The more things change, the more things stay the same

Some years ago Chris Pratley, an Office GPM, wrote an interesting article that talks about some of the mid-90s competition in the word processing space from the point of view of someone working on Microsoft Word.

The thing about these comparative reviews is that they tried to evaluate the products each release as if you were a Martian - that is "objectively", as if you had no previous experience in any tool - which of course did not reflect reality. I also put "objectively" in quotes because, well, these reviews were really totally subjective and reflected the bias of the reviewers pretty strongly.

They rarely connected with real customers to see what mattered - instead they prioritized what they thought was important (for example to them "word count" was such a big deal but it is rarely used among the real user base outside of students and professional writers - we have quantitative proof of that. Naturally it turns out reviewers need it all the time, so it became one of the "critical features" of a word processor according to these reviewers). [emphasis mine]

I've always remembered last comment because it reminds me to be cautious about doing what "reviewers" say that we should do (but also the importance of sometimes pandering to reviewers because reviews do matter, to some degree).

Twelve years later, it looks like nothing has changed. From today's Walt Mossberg's Wall Street Journal article about Apple's iWork '08, under the headline Apple's iWork Package Is Elegant but Wimpy Compared With Office :

[Pages, the word processing application in iWork], still de-emphasizes some writer-friendly features. For instance, its auto-correct function is much weaker than Word's. Another example: In Word, to see how many words your document contains, you just glance at the bottom of the screen. In Pages, you must dig down into a submenu to find the answer. The command for showing invisible formatting marks also is harder to find than in Word.

I have to say, Walt disappoints me here. He usually tries to be a "man of the people" (with decent success), but he's lost sight of that with this review. Maybe word processors are always going to suffer from this problem since reviewers are almost always also journalists.