Nisus Writer 5.0.4
Nisus Software Inc.
Estimated Price: $199 US
Upgrade from Previous Versions: $79.99 US
Competitive Upgrade: $149 US
Some time ago, in a review of Mariner Write (Issue 19, November 1996), Tim Robertson wrote: “Yes, it’s limited when you compare it to Word 6.0.1, but what isn’t?
Nisus Writer isn’t.
Nisus Writer has been feature-full in its previous versions, but now, in version 5.0, it’s packed more than ever, able to beat Word with its feature list, beat WordPerfect with its ease-of-use, and all that without the hard-disk and RAM requirements of its rivals. But, unfortunately, some rather serious flaws keep Nisus Writer from achieving its full potential.
After getting my upgrade to the new version (I was a previous version 4 owner), I excitedly opened the package and installed the application. I was expecting major design changes, from making the tool-bars better looking and thinner (for more screen real estate), to the unification of all the 10 (!) different preferences dialog boxes in the previous version.
After double-clicking and waiting for the application to boot (it’s not a long process, about half the time it takes ClarisWorks to load) I was greeted with the new document, and everything looked the same; the same thick tool-bars, the same appearance. Or so it seemed.
What I discovered while working with the program is that instead of polishing the outside appearance of Nisus Writer’s interface, the programers focused on adding to the application’s already full feature list and giving the user some wonderful additions.
First of all, like all modern word processors, Nisus Writer supports full drag & drop (it also has a preference option to activate it only when the ‘ctrl’ key is pressed), smart cut & paste, “smart quotes”,unlimited undos and a very unique feature- 10(!) clipboards. It also supports almost every important technology Apple has offered us; from supporting AppleScript, AppleGuide, Balloon Help (with a great enhancement, it can be activated temporarily while pressing the ‘ctrl’ key, enabling the user to see help on a certain feature, without going to the help menu to activate it for such a little thing), Publish and Subscribe, QuickDraw GX, PowerTalk (now “maintained” 🙁 ), WordScript, and also another “maintained” technology – OpenDoc (or Live Objects).
Nisus Writer has the best “Find” capability in the whole word processor market. Actually its “Find” feature is so advanced that there are 3 levels of it, in order to prevent the not-so-advanced user from being overwhelmed by its many features. It also has 3 (!) macro languages – there’s the simple “Watch-Me” mode, there is a simple command dialect, and there is the full featured programming dialect, allowing total macro control. Nisus Writer also supports UserLand Frontier, and as I mentioned, AppleScript.
Nisus Writer supports QuickDraw GX printing for those that have installed it, and also provides the best multi-lingual capabilities I have ever seen. It is especially useful for people writing in right-to-left languages and Japanese writing. One of the greatest advancements from the previous versions is that no longer does the user who wants to write in right-to-left languages need to use a protection key (also known as a dongle).
Nisus Writer also supports HTML. Just create a document and choose in the “Save” dialog box to ‘Save as HTML’ and that’s it. You may also write in HTML, and Nisus Writer will identify it (although it won’t check if you have a real HTML code, only if you have the ‘parentheses’ before and after your HTML command). Because I don’t have a Web page, I am using other people’s impressions of this feature – some reviewers said it’s good and very reliable, while others claimed it produced bad reports, with missing ‘.gif’ pictures and such (for a demonstration of this problem you can go to the MacUser Web page at http://www.zdnet.com/macuser/ and check their May issue for the Nisus Writer review). Nisus claims in its Web site that most problems have been fixed in version 5.0.4.
One of the most advertised features of Nisus Writer is the fact that it’s an OpenDoc container application, able to incorporate in it OpenDoc parts (the CD-ROM version of Nisus Writer comes with OpenDoc, Cyberdog, and some other OpenDoc parts). The Nisus Writer manual warns that OpenDoc is a new technology and therefore may be unstable. Many people have encountered problems with handling OpenDoc in Nisus Writer, yet I have not encountered such a problem although I have been working with Nisus Writer for 2-3 months. Nisus Writer is not compatible with the latest version of OpenDoc, version 1.2, and in order to allow users to use whatever OpenDoc version they wanted, Nisus Software has replaced in version 5.0.4 Nisus Writer’s internal usage of OpenDoc to a plug-in, which will activate Nisus Writer’s OpenDoc usage only when put in the same folder as the “Nisus Writer” application or in the System Folder. But that so heralded feature of Nisus Writer is no longer important; OpenDoc has been announced to be a “maintained” technology, not to be further developed, and thus practically dead.
Compatibility is not a problem with Nisus Writer for it can read any document for which it has an XTND translator, and other word processors can read it like a plain-text document.
After what I’ve written previously, you might have gotten the impression that I disliked Nisus Writer’s interface. That is, however, untrue. I believe Nisus Writer’s interface is quite nice and easy to understand. There’s only one bar present on screen (that is, if you don’t count the optional, very thin, “information bar”, that only shows the amount of memory currently occupied, page number, and some other optional information). The bar present is either the text bar (containing basic text features), the graphic bar (containing graphical drawing features and is the visual cue for the user, to know he/she is in the graphic layer), or the speech bar (containing controls to record and play sound). For people who like multiple rulers, Nisus Writer provides several floating-palettes containing many different commands, but their major flaw is that they aren’t customizable. If you’re working on a specific kind of document, it is annoying to have several floating-palettes open, when you actually need only about one or two commands in each one.
Although no major design changes have been made, several minor changes were made. There is now only one “preferences…” dialog box – it’s designed like a QuickDraw GX print box, with icons that when pressed upon change the preferences the user can edit (similar to the tab approach in Word 6 and in Claris Emailer). There are also other small design changes, like the speller (that can be fully activated by the keyboard, no need to use the mouse) and some other small interface improvements.
Nisus Writer’s graphic layer is wonderful. It’s actually a small scale drawing program able to make graphics transparent (making them actually a watermark), to wrap text around a graphic, to place text under or above a graphic and provide of other graphical tweaks. It can recognize ‘.pict’,’.tiff’ and ‘.gif’ type of pictures. Like most word processors, it lets the user draw several basic (and sometimes not so basic) shapes, including arrows on line ends (the user selects which end or both ends).
Nisus writer’s speech technology is wonderful. Not only can it read aloud English text (with any voice you choose), but it can also read text aloud to you in French, Italian, German or Spanish. Yet that feature is no longer so nice and important; PowerTalk, like OpenDoc, has been announced to be a “maintained” technology, not to be further developed.
You can insert anything into a Nisus Writer document; a QuickTime movie, an equation (Design Science’s MathType 3.0 is included, although without the ruler and the frequently-accessed-formulas bar), or a table. This is my major problem with Nisus Writer – its terrible table editor. The table editor’s functions are not all that bad but there are simply too many flaws, of which I’ll only mention the main ones here: The table editor is not an integrated part of Nisus Writer, so when you insert a table you actually call it a separate program , meaning it does not enjoy the full features the rest of Nisus Writer enjoys. Yet, that problem is not the most serious problem Nisus Writer’s table editor has. The biggest problem is that it can’t create tables longer than one page!!! That is a major problem that also existed in previous versions of Nisus Writer, and instead of fixing that problem, Nisus Writer’s programmers instead offer to duplicate the table and crop each duplicated table so that it shows what it should. I should duplicate a 4 paged table 4 times, and crop each duplicated table to show a fourth of the whole table? Sorry, but I find that way cumbersome and entirely unacceptable.
Another possible problem with Nisus Writer is the fact that it does not contain a built-in outliner. I personally do not use an outliner even in applications that contain one, but people who do should be aware that Nisus Writer lacks one. Nisus Writer also lacks a grammar checker, which may not concern many people (I’m one of those people), but it might concern others. Yet another major flaw with Nisus Writer is the fact that it doesn’t allow the user to change the number of columns in a document.
Overall, I found Nisus Writer a wonderful word processor; easy-to-use yet very powerful, and although it has its flaws, it’s a wonderful buy. For anyone requiring multi-lingual tasks, Nisus Writer is a must.
Shaul Lev ( firstname.lastname@example.org )