Replacements for Apple Code, Please!

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subgeniuszero
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 12:09 pm Post

Hi Keith, everyone,

Just wanted to write in with something that's probably been voiced before, mainly to add my (currently angry and frustrated) voice to the chorus, if there is one. We all know how Apple's text system -- which has not been updated since Tiger, I hear -- sucks the big one. On the top of the list of things it sucks at are Lists (which are terrible, and have no outline-creation capabilities), and Tables, which are so clunky, limited, and lacking in features so as to be almost unusable, and laughable when compared to the engine under the hood in something like Microsoft Office . . . which isn't even an Operating System, and still blows Apple's system straight out of the water!

So, this is just a friendly (albeit sort of hot-tempered) message to implore Keith to please, please, PLEASE see if he can find the time to at least write his own Table and List engines for the next release, or maybe the release after that. Even if they wind up being a little feature-light and are somewhat limited themselves, that would be fine . . . just so as we wouldn't have to put up with using Apple's ****-poor implementation anymore. Having tried to use Scrivener's (i.e., Apple's) tables in a few Documents now, I find myself gnashing my teeth and reluctantly booting up Office in order to get the job done, and that's just not cool, especially as I have so much invested now in Scrivener's workflow and methodology, which I absolutely LOVE with a passion.

My question thus becomes -- how much of a priority can this be made? I know it's probably another HUGE undertaking for a developer who is already swamped with feature- requests, bugs to squash, and ideas of his own of what he'd like to do . . . but c'mon man, this is unbearable. I've never actually pointedly complained about a specific feature in Scrivener before -- I've made suggestions, offered ideas for new features, but never actively vented any deep-seated loathing over current features -- at least until now. I really do realize that it's not Keith's fault or anything, and that he's only using Apple's code for this stuff -- to get mad at him for it would be much like shooting the proverbial messenger -- but man oh man, if it were me and I was given such poor quality tools to work with as Apple has given him, I'd roll up my sleeves and try to create my own, even if it was difficult or a major pain the butt. Because as big of a pain in the backside that it would be, I guarantee that it's a bigger (if collective) pain in the butt for users like me to have to switch into some other software (and then hope and pray it converts properly) just to do the simplest things -- like tables and lists.

Just my (very frustrated and angry at the moment, so forgive me) two cents' worth,
--Andy H.
"We are star-stuff. We are the universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out." — Delenn

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KB
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:26 pm Post

You can make outlines in Apple's lists - just hit tab.

I'm afraid that replacing tables and lists is a low priority, sorry - it's months' worth of work for something that can already be achieved, and there are many higher priorities. It is on the list for the future, but I doubt it will be until 4.0 or after. It's certainly not on the slate for 3.0 - Scrivener was never intended to be a full word processor, and Word is hardly a fair comparison given Microsoft's resources. But also, while we do - very occasionally - get users asking for improvements to the tables code (and very rarely to the lists code), you are so far the only user who has found them "unbearable". :) They're a bit limited, they're not great, but they don't make me particularly angry, and we haven't had any serious complaints in this department until now.

All the best,
Keith
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Jaysen
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:39 pm Post

I'm asking this as a followup to make sure there isn't a way to satisfy your need already in scrivener: what are you doing in text that you can't accomplish with scrivener outline view?
Jaysen

I have a wife and 2 kids that I can only attribute to a wiggle, a giggle, and the realization that she was out of my league so I might as well be happy with her as a friend. 24 years marriage later, I can't imagine life without her. -Me 10/7/09

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subgeniuszero
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:13 pm Post

Hi Jaysen:

Here are just a few things that can't be accomplished. Also, having used outline view, it's not what I want for this; this is not an outline of project structure, but just -- for instance -- an outline IN a document, for notes in a class:

1. Automatic (properly numbered/lettered) outline-formatting of nested lists.
2. Automatic adjust of list indent levels and number-to-text indent independently of the main ruler.
3. Automatic adjustment of indent level depending on list/outline/tier-level.
4. Tiered numbering (1.1, 1.2, 2.1, etc.), with features similar to 1-3
5. Automatic adjustment of formatting depending on list/outline level
6. Inability to save a specially-formatted list/outline to a style preset (or, creation of new list styles as list presets).
7. Auto-detection of outline style (Harvard, Legal, etc.)
8. Lists do not remember the last list style used
9. Sometimes, the default next-line-indent for a list will reset itself to 0, requiring a manual readjustment in the ruler.
10. List styles do not "remember" the last use of that style's formatting or options.

And as for tables:

1. Can't use fractional point-sizes for cell-border thicknesses.
2. No header rows / columns
3. No gradients and/or images in cells and for cell backgrounds
4. Unable to define table style presets
5. Unable to sort/order columns/rows dependently (or independently).
6. No option to specify "enter" and "tab" key behavior with regard to cells, rows, columns, and contents
7. Frequently, the edges of tables, rows, and columns will get "out of sync" with one another, requiring manual dragging and resizing.

These are just a few off the top of my head. These aren't, I don't think, unreasonable things to ask for, since even bottom-of-the-barrel word processors have most if not all of them. (Ironically, Apple's "Pages" has all of them.) And while Scrivener is not intended to replace dedicated word processors, the fact is that round-tripping documents is a huge pain, and if a feature can make that unnecessary, then I say that feature should be implemented. But since I'm obviously the only one upset at Scrivener's (or more accurately, Apple's text system's) lack of ability to do these things, well, it like Keith said . . . it's just not a very high priority. So, I guess I'll live with it.
"We are star-stuff. We are the universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out." — Delenn

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Jaysen
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:32 pm Post

I see what you mean. I hadn't thought that one all the way through.
Jaysen

I have a wife and 2 kids that I can only attribute to a wiggle, a giggle, and the realization that she was out of my league so I might as well be happy with her as a friend. 24 years marriage later, I can't imagine life without her. -Me 10/7/09

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Sat Feb 18, 2012 8:18 pm Post

subgeniuszero wrote:But since I'm obviously the only one upset at Scrivener's (or more accurately, Apple's text system's) lack of ability to do these things, well, it like Keith said . . . it's just not a very high priority. So, I guess I'll live with it.


You're certainly not the only one. Apple's text engine is dire (compare say, Mellel), and the tables are just dreadful.

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Sat Feb 18, 2012 9:10 pm Post

Interesting, and thought provoking for this (Windows) user. It brings up these rather academic questions in my mind:

How much more should users be willing to pay for the next major release if L&L writes their own list management software?

How much more should users be willing to pay for the next major release if L&L writes their own table management software?

I know I would pay more. I think Scrivener is the best valued writer's tool currently on the software market. But I would be willing to pay for more functionality in both these areas.

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Jaysen
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 9:29 pm Post

I didn't really want to mention this before, but, remembering that scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor, should latex, MMD or some other post processing be used to achieve these goals?

I'm not saying anything other than it seems that these things might be better done outside scriv given KB's positions on scriv purpose and functionality.
Jaysen

I have a wife and 2 kids that I can only attribute to a wiggle, a giggle, and the realization that she was out of my league so I might as well be happy with her as a friend. 24 years marriage later, I can't imagine life without her. -Me 10/7/09

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subgeniuszero
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 10:20 pm Post

Put me down in the "Willing to Pay More" column! The less round-tripping I have to do to other software, the better.
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:20 am Post

Let me say what my questions were meant to imply. Jaysen began to touch on it.

    Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor. Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor. Say it with me three times, "Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor."

    It doesn't matter how much I'm willing to pay for increased list and table features -- I'd pay at least $60 USD for Word-like functionality in these areas, by the way -- I don't think L&L is willing (at least not now) to make Scrivener into a WYSIWYG word processor. And the way I understand it at present, L&L may never be willing to make Scrivener into a WYSIWYG word processor.

    The out-and-out bugs that currently exist in tables and lists notwithstanding, any features that are only interesting/useable in a WYSIWYG "no round tripping" context are not currently interesting to the developers. And many of those existing bugs, on the Mac side at least, are not under L&L's control.
L&L, please correct me if I'm wrong.

As so many others had certainly done before me, I noticed the deficiencies in lists and tables on the Windows side immediately, of course. But (yeah) "Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor." So I got used to it and got on with the work. Any tweaking to lists and tables that I need to do in my target format, I now do in my target format.

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Sun Feb 19, 2012 1:36 am Post

Excellent! Scrivener 3.0 will be $199, and I can buy myself two other developers a year after that and start looking at our own tables code - you heard it hear first. :) (On a serious note, I do understand why users would love perfect tables and lists and suchlike, but I hope that they will also understand that I want to be able to spend time with my kids and wife, and maybe even use Scrivener to write myself occasionally. Scrivener coding already eats up ten or more hours a day - all given with love and dedication, I might add. Scrivener is a mere $45 - Apple may make their own software cheap these days because they are in the business of selling hardware and so can afford to take a loss on their software, and thus make it seem to some that $45 is expensive, but for $45 I truly believe you get an awful lot of "bang for your buck". Better tables and lists - yes, that would be lovely, of course. But improving them is beyond our current resources, and at least we have them at all. And I am serious that if you want us to be able to do this sort of thing, then we would need both higher prices *and* the sort of sales that Microsoft achieve. We're a long way from that at the moment, but hey, we can hope and dream! Er, yes, I'm aware this all sounds rather dismissive and 'be-glad-for-what-you've-got', but I don't mean it that way at all. I agree that Apple's tables and lists aren't perfect, but I don't think they are unbearable at all, and they achieve everything I've ever needed them to do - including many complex documents.)
"You can't waltz in here, use my toaster, and start spouting universal truths without qualification."

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Sun Feb 19, 2012 1:44 am Post

I want a raise. :P
Jennifer Hughes
(MM for short)

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kewms
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 1:58 am Post

jravan wrote:How much more should users be willing to pay for the next major release if L&L writes their own list management software?

How much more should users be willing to pay for the next major release if L&L writes their own table management software?


I would pay less, and would strongly consider not upgrading at all.

The closer to a WYSIWYG word processor Scrivener gets, the more it risks overwhelming the features that attracted me in the first place.

At least in theory, almost everything that Scrivener does can be accomplished through clever use of Word's templates and master document tools. Plus Word throws in a reasonable set of page layout tools, and much more besides. So why use Scrivener at all?

Because it is simpler. Because it lets me just write, with whatever scattershot combination of cocktail napkin/outline/index cards works for that particular project, without even thinking about the difference between Harvard and Legal outline styles.

I think it's great that people love Scrivener so much that they want to use it for projects far outside its original design goals. I think it would be tragic if, in attempting to please those users, it drifted away from that original vision.

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AmberV
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 2:36 am Post

As for round-tripping, it's not that bad if you use the folder sync feature with RTF and Word or NWP. Using that to compose any tables or complicated lists that you need and then bringing them back into Scrivener, right back to the outline segments they should go to, is pretty easy, and the only thing you lose the ability to use are Scrivener Links, I believe, and breaking up the outline further so that the tables and lists are focused on in the sections that sync can mitigate even that limitation. Or just take the normal Scrivener approach and use the editor to put down things like this in broad strokes, finishing them up later in Word once you are done with Scrivener for the project. It is pretty easy to paint an outline style on top of a properly indented basic outline. Use Scrivener's basic features, and don't worry about getting all of the number formats correct and so on while composing. Just use bullets or basic numbers and save the Harvard Style for later.

Tables are a little more difficult to approach with this philosophy, but I do note that many of your complaints with the current table code are things that can be easily done later on. You can still fill out the data of the header row and column and then redefine them later in Word. Don't worry so much about weird cell shapes and border that aren't to your 0.05" specifications, and just roll with it as a placeholder. Save all of that stuff for later.

In my opinion this does not represent more work than doing it up front; it is instead just spreading the work around to different specialist applications. It keeps the composition platform clean of fiddly details and other WYSIWYG psychological problems (not to mention technological problems of complexity---who all here likes working in a 150k word Word document? In Scrivener though, not a problem) and saves all of that for later in the process when the creative work is largely done. Perhaps I am more tolerant of that philosophy given my background. I've always preferred to write in a plain-text environment and prefer to use simple marking systems as "placeholders" for final formatting. Even with highly automated and convenient systems like MultiMarkdown, I still have to spend a lot of time on polishing the routines that generate the final look. What I prefer about that method is that once I perfect the automation and can then go and re-apply it at will to any new material I generate. It probably took me about a week of time, all together, to craft the user manual automation. But these days I can go from a plain-text user manual to a formatted PDF in about 15 minutes.

I don't, in my opinion, think that is approach is all that terribly different from a rich text non-WYSIWYG environment like Scrivener, where you aren't working in "code markings", but you are still working in a placeholder environment where what you see in the editor is not necessarily what you will see in the bound book. I don't think either method is substantially superior to the other. Even Word can be automated to take one form of basic formatting and translate it to another via macros (or is that no longer an option on the Mac?) and I don't think think either is any more technically difficult to accomplish. Learning XSLT is probably about as difficult as learning Office automation. So on the geeky end of the spectrum either method has good merits, I just prefer plain-text because that is what I "grew up on". But I digress.

The point is, I think keeping precision layout out of the creative environment is a beneficial philosophy whether you approach it from a pure code stance like Ulysses, or a rich text stance like Scrivener. Applications like this provide a solid creative environment that forces you to work on the composition and not the end result, and in 99% of writing use cases, I think that is a superior approach to something like Word.

As for whether that extends to having some better features for lists and tables, perhaps not entirely, but out of your list of missing features for both, I would myself cross off at least 80% of them as being unnecessary for pure composition. Fractional cell border thicknesses and gradients in the background are precisely the type of thing software like Scrivener sets out to avoid. I could hardly come up with a better example of what shouldn't be in the creative environment. Better cell sizing and navigation on the other hand, sure---that's probably all stuff that could be nice to have---but I definitely agree with what Keith is saying: it's spending an awful lot of time on something that is on the border of what the software's intended scope is, and it would realistically take a long time to even get to a parity status with Apple's current offerings. What you see in the Windows system is by and large the result of hand coding, and I'd say it's roughly around what Apple provides. It's been refined and developed over a long period of time. To go beyond that would take a lot more work. Microsoft can throw an entire team of the some of the world's most talented and expensive programmers at problems like this. :) So it's really not fair to put the two side-by-side in a feature matrix.

In short, I think the features provided by the Apple system are just about in the sweet spot for where they should be. You can do numbered lists, you can do bullets, you can even mix them up. You can make a table and do some basic layout. Anything more than that strikes me as design fiddling (not to say that isn't important, but contextually it is out of place with the goal of the software). So even if something were rolled from scratch, I myself would advocate it not going too much further than what we have now. But like I say, I'm biased. I make lists using asterisks and typing in numbers by hand. :) I use zero formatting while writing.
.:.
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subgeniuszero
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 4:26 am Post

I think it's important to realize, though, that not all writers work that way, especially some of us who do purely creative writing 90% of the time. For those of us in that group who are like me, writing is as much about form as it is content; if the font on the screen isn't right, if the margins aren't just right, if the tab stops don't all line up perfectly, and if the lights in the room aren't at a certain level and just the right music playing — in short, if the writing environment itself doesn't "feel" exactly right — then our process is compromised, and it makes creation harder, not easier, when tools and features are either taken away or not present. This make strike some people as unnecessarily anal retentive, and as placing demands on the software that it shouldn't have to meet.

To give you an example: On the one hand, one little thing that Scrivener does exceptionally well is cater to these types of needs. A good example is the text and paper backgrounds feature, in Preferences. For some projects, I prefer a brown parchment paper with a varnished wood "desk" beneath it; for others, I prefer white construction paper on a background of clouds. Helps me get in the groove, to find the right creative space in which to work, and helps me evoke the creative identity of the project itself; for fantasy, parchment is best; for science-fiction, lightly-inked grid lines on plain white; for school projects, a sheet of college-ruled paper, faded just enough so that the lines don't obscure the text. This is a great feature of Scrivener's, and it's made my creative process that much smoother. (As has the ability to adjust the font face and size of numerous interface elements, from index cards — the metaphor of which is nicely jammed home using actual red and blue lines on the cards — to the Binder.)

For folks like me, going back and forth between different software packages is an unnecessary break in the creative continuum; it severs the technical aspect of writing — which ought to be invisible anyway — from the creative aspect, and invites having to switch between left- and right-brained tasks. Thus, the more in-built technical features that a creative software package can make effortless and seamless — thus blurring the lines between creation and production — the better. We are not all of us technical writers who will gladly eschew aesthetics of process for quick and dirty solutions; it's odd that Scrivener, being a program that goes out of its way to provide creative writers with exactly the organizational tools they need, is (due to the limitations of Apple's text system) sadly lacking when it comes to some of the finer points of text manipulation. Don't get me wrong; I love Scrivener's way of doing things — it's why I haven't switched back to Word or Pages, despite their proficiency in the latter area.

And as someone who HAS repeated three times that "Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG word processor," and as the current patient of a very good therapist, I can tell you that there is such a thing as "All or nothing thinking," which this strikes me as a golden example of. No one is asking that Scrivener be the next Microsoft Word, or that it try to compete with Pages in terms of a large-scale feature set, or even in terms of intended audience and user-base, or that it abandon its original mission and try to be all things to all people. Rather, what I said was that Scrivener ought to have a few more tools for dealing with tables and lists. It doesn't have to have stylesheets, and crazy word art, and live, self-calculating tables, or fancy text boxes with drop shadows. Those are all fun things to fantasize about that will never happen in a million years, because those ARE far afield from Scrivener's mission. Tables, outlines, and lists aren't.

And for what it's worth, I think that everyone here realizes that Keith does not have the resources of Redmond or Cupertino, thanks very much . . . in fact, I believe I acknowledged this fact in my initial post. Which is why I specifically requested that something like this go on the "to do" list (which Keith then replied that it was), and why I specifically referenced the issue of "spare time." I was prepared to say no more about it after his initial response, especially after being told it wasn't a high priority (which was a letdown, but one I got over fairly quickly).

But, there's a certain breed of computer user out there who annoys the you-know-what out of me. They like to talk about how GREAT it is that you can't do a something in a certain software context, and how AWESOME they think it is that a piece of software has such a narrow or limited feature-scope, and I honestly think they get off on the idea of being these cyber-Ubermenschers who stoically deny themselves ANY and ALL bells and whistles that might — gasp! — distract their fragile attention spans away from their super-efficient workflow. Well, I'm a big kid, thanks, and I can deal with extra buttons on a toolbar or an extra menu option here and there without my entire creative process falling apart. In fact, those bells and whistles are pretty good to have around sometimes. Can I live without them? Of course. But do I prefer to? Of course not But all that is actually neither here nor there. As Keith himself pointed out earlier, Scrivener's features are not limited (at least not primarily) by the fact that he adheres to some badass, ascetic philosophy of Spartan software design and narrowly-targeted feature-sets . . . that might be a factor, sure, but it's not the main reason. Rather, it's because he relies on Apple methods to do the heavy lifting so that he has to do less coding, and because at the end of the day, the man just wants to spend time with his wife and kids, and doesn't have the resources in terms of time or money to invest too heavily in satisfying what is — admittedly — a fringe of the user community like me. I don't take issue with that — but I do take issue with worshipping at the altar of efficiency by sacrificing more aesthetic considerations. Scrivener is NOT awesome because of what it is NOT — i.e., a dedicated a word processor. That's "bass-ackwards" thinking, as my grandmother used to say. Rather, Scrivener is awesome because of what it IS — a powerful, writer-friendly content creation application with a nice set of organizational features, a good deal of customizability, fairly impressive speed, and lots of writer-centric tools, such as text statistics, targets, and synopses, and that employs cool, sensible metaphors such as index cards, and that is excellent in that it abstracts just enough of the task of creation from the task of production and output. Basically, I don't see the sense in bragging about how few features something has (or how few you think it needs), when in truth, the number of features a program needs is however many it takes to get X job done, and how at the end of the day, the quality of your creative work is what you brag about . . . not the super-efficient process that you used to create it. No one really cares about that part, except you. If being efficient makes you feel like a badass, then by all means, badass away; we still won't care. Especially since one process is fairly equal to another, so long as — again — it gets the job done. For me, Scrivener fills about 90% of my needs as a writer — and so I naturally don't want to have to use other software; for me, that's highly inefficient, and it screws with my creative groove. Your mileage may vary . . . but I see no harm in pointing out the obvious — Apple's text system is, to quote someone above, "dire." And even if Keith can't exactly whip up a solution and pull it out of a hat by tomorrow, we as users can still alert him to the fact that there's a problem, or a limitation, regardless of how niche our needs might be or how obscure and narrowly-targeted our requests are. They may not get implemented, but they still deserve to be heard and considered, which Keith has thus far done a marvelous job of doing.

—A.H.
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