. “Having a minimal interface makes sense in iOS, where space is limited,” reads a typical comment, “but in OS X I don’t see the need to strip away toolbars, sidebars, etc.”

Power to the user

Among power users, the biggest concerns seem to be centered around a significant loss of scripting functionality in the new iWork apps. Michael Tsai, developer of the popular SpamSieve spam filter, notes on his blog that Numbers no longer even has an AppleScript dictionary, while most of the automation features of Pages are gone.

Betalogue’s Pierre Igot offers a typical overview of what’s wrong with the word processor: “My solution for customizing Pages with a combination of AppleScript scripts and Keyboard Maestro has […] become useless.” He then adds that, even if AppleScript support in Pages ’09 wasn’t perfect, “it was working to some extent. And bugs and limitations could be worked around.”

Macworld contributor David Sparks, writing on his blog MacSparky, offers a curt assessment of the situation: “It’s concerning to see that this new version of iWork has not only not moved forward on automation but instead backwards.” He then points out that there is some irony in the fact that Microsoft Office actually offers better support for AppleScript than Apple’s own products: “In this regard, Microsoft is heads and shoulders above Apple.”

Modus operandi

Not everybody’s assessment of the new iWork is completely negative, however. User experience consultant Nigel Warren notes on his blog that the changes are necessary for Apple to push iWork forward on both mobile and desktop: “The fact that iWork on the Mac has lost functionality isn’t because Apple is blind to power users. It’s because they’re willing to make a short-term sacrifice in functionality so that they can create a foundation that is equal across the Mac, iOS, and web versions.” He adds that “without all versions of iWork using the same data format, true interoperability is impossible. In the previous versions of iWork, you would lose some formatting [and] data when moving from Mac to iOS.”

Writing for TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino offers a similar opinion, drawing parallels with Apple’s recent reboot of Final Cut Pro: “If we can ascribe anything to Apple’s recent efforts to bring iOS sensibilities to its Mac software, it’s that it likes to start extremely tight and zoom out as it adds features back into the mix.”

Ultimately, the folks from Cupertino may well have anticipated that their choices would have met resistance from existing users. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber puts it, “[t]he most telling thing about Apple’s expectations for this version of iWork: when you upgrade, it leaves your existing copies of the iWork 09 apps in place.”

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