Pagehand - new word processor for OS X

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JHoover
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Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:32 am Post

A new word processor is being developed for OS X that some here might be interested in. Version 1.0 is available for demo download at pagehand.com. It features a single-window interface with controls swapped into and out of the sidebar and toolbar as needed. The UI is de-iconized and very textual. (You'll see what I mean.) Apple's cool and somewhat hard-to-find typography features are exposed and highlighted here. The user works in page layout mode exclusively.

The default save format is PDF, with the XML document data saved as a compressed object inside the PDF. Thus the file can be viewed on almost any computer. Ingenious, really! There are some features lacking (e.g., footnotes) as this is a very new product, but it has other cool features (numbered section headers, column layouts). Perhaps I missed it, but I saw no support for lists. The app is small (8 MB) and loads quickly. There is good support for styles. The app uses a 'document with saved styles' as template approach (like Nisus or Word) as opposed to style sheets being disconnected from documents like html/css, docbook, or TeX. It exports to many formats using the same file converters that Text Edit uses. The app's help file is kind of a hoot, as it dwells somewhat on the correct use of apostrophes, etc. On the other hand, it's clear that people aren't learning this kind of thing in school, so maybe the help file of a word processor is the most appropriate place for it after all.

I'm intrigued by Pagehand (full disclosure: I develop Bean and am kind of a word processor junky), but I feel that the textual UI philosophy was perhaps followed a bit too rigidly. Even Apple ignores their own UI guidelines when the situation calls for it, or when a bold stroke is needed. However, I think (what appears to be) the underlying XML document model will provide power, flexibility, and extendability as the app matures. The cocoa text system (what Bean uses) is powerful but hard to extend. So the developer of Pagehand has brought a lot of new ideas (textual interface, read/write pdf format) and powerful solutions (xml document model, single window interface) to the table. What do you all think?

em
emoKid
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Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:55 am Post

It looks really nice. I like most of it so far.

The only issues I have are mostly personal so far (like I like my formatting options to be on the right, and the default toolbar could use some work in ordering and presentation).
It seems to have a lot of general features done so far, but it's lacking the features that would make me be willing to pay for it (no footnotes, limited text/graphics formatting, issues opening some files).

I'll probably buy it later (when I have some extra money around). It seems really intuitive. In it's current state, I can't really use it, but if it grows, I can see myself using it in the future instead of Bean (just kidding).

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xiamenese
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Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:21 am Post

Just had a quick look at it. Very interesting. I've been a Nisus Writer user since the beginning, and I have to admit it'll take quite a lot to move me off that. I do have Bean, but have hardly ever used it. On the other hand, I installed it for my wife on her MacBook as Nisus Writer Express wasn't sitting well with her. I hope she's using Bean, as I think it will do everything she wants.

First impression was good; the clear and elegant web-site gave confidence. And that clarity and "out of your way" aspect of this pleases me. I'm with emo-kid that I prefer my controls on the right, but this is clearly built on the iTunes/iPhoto etc. API and I can live with it. I've only had a quick play, and checked one of my main working issues ... mixed language types.

I imported a one page binary .doc file — exported from NWP — in Simplified Chinese and English. It imported quickly and seamlessly. I then played around with changing paragraph and font styles. It took a few moments of working out, not to set up the new style, but how to get it to change in the text. It wasn't as automatic as I expected as I found that changing the font and justification of an existing style wasn't immediately reflected in the text ... ah, there's that "Apply" button as in Scrivener, I forgot about that ... in other words another case of pilot error.

It will do lists in its own way, as it has the controls for bullets, numbered paragraphs, etc. which can then be set as paragraph styles. Most of what I need is there, though footnotes/endnotes is a matter of urgency, I think. On the Nisus forum we've been calling for yonks for them to implement text-boxes ... maybe Pagehand will get there first; and if they can implement that and good graphics placement and text-flow, quickly, that'd be really interesting.

With a clean interface like this, I like the tabs. Since I work on editing translations, to have the original in one tab and the translation in another, making it quick and easy to switch between them, is something that I like the idea of for use on this MBA screen ... but it's unlikely to get me away from Scrivener and its split screen for that purpose for any but the quickest and least important of jobs.

As it stands, even though I too am a bit of a word-processor junkie, even at $39.95, I'll think carefully before buying into it. When they've got text-boxes, especially if they beat Nisus to it, it'd be a good bet. I like the PDF/XML idea ... that should make it possible for someone who knows their way around to build a plug-in to work seamlessly with the likes of OmniOutliner, I hope. And LinkBack ...

Hmm ... between Scrivener and Nisus Writer Pro, they're going to have their work cut out to get me to switch full-time.

Mark
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fg
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Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:57 am Post

JHoover.

Thanks for the pointer.

And a big THANK YOU for Beans which is almost all the time open on my Mac Mini.

Franz

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RobertB
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Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:17 am Post

Very nice word processor.

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xiamenese
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Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:28 am Post

I picked up on another, for me, major problem. You can change the paragraph margins, but not take them wider than the document margins, which are set at 1.5". At the moment it doesn't seem possible to change the document margins. I'm sure that is something the developer will take up, though.

Mark
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Amaru
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Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:39 pm Post

For a long time I have been looking for a word processor that saves files in a universal format (mostly to save reference material). I have tried saving files in RTF, but not all word processors open them in the same way, and they don't integrate with Spotlight as seamlessly as PDF files. Thank you, JHoover, for bringing Pagehand to the fore.
The use of PDF as their main format is not only clever, but, to my mind, brilliant. You save your document, and without any worries, you can share it with anyone, regardless of their computer environment. In addition, the implementation of styles is easy to figure out, powerful, and saves a lot of work. (The use of styles is probably the single best contribution of the team that developed MS Word back in the 80s.)
There are a few features that I would like to see in Pagehand before I purchase the application--notably footnotes, text boxes and image controls--but I would definitively keep an eye on this new app.

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xiamenese
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Sat Jul 04, 2009 6:34 am Post

I have heard from the developer, re margins. You can change them, but you have to change them individually through the document body, header and footer text areas; using the "Columns" feature, the dropdown menu in the middle allows you set each in turn by entering a figure in the box. There is no document margin. Not the most intuitive, but it's there.

@Amaru, he also says that those features will be implemented in the order: graphics, floating text-boxes, footnotes. Footnotes and endnotes will, it seems, be special implementations of text-boxes, and Pagehand will support simultaneous footnotes and endnotes. He advised me that his development track foresees footnotes and endnotes scheduled for version 1.2.

Mark
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Ti
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Sat Jul 04, 2009 12:21 pm Post

Interesting; elegant. It looks like soon we'll have another feature-rich word processor for the Mac, in addition to Mellel, Nisus, Papyrus and perhaps Pages (I'm leaving aside Word and its derivatives).

But one of the things I miss, is a kind of letter of intent. Why yet another word processor for the Mac? What kind of public does the developer have in mind for Pagehand? I hope he won't say "all Mac users", because serving everyone is serving no one. Will the focus be on the result (beautiful typesetting etc.), or on the composition process (comment feature, navigation pane etc.), or on both?

Another thing I miss is a user forum. But perhaps this is yet to come. I hope the developer won't say "Pagehand is so easy to use, so intuitive, that you don't need a user forum", because Scrivener is very easy to use too, and yet it has a user forum, and a very pleasant and very useful one.

It's good to hear that features like for instance footnotes will be added in the future, but here the question is a. how, and b. when, approximately?

With regard to a.: footnotes that can't span across pages, like in Pages and in Papyrus, are useless, at least for academic users working in research fields were long footnotes are a common practice.

With regard to b.: my favorite word processor is Mellel, but my major problem with Mellel is that its development is (too) slow. It's nice to hear that Pagehand's developer does already have in mind features he wants to add in the feature, but if (for instance) footnotes will be added in (for instance) 2011, for me Pagehand will become an alternative to be seriously considered in 2011, not now.
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Siren
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Sat Jul 11, 2009 3:17 pm Post

I like the look of this a lot, but in my opinion it's still not quite ready to risk spending money on.

For example, there are bugs (as I'd expect for 1.0, but I am disappointed to find how much they get in the way of my using the program). I changed the font of text in a table cell, and it became impossible to position the cursor in that cell again... A paragraph style set to right-align text always displays the text as centred, no matter how many times I apply or redefine the style (actually, I think those two alignment buttons have their coding swapped in the style definition pane)... Something weird happens sometimes when changing the bullet used in a list style, which causes the program to generate pages and pages of emptiness (I got up to 146 rapidly-added pages before I realised that the only way to stop it was to undo the edit style command, which then started counting down the pages again until it got back to where it should be)... Having set up all the styles for a standard document format, I saved them as a document style, closed everything down then went to open a new document with that style, only to find that it has not been saved and I have lost all my formatting specifications...

There are quirks. It took me ages to work out the line indenting in paragraph styles (at first I thought it was broken, but then I realised that the first line is unaffected unless you set a "first line" indent, even if you don't want the first line to be different to the others)... And there are all sorts of things that I assume must be possible but that I can't find any way of doing (such as setting different headers/footers for RH and LH pages).

But despite these (and several other) issues, the interface looks very attractive and generally feels comfortable to use, so I'll consider Pagehand again in the future when some of the glitches have been ironed out. I can't help thinking that it might have been better to have issued this version as a time-limited public beta rather than a paid-for 1.0. Then I would have carried on using it and submitting feedback, rather than simply giving up on it because I only have a 30-day trial period and will probably not see the fruits of my feedback reports. As it stands, the feedback form won't let me remove the text of any bug report so I have to quit and reload Pagehand to report every bug -- simply too much hassle unless participating in an actual trial.

It is pretty, though, and shows great promise. :-)
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Siren
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Sat Jul 11, 2009 4:21 pm Post

Actually, I must add that the developer is encouragingly responsive. I reported a couple of bugs an hour or two ago, and have already received a very friendly email in response (even though it's the weekend), saying that they will be fixed in a version to be released in the next few days.

Full marks for customer support, so far! :-)
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xiamenese
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Sat Jul 11, 2009 11:42 pm Post

Siren wrote:Actually, I must add that the developer is encouragingly responsive. I reported a couple of bugs an hour or two ago, and have already received a very friendly email in response (even though it's the weekend), saying that they will be fixed in a version to be released in the next few days.

Full marks for customer support, so far! :-)

I give him full marks too. On the two occasions on which I emailed him, I received very helpful replies very quickly ... making allowances for the time differences between wherever he is and China.

I too think the project might have been served well with a public beta, for the same reasons. On the other hand, I presumed the developer needs a cash inflow to be able to continue the work on developing it. Had I more money available, I would probably take a risk and buy it as a way of encouraging the development, but I cannot do so out of any funds I have available here and I cannot justify spending the money out of the UK account on something that I cannot use currently because of missing features. When 1.2 comes along, I will re-consider.

Mark
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Siren
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Sun Jul 12, 2009 9:42 am Post

Timotheus wrote:Another thing I miss is a user forum. But perhaps this is yet to come.

Indeed, I see that it has just arrived, all new and shiny! http://pagehand.com/support/forums/
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ri
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Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:27 am Post

I'm not sure he necessarily needs to go the public beta route. But a steeper introductory discount, or just a lower price, would be nice as an enticement to give it a try. I don't doubt that a good word processor is worth well over $50, but when we already have Mellel, Pages, and Nisus, I can't help but think that Pagehand is likely to join the long list of software in my Applications folder that I bought but don't use.

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juh
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Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:33 am Post

But Pagehand cannot read PDF, which was not produced with the programme itself. That would be a nice feature.