iWork '05

iWork '05 arrived yesterday. I bought it because it was cheap, and I was curious. I rarely have any need for a word processor, and I even more rarely have any need for presentation software. I think it's been one year and three years, respectively.

It comes on a single DVD, in a box made surprisingly heavy by the inclusion of a couple of stocky little manuals and other bits of dead tree. The same manuals are available in PDF form from the applications' Help menus. I haven't read the manuals, because much of my interest in these programs is in the walk-up experience.

Keynote is impressive. I'm not sure I've ever used PowerPoint except as a reader; I seem to remember the couple of times I tried, I ended up going back to LaTeX. Keynote's "White" theme is very similar to what I used to produce with LaTeX. The other themes, though very attractive, seem more like demos to me. I can't imagine using them without being very self-conscious at having used a ready-made template; of having gone to the effort of choosing a template, but not having gone to the effort of creating one.

Keynote fails my two geeks tests by default; it doesn't have a master slide for "Title & Code", and it's not obvious to me how you'd enter little bits of mathematical expressions.

I still don't know what you're supposed to do about the latter, but the former problem is easily solved. The first non-obvious bit is that there's no menu item for "New Master Slide". You have to choose View > Show Master Slides, select one to copy, and then the Slide > New Slide menu option magically changes to New Master Slide. Apple do that quite a bit, and I don't like it when I'm just starting out with a new application, because it makes it hard to discover all the functionality. The second non-obvious bit is that you can't just use the Text toolbar icon (it seems a stretch to call them buttons, since they look nothing like buttons) to add the code area. You have to choose the Slide Inspector, choose its Appearance tab, and enable Body, which you then edit.

I guess slide masters are supposed to be an advanced feature, and not the first thing you use. But they should really have a LaTeX-like theme if they want that to be true for geeks. I'm always surprised that geeks seem to support themselves quite badly. Geeks make heavy use of mail, but MS Outlook, Evolution, and Thunderbird are all abysmal. Spelling checkers don't cope with CamelCase, even though it's easy ("Checking Spelling in Source Code", PDF). Presentation programs make it unnecessarily awkward to include code snippets. And document preparation programs (with the notable exception of Mathematica) make it difficult to link to code so you can conveniently show code snippets and the result of running the code without having to have an out-of-date duplicate in the document.

Maybe mathematicians, scientists, and computer programmers are all too tight to pay for this stuff, and too lazy to write it for themselves? Maybe it's only Men In Suits who buy this stuff, and all they need past bullet points is Standard Marketing Graph #1, the one that goes up exponentially and has success at now + 3 years.

(I laugh, but I don't want to imply that some of them aren't very good at what they do. Just the other day, one watched a group of engineers give a presentation, and blurted out "don't you guys rehearse?" not realizing that engineers have about as much clue when it comes to presentations as presenters have when it comes to engineering. Everyone underestimates the difficulty of the stuff they're good at, never mind the value of experience.)

Pages seems a bit awkward to me at the moment. It doesn't help that there isn't an obvious template to start from for someone who was basically happy with LaTeX. The HTML export produces output that Safari can't render correctly, judging by a few of the default documents I exported.

As with Keynote, it seems to me a mistake to concentrate on having very fancy templates to select from rather than concentrate on making it really easy to make your own template. I've long been intrigued by the idea of meta-layout rules; having the computer help you design a good layout. There are books on this stuff, and it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to codify.

For now, I'm hoping that someone (if not Apple) will come up with a LaTeX-like template for Pages before I next have to write something.