J. Michael Farmer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
At long last, Nisus has released the newest version of its cult-favorite wordprocessor: NisusWriter 4. Not having used any previous version of Nisus, these remarks may well represent the opinions of Nisus' target user: Someone who crunches text in either MS Word or WordPerfect.
The first thing that one has to accept is the fact that NW 4 is not based on Word or WordPerfect. Users should check their preconceived notions of how wordprocessers work at the door, as well as allow a slightly longer period of time to get into the Nisus mindset.
For example, in MSW or WP, you set line characteristics (spacing, margins, indents, etc) from a button bar. In NisusWriter, you set paragraph rulers to these settings, name them, and use them in a manner similar to style sheets in the other wordprocessers. As far as styles go, NW uses them to define text characteristics (fonts, styles, etc). You then use styles in conjunction with paragraph rulers to format the document. This takes a bit of getting used to, but is really no more difficult/inconvenient than the *other* way.
Default settings are set by the user by creating mock documents and saving them as stationary files. You create and name paragraph rulers to set the line/paragraph attributes, set the margins, type styles, etc. for each type of document that you commonly use. Instead of the *old way* of typing and formatting later, Nisus wants you to format first, and type later. Of course, you could always enter the text and go back to format. But with a couple of minutes of set up, template documents can save the user the time and effort of reformatting at a later stage. Again, it works great, but takes a bit of getting used to.
The Nisus interface is clean and simple. You get a ruler with line spacing buttons and a paragraph ruler button. Floating tool pallets for the buttons that you want displayed can be called up and positioned in out of the way locations, and then hidden when no longer needed. I like the uncluttered look and feel. It comes with about a dozen common keyboard shortcuts pre-set (x=cut, v=paste, etc.) The others can be set by the user very easily. Click here to see a screen shot of the NisusWriter desktop.
I love the way NisusWriter 4 handles footnotes/endnotes. Unlike WP, you can view a page of footnotes/endnotes at a time, and edit between them easily. Placement (bottom of page or end of document), attributes, styles, etc are easily edited. The document can be set so that the footnotes/endnotes appear on screen as you edit the document, or can be turned off so that you only see the actual text and not the notes. This is similar to MSW's Page View. Unlike Word, where in Page View scrolling takes an eternity, NisusWriter 4 scrolls rather quickly even with notes in sight. (I'm using a PowerBook 165 w/10 meg RAM). Unfortuately, you can only have footnotes OR endnotes in a document, not both.
Other cool features include unlimited undue, and a glossary feature similar to the Thunder 7 model now being adopted by Word and WordPerfect. The ultra-powerful find and replace function is light years above and beyond anything in a competing wordprocesser. Although I have yet to do any indexing, the manual seems to indicate that this is a professional, powerful tool as well. My favorite feature, however, is the ability to select non contiguous text (command-option-drag).
NisusWriter is highly customizable. It works with Apple Script, Frontier Script, and comes with a sophisticated macros feature. Programmers have loved previous versions of Nisus, and this version may pull me into the world of big-time macros and scripting.
As in previous versions of Nisus, the text of a file is saved in the data fork, while the formatting is saved in the resource fork. This allows any wordprocessor to open NisusWriter files, without having to save them specifically as text files. This great hidden feature leads into one serious drawback: File conversion.
File conversion is sketchy. NW 4 comes with XTND translators for Word, MacWrite, etc, but not for WordPerfect. I tried to import a Word 4 file, and ended up with a big mess. However, I suspect that this is more a flaw with the Claris XTND translators than with Nisus. When I asked about this, Nisus suggested that I purchase MacLinkPlus translators (at least $80 for the basic set). This is a problem. The solution is not for the user to spend more money (on an already expensive program) to fix something that ought to be standard.
My other major problem is the program's documentation. NisusWriter comes with over 1000 pages of documentation in five separate volumes. For the most part, they are well written and easy to understand. It is the organization that is often frustrating. The index often refers to pages where topics are mentioned in passing, not explained.
One example may serve to illustrate the frustration I experienced in using the NW 4 manuals: Standard academic papers require a certain format for the numbering of pages. Standard thesis/dissertation pagination, ie. page one of a chapter: page number BOTTOM CENTER, each subsequent page number TOP RIGHT. NW inserts page numbers into headers/footers. You can turn off an existing header/footer by inserting a new, blank one on the page where you want the change to begin. This is covered in ONE of the sections on headers/footers. However, nowhere in a section on page numbers does it discuss how to accomplish the aforementioned task. I had to get the details from their email TechSupport staff (who were quick and helpful). I guess the point is: The manual is too fragmented--- topics are split among and within the volumes. The information on how to format academic page numbers was all included, but not in a form that I was able to digest and use. (Maybe this is a problem for me and no one else....)
The documentation, combined with the non-traditional way of wordprocessing leads to a steeper learning curve than other wordprocessors. However, after two plus weeks of playing around with NisusWriter, I've come to prefer it to WP (which I prefer over MSW....) IMHO, the additional time is a small price to pay for a faster, cleaner, and more powerful wordprocessor!
I was led to Nisus out of the need to process Chinese text within English documents. Using the Chinese Language Kit, NisusWriter handles this task easily and effectively. It recognized non-Roman scripts (input systems) and manipulates the text accordingly. Font changes only affect the script corresponding to the font (ie: SELECT ALL font changes to a Chinese font only change the Chinese text, leaving my English text in the original Bookman font). Script specific search/find/replaces are also a huge imporvement over WP's handling of non-Roman text.
NW4 is System 7.5 compatible. Takes about 6 meg of hard-drive space and uses 3 meg of RAM (varies on your total installed RAM). It can be set to load totally into memory, thus making it PowerBook friendly :)
The folks at Nisus have been wonderful to deal with. The online TechSupport staff has been prompt and helpful, and my two calls to the phone-in TechSupport staff were returned quickly as well, I was even told how to do a ResEdit hack to eliminate a resource that was only intended for the Japanese release, but somehow managed to find its way into my copy (only affects multi-lingual font changes). The small-company feel that the staff exude is refreshing for those of us accustomed to waiting on hold for hours with the other wordprocessing giants. However, the product is definitely not small. NisusWriter 4 is a full-powered, highly versatile wordprocessor, and a legitimate alternative to Word or WordPerfect.
For the first week or two of using NW 4, I was rather ambivalent about it. But now, I heartily recommend it. Be forwarned: Don't buy this and expect to master it in a couple of days. Don't buy this planning to execute a major project on it the next day. Give yourself some time to grow accustomed to the program, peruse and digest the manuals, make a couple of call/emails to TechSupport for help, etc. You may find that NisusWriter 4 will grow on you rather quickly. I did.
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Last Update: 9 April 95