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Pages 4.3 vs. BBEdit 10.5: How Apple Doesn’t Respect Its Users

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Like any craftsman, I care deeply about my tools, because without them, I can’t do my job. But unlike a carpenter or plumber, my tools change constantly, putting me in the unenviable position of having to evaluate each new version. Unfortunately, that’s impossible — I have to get my work done, not run test suites on every new version of my key applications. And while refusing to upgrade is always an option in the short term, it’s not something that can be put off forever, particularly if the new features and fixed bugs are important.

So this is a story of two problematic updates: how Pages 4.3 changed its EPUB export and how BBEdit 10.5 broke a key Automator action. More to the point, it’s a story of how two very different companies — Apple and Bare Bones Software — treat their customers.

Pages 4.3 Consumes Hours of Our Time -- It all started when the time came to publish Kirk McElhearn’s “Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ.” We currently rely on Pages for writing, editing, and producing our Take Control ebooks. It does many things well, and we’ve been able to work around its infelicities and longstanding bugs (see “How Take Control Makes EPUBs in Pages,” 30 September 2011, and “Strategies for Switching from Word to Pages,” 18 January 2012).

When Michael Cohen started to export the EPUB file for Kirk’s ebook, he ran into unexpected problems — all our inline graphics for various buttons were way too large and not always in the right position — iBooks was particularly bad. This was unexpected, to say the least — we’ve been exporting EPUB from Pages for quite some time now and we’ve never seen anything like this.

Michael and Tonya spent several hours trying to determine initially if the problem was corruption in the file, but as they worked through various tests, they realized that even new files were showing the problem. After another few hours of work, Michael tracked down part of the issue — Pages 4.3, which came out in mid-December 2012, changes the way graphics are handled in the EPUB code. Previously, Pages used a SPAN element, but in 4.3, Apple switched to a DIV with directly applied CSS styles for display:inline-block;, vertical-align:baseline;, and width.

The next day, Tonya and I sat down with the EPUB code and BBEdit and figured out how we could use grep in a text factory to convert those DIVs back to SPANs. (Although BBEdit can edit EPUBs without expanding them, it can’t search across all the files in an EPUB without expanding it first.) That wasn’t too hard, but the results weren’t reliable. That was when I realized that Pages 4.3 wasn’t just writing different EPUB code, it was actually exporting different graphics than previous versions had done.

Here’s the thing. Because Pages is a WYSIWYG app with decent graphics tools, we sometimes resize graphics after importing them for optimal visual layout. It turns out that previous versions of Pages exported graphics for EPUB at the size to which they had been resized (as you would expect!), whereas Pages 4.3 instead exports graphics at the size they were at import and attempts to resize them using the width attribute in the DIV’s style. It’s not entirely clear to me that this is possible, but regardless, Pages 4.3 does it wrong, which is why our inline graphics were way too large (and yes, I filed a bug with Apple). If it could be made to work, this approach isn’t inherently a bad idea, since the graphics can theoretically then change size based on other variables in the EPUB reading environment. On the downside, the resulting EPUB was also vastly larger in size — roughly 18 MB instead of 3 MB — due to the larger graphics.

Regardless, we were in trouble, since even though we could munge the EPUB code, we couldn’t easily identify or modify the troublesome graphics. We knew by this time that Pages 4.2 didn’t exhibit the problem, but of all the Macs at our disposal, that version still existed on only one — Tonya’s MacBook Air. We also had a couple of older Macs (Tristan’s MacBook and Michael’s previous iMac) still running Pages 4.1, but we had upgraded all our production machines to Pages 4.3 back in December 2012 when it came out.

“How could you have been so careless with a key part of your production process?” you might ask. Remember how I said that it isn’t feasible to run test suites on every possible upgrade? Well, we foolishly believed Apple’s release notes for Pages 4.3 (as part of the iWork 9.3 update), which read, in their entirety:

iWork Update 9.3 adds support for iWork for iOS 1.7 apps.

You can’t even read between the lines to assume there were other changes, since there is only one line! And there’s no way anyone could guess that there should have been at least one more line reading:

Changes how graphics are handled in EPUB export.

So we all upgraded. Now we wanted to downgrade to Pages 4.2 (and support for iWork for iOS 1.7 isn’t important to us), but a restore from Time Machine didn’t work — the version of Pages 4.2 that came back from early December couldn’t save files and crashed whenever we tried.

Equally unsuccessful was reinstalling Pages from the iWork ’09 DVD and then attempting to upgrade it to version 4.2. That might have been more possible, except that Apple, for unknown and thoroughly unhelpful reasons, has removed the iWork 9.2 update that would upgrade Pages to 4.2. (Why? Why try to prevent what users might want to do in the future?) I was able to use this technique to get to Pages 4.1 with the iWork 9.1 update, but as with the Time Machine-restored version of 4.2, Pages 4.1 restored in this fashion also had saving problems.

Stymied, I posted to a private mailing list of highly technical friends, and was overjoyed when someone suggested the eventual solution: restore not just the package from Time Machine, but also the /Library/Application Support/iWork ’09 folder, which contains a number of frameworks shared by all the iWork apps. I also restored the earlier versions of Keynote and Numbers, since it seemed likely that a mismatch with the support files would cause problems.

Though we weren’t keeping exact track, I’d estimate that Apple’s silent change to Pages 4.3 cost us 10–15 person-hours of work. Were we all being paid for our time, that would have been $500 to $1,000 of wasted expense, just to get back to status quo ante. And all because Apple didn’t see fit to mention such a significant change in the release notes.

That shows a profound lack of respect for customers on Apple’s part, and is particularly offensive when it comes to tools used by professionals. It’s bad enough when Apple causes normal users significant headaches, such as with the massive changes in iTunes 11, which cannot be downgraded to iTunes 10.7 (see “iTunes 11: The Features Apple Removed, and Alternatives,” 4 December 2012). But when Apple’s decision to conceal changes threatens one’s livelihood, it’s time to start looking at tools from companies who care about their customers.

BBEdit 10.5 Breaks and Fixes Automator Workflows -- Those companies do exist. As a counterpoint to my experience with Pages, let me tell you a story about how the recent BBEdit 10.5 upgrade also caused me problems last week, and how Bare Bones Software’s transparency and solicitude toward their customers resolved the problem quickly.

BBEdit comes with a set of Automator actions, the most interesting of which for my purposes is the Search and Replace action, since it supports grep and thus lets me manipulate text in filenames far more effectively than is otherwise possible in Automator. I have a complex set of Automator workflows that I created to distribute finished Take Control ebooks, but when I attempted that with “Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ,” my workflow failed due to a file not being renamed properly. As I stepped through the workflow, I saw that the problem was in BBEdit’s Search and Replace action, so I did a quick Google search on “BBEdit 10.5 search and replace automator action.”

The second result was release notes to a pre-release build of BBEdit 10.5.2, which resolved this bug:

[257587] Fixed bug in which the “Search and Replace” Automator action would commit a malfunction when “Use Grep” was turned on in the action’s options.

Perfect! After downloading and installing the latest pre-release build of BBEdit 10.5.2, which Bare Bones makes available on their BBEdit Talk mailing list, I was back in business 20 minutes later. I would certainly have preferred not to spend even 20 minutes hunting down the fix, but bugs happen, and what’s most important is how a developer acknowledges problems and addresses them. Simply put, by being transparent about changes and open with pre-release builds, Bare Bones made me feel that they actually cared about helping me get my work done with BBEdit.

It’s trite to say that the difference here is that Bare Bones is a small company with tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of users, whereas Apple is a multinational behemoth with millions of users. I have no sympathy for that stance — companies like Apple with $137 billion in cash don’t get to beg off on creating systems and acting in ways that empower their customers. This entire situation could have been avoided if Apple had published complete release notes about Pages 4.3, and recovering from it would have been a lot easier if Apple had acknowledged there could be a legitimate reason to want to downgrade and made instructions and older versions available.

This sort of behavior isn’t new for Apple. But the company’s pretense that even professional users don’t need access to technical details falls flat when things don’t work properly, and more and more, Apple software — from iOS 6 to Pages 4.3 — has been falling down. Great hardware, increasingly sloppy software. Apple never wants to admit problems with its products, which is totally fine at the marketing level, but utterly unacceptable at the support level. That’s why it was so notable that Tim Cook apologized for the iOS 6 Maps problems — that was marketing. But release notes posted on Apple’s support pages? The only people who read release notes are the people who care about changes in the software — these are support documents, not marketing pieces, and failing to admit bugs or acknowledge foundational changes reveals Apple’s lack of respect both for those of us who rely on Apple products and for the work we do.

I’m not about to make any grand statements about switching away from the Mac or even dropping Pages in the near term — the goal is to get my work done, and that’s best accomplished with the tools I have and know. However, I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown and the football, with Apple playing the part of Lucy, so when it comes time to look for new software tools, I’ll be looking for companies that won’t keep pulling the ball away from me.


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Comments about Pages 4.3 vs. BBEdit 10.5: How Apple Doesn’t Respect Its Users

William Lisowski  2013-01-26 16:39
Sigh. Good luck with that bug report, we're still waiting for Apple to fix the unacknowledged problems with the handling of streaming media, introduced in iOS 6. There's a pattern emerging here and it's not a pleasant one.
artMonster  2013-01-26 18:09
There are so many negative Apple stories that are based solely on personal preference. This is a real-world example of what Apple really needs to focus a lot better on, respect for the professional. If, as Tim Cook says, "The most important thing to Apple is to make the best products in the world that enrich customers' lives", I hope he realizes that the software they release is part of that product. A really big part.
Laine Lee  2013-01-26 18:15
So let me get this straight. You're saying that when Apple pulls the rug out from under its consumer level customers, that's one thing, but when it makes things difficult for professional customers, then it has finally gone too far?
artMonster  2013-01-27 00:01
Good point. As a consumer I was just as unhappy with the abandonment of iDisk and iWeb.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-27 10:27
There's a different level of reliance. I'm vastly annoyed that, for instance, iOS 6 has a confirmed bug that causes paused audio (like iTunes U paused by a sleep timer) to start inappropriately the next time some other audio plays (like the alarm, or Siri). But as much as it irritates me on a daily basis, it doesn't interfere with how I earn my living, and by extension, how I help a number of other people earn their livings.

There's an implicit contract between tool makers and tool users (that the makers will support the users in exchange for payment), and to my mind, that's a more important agreement than that between a company and consumer-level users.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think Apple should be let off the hook for shoddy consumer software either, but I think we can all agree that there are different levels of importance. We all want the software that runs nuclear power plants and rocket launches to work really, really well (actually, we want it to be perfect), and having to push an extra button every morning just doesn't compare.
tom powers  2013-01-29 09:09
On this score, Adam, you are wrong. It's not necessarily a pro vs consumer issue as long as some pros use some "consumer" software. It appears that in this instance it's just your ox that is being gored. I do agree that there are different levels of "importance," but the order of those levels will vary from user to user. What if the audio example you cite affected someone using Garage Band to generate commercial jingles as part of his livelihood?

I've said it before here, and I'll say it again: If the 1984 Mac ad were made today, the face in the big screen would (should) be Jobs.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-29 10:00
I don't think we disagree at all. In your GarageBand example, I'm totally with you. And if a music professional relies on iTunes for their business and Apple causes them serious trouble with iTunes 11, that's no less of a problem for them than Pages 4.3 was for me. I'm just saying that when someone is inconvenienced in a professional context, it's a bigger deal than when they're inconvenienced in a consumer fashion.
You're aware that you're agreeing with Adam here, right?
Frans Moquette  2013-01-27 02:43
I have long ago stopped trusting Apple's software updates. Now I always wait a few weeks, Google for issues and only when it seems safe go ahead with the update and just hope all will go well.
This is, of course, not a great customer experience. First of all Apple should, and easily could, provide full release notes that mention every bug fixed, every feature added and anything that was changed. No exceptions!
Apple should also provide an easy way to revert to a previous version. It should simply be an option in a menu or in the App Store: Revert to previous version. Not only for applications on the Mac or apps on an iDevice, but for the OS itself as well.
Reverting is a complex task. But Apple has tackled complex things before and made them easy for the user. How about this one Apple? Are you still innovative enough to tackle this one?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-27 10:30
And waiting on upgrades is only helpful if you're certain someone else will find and report the bug. As far as I can tell, we're the first people to have discovered how Pages 4.3 does EPUB differently, so waiting wouldn't have helped us. As you say, we need better release notes and easy ways to revert individual programs.
artMonster  2013-01-27 20:07
There is a Apple support thread on this. So others have been bitten too, unfortunately.
Anonymous  2013-01-27 07:34
I WAS seriously considering investing in Apple given its sudden drop on the stock market. But after your comments I hesitate. Maybe it will continue to go down.
Having worked in high-reliability s/w environments where a significant bug could cause loss of life and property, I tend to be a bit harsher than most on Apple.

I recognize they are primarily a consumer company but, as you said, they also have $137,000,000,000 in cash. If the companies I worked for could produce quality s/w with a fraction of Apple's resources, they simply have no excuse and we need to have more people calling them out on it.

I can't remember a time when Apple's release notes were even remotely useful or complete. I'm also exceptionally fed up with the unhelpful "unknown error" messages that come up. There is no such thing as an "unknown error", just lazy programmers and product managers whose bonus is not based on quality.

Every company makes mistakes. A good company admits the error, apologizes, and makes it right. Far too often Apple does none of the above.
Mark Jacobs  2013-01-27 11:58
I'm a zOS Systems Programmer and with the exception of system integrity/security problems IBM publishes detailed information about what the problem was, who it effects, what changed and how to implement the fix.

It wouldn't kill Apple to do the same if they want to play with the big boys.
Tj Luoma  2013-01-27 16:20
I tracked down the iWork 9.2 update here:
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-27 18:20
That's freaky - it does work (though incredibly slowly). How did you find it? I looked and looked...
David Morrison  2013-01-27 22:40
Apple's attitude to customers is getting more and more cavalier. The security settings of two of my Apple IDs have been "upgraded" in the last three weeks. In one case, the first I heard of it was when the app store told me I was using a new device and had to answer my security questions. Except that the questions were not the ones I had set up. I could not even change the questions because you have to answer them before you can access the security page.

In the other case, I got an e-mail saying my questions had been changed. Thinking someone had broken Into my account, I logged in but again could not access the security section.

In both cases, I had to call Apple support to get my account reset.

This is just not giving any respect to customers. Any sort of warning is better than none. And having to call support to get your account back. It beggars belief. Just imagine 200 million people having to call support, and in Australia they only work business hours.
David Morrison  2013-01-27 19:53
As for software updates, I make a point of downloading the standalone installers and installing manually. That way I can always reinstall if necessary.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-28 21:48
That might have worked in this case, but with the Mac App Store, it's becoming less and less possible in general.
Joe Swann  2013-01-28 07:02
I have become increasing dissatisfied with Apple for the last year or more over issues like this. It makes me feel like craftsmanship (in the software) and customer service are taking a back seat to market performance and profit margins. I am also beginning to feel very locked in which is uncomfortable when it looks like the software tools are moving in a direction I don't always want them to go.
Steve Nicholson  2013-01-28 17:27
There is at least one place where Apple realizes its responsibility to professional users and publishes comprehensive release notes: Logic. Whenever a new version of Logic comes out, there's a tech note with an exhaustive list of changes. So someone at the company understands your point. Hopefully that philosophy will spread from the Logic team to other departments.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-28 21:48
Logic was acquired when Apple purchased Emagic in 2002; perhaps it's treated differently because members of the Emagic team are still working on the product.
Steve Nicholson  2013-01-29 11:06
Yeah, I was working at Emagic at the time. I think the detailed release notes are a combination of external pressure from Logic's high-profile pro users (whom Emagic always had a close relationship with) and internal pressure from former Emagicians.
Jason Bush  2013-01-28 21:32
Apple will only care when it costs them money. Stop giving them your money.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-28 21:45
I wish it were that simple, but with the size of the overall market these days, even the subset of professional users isn't large enough for Apple to care on the purely economic standpoint. Frankly, I think the only thing that will cause Apple to change their behavior is the worry about complaints affecting their overall reputation (and thus future sales).
Rob Lewis  2013-01-28 22:10
The arrogance is getting worse than tiresome. A little humility would be refreshing, and would humanize the cold brushed steel monolith.
Oh, and respond to my freaking bug reports!

An industry veteran and former consultant to Apple I know, who shall remain nameless, but may be the only person on earth to have Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Rob Glaser all come to his wedding, told me a few years ago "I fully expect Apple to screw up eventually."
Jesse the K  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2013-01-30 17:54
We all screw up eventually, since we're human. I agree with Adam and others who wish Apple to simply admit to their screw ups, and be honest about what their "fixes" are actually fixing.
Long-term computer users can only recognize themselves (and the hours wasted) in your description. That's why, whenever I get a chance, I'll favour small companies like Lemke Software or Rogue Amoeba against bloated monsters such as Adobe, Apple, whatever.
Larry Stone  2013-01-29 04:32
It has become increasingly obvious that there's only two ways to use any Apple product: the Apple Way and the Wrong Way. If you're not using it exactly as Apple believes you should, then you're using it the Wrong Way and steps will be taken without notice to insure you can no longer use it the Wrong Way. Worse yet, today's Apple Way may be the Wrong Way a year from now.

Seriously, I am convinced that much of Apple, sitting in their palace in Cupertino with their state of the art tools and super-high speed network, has no clue how people use their products in the real world.
David Barnhart  2013-01-29 04:49
This is exactly why I've turned off Automatic Software Updates.I learned by lesson when Apple silently removed RSS support from Safari 6 with no warning whatsoever.

My impression is that Apple is now focused on people who are 'content consumers' and is disregarding us 'content creators'.
John Beare  2013-01-29 08:42
It seems that Apple has gotten too big for its britches and is morphing into a Microsoft. Perish the thought!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-29 09:55
If only! Microsoft is much better about providing users with full release notes and future roadmaps and things like that. In at least this respect, Apple is way behind Microsoft and IBM and lots of other companies who do put effort into supporting their professional customers appropriately.
davemcc  2013-01-29 15:53
To me, you can and should complain to Apple about these sorts of issues. But, it is very unlikely they're going to respond in a favorable way. Apple is large, like IBM used to be. And, with that, comes arrogance.
Why not begin to consider a move to another, more robust application, such as Nisus Writer Pro? NWP has a built-in macro language, which could prove useful to you.
If you're going to roll your own CMS, why not implement a more robust authoring environment?

MS-Word may even be a better choice than Pages. Conversion to the epub format seems like the least important part of the workflow, and one that could be well-served by any number of more robust commercial or free tools.

Please don't mistake my comments for anything resembling criticism of your issues with Apple. I've experienced similar, or even more frustrating, issues with Apple for many years.

Please let us know if you ever hear from Apple.

P.S. Apple could drop epub support at any time ("too pro")...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-01-29 16:41
EPUB is actually pretty important to us - it's why we moved from Word to Pages a while back. (And it's very hard to convert to well - most conversion tools are truly terrible.) Nisus Writer Pro is indeed an option, and very possibly a good one, but there are non-trivial costs in terms of switching such a key tool (buying the software for multiple people, moving a stylesheet over, training authors, learning and working around quirks), so we have to be very careful with that.

I don't really expect Apple to change anything based on this article, but I do think it's important to point this stuff out in public to make sure the truth is available.
davemcc  2013-01-29 17:06
I agree, Adam. Having to switch to another tool would have a significant cost associated with the move.

Let's hope that Apple notices this article and other comments at some of the bigger Apple-related websites, as well as direct feedback from customers.

Someone at Apple has got to realize that "pro" users are important, and not just in terms of direct sales.

If the "iOSification" of OS X continues (with no provisions to "turn on" more advanced features, if they're even available), it's likely that a significant number of higher-end math/science/graphics/media/3D/etc. software, much of which has either returned or just been ported to OS X for the first, may vanish on OS X. Some of those "cornerstone" apps would likely cause a wave of defection from OS X.

I have never really had to use any other OS, besides a bit of UNIX, in over 30 years... I would lament day I had to move away to another OS... and still using OS X 10.6.8, though perhaps not much longer except under emulation...
Word? Sorry, we *have* to use it due to client-side requirements, but it's one of the most maddening crap we've ever used in 30 years of computing.
Steven Oz  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2013-01-29 13:43
As a vastly-poorer AAPL shareholder (than I was a few short months ago) I humbly apologize for any part my minute share of Apple may have played in your Pages debacle.
David Roberts  2013-01-29 15:45
I echo many of these comments. I hope to never purchase another Apple computer. I have purchased their products to use in my business since 1989 and have become steadily less impressed with the utility of the operating system to allow me to do my work. Until last fall, I was using 10.4.11 because I looked at each of 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7 and saw nothing that would make my work easier and several issues that would make my work more difficult. I finally purchased a new Macbook running 10.8 after concluding that it was impractical to purchase enough Powerbook G4s to be able to stay at 10.4.11 until I retire. I have had ongoing frustration with 10.8, wasting time every day and losing functionality with its operating system and software compared to 10.4.11 and the applications I used then. For example, while Spotlight is better under 10.8 than under 10.4.11, it is still worse than the applications that I purchased to search file content under 10.4.11 and 7.5.
David Buckley  2013-01-29 19:52
It would be somewhat legitimate to call me an Apple "fanboy", to use that most derisive of terms. However, I find myself really agreeing re Microsoft doing a much better job of COMMUNICATING with customers, of all kinds. Isn't technology at base so much about communication? That 11 word "release note" you cited is such a perfect example of Apple's patronizing terseness.
Frustrations with iWork Pages is not limited to Pages. iWork Numbers is has another issue. I create complicated spreadsheets with formulas in many different cells. In Appleworks on an Apple II, I could lock cells. In Clarisworks/Appleworks on any Mac prior to OS 10.7, I can lock cells. In Microsoft Excel for Mac, I can lock cells. In Numbers, the feature is gone, not there, no way!
The creators evidently never had to use a spreadsheet or at least understand basic needs of the user spreadsheet. It is unusable for complicated spreadsheets. One wrong click or entry and the entire spreadsheet is rendered useless.

And don't get me going on the decision to drop Rosetta from OS 10.7 and later. Backwords compatibility seems to be a thing of the past. Wonder what the outcry would be if Microsoft decided to drop Microsoft Office and prevent it from running on any new OS. That's what Apple did to Appleworks.
Don't tell me to get over it and move on. I've been moving on too long for dumb reasons.
David Buckley  2013-02-02 09:51
The basic GOOD THING is Tidbits being a force for accountability and quality in the Apple universe. As Adam said, making it publicly known when Apple (or any other company) is letting their customers down is so important. I really do believe that when you encounter things like this that really affect your digital life, create a support case on Apple's site, writing up the details--typically a more senior level, knowledgeable person will call you back (usually immediately) and can either help or if not, at least actually log the problem. I think most people neglect to do this due to lack of time, and fatalism. If we all do it, it may actually foment change. Oh, and support Tidbits!!
William Lisowski  2013-02-02 10:37
When you suggest writing up a support case, that's limited to developers, right? Because as a non-developer cruising, I haven't found where I would do that. If I've been missing an opportunity all these years, I'd like to know. Or should I just register as a developer? What does it take?