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Nisus Writer Pro 2.0: The Review

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Nisus Software recently released Nisus Writer Pro 2.0, a major revision to the company’s legendary high-end word processor. It had been more than a year since its last update, but the new version includes a vast number of improvements that more than justify the delay. In fact, it goes quite a bit beyond that. After following Nisus Writer’s ups and downs carefully these many years, I am equally shocked and delighted to say this is the first version of the application since Mac OS X was released — over ten years ago — that I can seriously contemplate using for my own professional writing.

The release notes make for extremely interesting reading. They detail over 500 changes, including major new features, minor alterations, and bug fixes. Among the headliner features of this release are several capabilities I’ve been wanting eagerly for years — change tracking, paragraph borders and shading, and drawing tools. Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 can also create PDF files with proper tables of contents and clickable links to internal references, export documents in EPUB format, add watermarks behind page contents, display a vertical ruler, show a customizable menu palette of special characters, and link to image files stored on disk.

Of course, Nisus Writer Pro retains such trademark features as multiple, editable clipboards; extensive support for multilingual text, especially in right-to-left languages; the world’s best find-and-replace capability; a built-in macro language; a glossary feature for automatic text substitutions; a first-rate table editor; multiple columns, sections, and other layout features; heavily customizable autonumbering, bookmarking, cross-referencing, indexing, and tables of contents; footnotes and endnotes; user-defined paragraph, character, list, and note styles; and a tremendously adaptable user interface, with such niceties as custom mnemonic multi-key shortcuts (such as Command-S-A-P for “Save as PDF”). And let’s not forget that Nisus pioneered features that are now nearly universal, such as noncontiguous selection (now called “multipart” selection) and unlimited undo and redo.

Before I go on, I should acknowledge that if your word-processing needs extend no further than the occasional business letter or shopping list, Nisus Writer Pro may not interest you much. This is a serious tool for people with heavy-duty writing needs — those writing books, dissertations, academic papers, legal documents, and other complex works are most likely to benefit from what Nisus Writer Pro can do best: manipulate text, in almost any way you can imagine. Need to go through a 950-page alumni directory and change every entry in the form “John Smith, Class of ’72” to “1972 [tab] SMITH, John,” with the year spelled out, the last name in uppercase, and the first name in italics? Nisus Writer Pro can do it in seconds. That sort of power is what sets Nisus Writer Pro apart from every other word processor.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with the new Nisus Writer Pro, and in just a bit I’ll tell you all about it — the new, the old, the good, the bad. Because of my personal history with Nisus (the product and the company), I need to wrap this review in a bit of a story, which I’m sure will come as a surprise to no one. Those who have no patience for such things should feel free to skip ahead to the appropriate heading (“New in Two”). But let me do you the favor of summarizing my findings here at the outset: Wow — Nisus is back, baby! I’m geeking out over this software in a way I haven’t done since my earliest days as a Mac user. It isn’t quite everything I need it to be yet, but it’s finally within striking distance — by which I mean, close enough that I can make up for nearly all its deficiencies by way of a few carefully crafted macros. For someone who spends all day, every day, in a word processor and whose feelings about Microsoft Word are unprintable, this is huge. Those of you who traffic in text: go download this software right now. I mean it.

A Little Background -- Many TidBITS readers have known me since way back, and have heard this before, but the story is worth repeating. Back in grad school when I was studying linguistics, I was a PC user. But I sometimes used the Macs in the university’s computer lab, and when I mentioned to my adviser that I’d be using Word to write my thesis, he grimaced and said I should really look into Nisus (as it was called then) instead. I ordered a free demo copy, loaded the floppies on a Mac in the computer lab, and within minutes my fate — I mean literally, my entire career — was sealed. I was so overwhelmed with the capabilities of this program, which was far superior to anything available for Windows, that I decided right there and then to become a Nisus customer, which in turn meant that I’d be buying my first Mac shortly thereafter. (By the way, if you want an interesting historical perspective about the “good old days” of Nisus, consult Matt Neuburg’s massive 1992 review of Nisus 3.0, comprising 14 “articles” spread out over three weekly issues of TidBITS.)

In those days, Nisus was best known for its extensive multilingual support — this was before Unicode, when Macs needed considerable help to write in languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, and Japanese. Most of my own writing, even then, was in English, but I did have to write long, complex academic documents. I found that getting my work done in Nisus was far easier than in Word, and quite a few tasks that required no more than a couple of clicks or keystrokes in Nisus were impossible to do in Word at all. Nisus was not only an exceptionally powerful word processor, it was endlessly customizable — if I needed to do anything that didn’t have a built-in command, I’d simply whip up a macro to add that feature myself. Sure, the software had its limitations, but it was far and away the best tool available.

Over the next few years, I lived in a number of places and did a number of things unrelated to linguistics or academia, but somehow I remained in Nisus’s gravitational pull. (I won’t get into the details here; buy me a beer at Macworld if you want to hear the whole thing.) Shortly after moving to San Diego in 1994, I managed to get a part-time job at Nisus Software — at first, helping to index the manual, then doing tech support — and eventually became the product manager for Nisus Writer. While I was working at the company, I also managed to land my first book deal — for “The Nisus Way,” a 600-page tome that was published at the end of 1995. Although my writing career was, shall we say, noncontiguous, it was Nisus that started the whole thing. It led me not only to the Mac but to TidBITS, and to Adam and Tonya (who were big proponents of Nisus Writer, and who for many years used Nisus Writer to produce TidBITS), and ultimately to my current habit of writing Take Control books and Macworld articles at a somewhat ridiculous pace.

Writing books in Nisus Writer was a joy. I never wasted time with tedious, repetitive activities, because everything I wanted to do could be heavily automated — and controlled from the keyboard. The software let me work at my top speed, without getting in my way or frustrating me. Although I’ve written many books in Word, I’ve never enjoyed the process. For serious writing, especially when it’s technical in nature, Word is a minimally adequate tool, the same way a Coke bottle is a minimally adequate tool for pounding nails. (In both cases, the tool also has an annoying tendency to break in the process!) Nisus Writer was a perfectly balanced hammer — exactly the right tool for the job.

Throughout various jobs and projects, I pretty much lived and breathed Nisus Writer for years. When an editor or colleague expected to receive a manuscript from me in Word format, I didn’t sweat it; I just did a Save As and no one ever knew the difference. But gradually, expectations changed. By the late 1990s, nearly everyone I worked with used Word’s change tracking, comments, and user-defined styles extensively, so exchanging documents with them meant ensuring that all those attributes came through perfectly on both sides. Nisus Writer couldn’t do that, so I reluctantly started using Word for the bulk of my word processing, though still relying on Nisus Writer when I could.

And then Mac OS X came along in 2001. Nisus Writer ran only in Classic mode, and not spectacularly even there. Nisus Software didn’t release a Mac OS X-compatible word processor until 2003, and that was Nisus Writer Express, a completely rewritten application that had but a tiny subset of the features of Nisus Writer Classic. It didn’t even come close to meeting my needs, and I was left without any word processor that had the majority of the features I’d come to depend on just a few years earlier. Never mind the faster hardware and the advanced operating system; my Mac had become far less powerful at performing the tasks most important to me.

I wasn’t the only one missing the capabilities of the old Nisus and dreaming of something even more advanced. In 2004, Adam Engst wrote “WriteRight: The Writer’s Word Processor” (17 May 2004), in which he lamented the lack of a serious word processor for professional writers, and imagined what an ideal tool would look like if it existed. (Spoiler alert: It looks very much like Nisus Writer Pro 2.0.)

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, every time Nisus Software announced an update, I excitedly checked the release notes to see if the software had gained the features I needed. Time after time, my hopes were dashed. Nisus Writer Pro 1.0, released to considerable fanfare in 2007, certainly made major strides in the right direction, and by the time version 1.4.1 came out in 2010, the software had regained perhaps 80 percent of the features I’d left behind in Nisus Writer Classic. Unfortunately, that remaining 20 percent was pretty important — and besides, my list had grown. For example, during the dark years in which Take Control relied on Word for creating ebooks (we’ve since transitioned to Pages), we became dependent on styles that included paragraph borders and shading, features that had never appeared in any version of Nisus Writer. Even though the application did finally add Word-compatible comments, my needs were growing at a faster pace than Nisus Writer Pro’s development.

I often reflected, as I disappointedly tried out each new version of Nisus Writer, that Adam’s complaint still held — like other word processors, Nisus Writer simply wasn’t designed for professional writers who work collaboratively with editors and publishers in the real world. It seemed to be a capable enough tool for creating documents that never had to be shared in an editable form, but that’s an increasingly rare mode of word processing.

New in Two -- And then came version 2.0. I was prepared for yet another disappointment, but when I started reading the release notes, my jaw dropped. It looked like someone at Nisus Software had been reading my mind. On paper, at least, the added (or restored) features appeared to meet every need on my list, including some obscure features we use lots in the Take Control world but hadn’t talked much about publicly. Could this be it? Had Nisus Writer Pro finally caught up with me? With a mixture of enthusiasm and dread I downloaded the new version and started testing.

Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 feels to me like the first version of the program that could be considered a proper Mac OS X-native heir to Nisus Writer Classic (versions 4 through 6.5, circa 1994–2001). Not only have most of the old features been restored, many have been reimagined — implemented in superior and often clever ways. At the same time, the program has picked up all the capabilities a modern Cocoa word processor should have.

Change tracking is probably the most important new feature. For anyone who works on documents in a team, or even with a single editor, being able to tell who modified what, in which phase of a document’s evolution, is imperative. As in Word, when change tracking is turned on, deleted text appears in a bubble alongside the main document, while newly added text is highlighted in a different color; each change is also marked with the name of the person who made it. Changes can be individually reviewed, accepted, or rejected in any of several ways, and changes of various sorts can be selectively hidden or displayed. It’s not identical to the way other applications handle the process, but it’s sensible and well-designed.

Paragraph borders and shading are also new, but seem to be off to a shakier start. I found and reported numerous anomalies in the way borders and shading are displayed (not to mention the ways they’re imported and exported, as I discuss ahead). Sometimes a portion of a border would blink on and off, or would appear or disappear when I clicked in an adjacent paragraph. If a paragraph is indented from the margins and has background shading, that shading sometimes doesn’t extend to the margins unless you also apply a border; in this and several other ways, the interactions between borders and shading are somewhat unpredictable. And if you apply a hairline border (that is, 1/4 point), it appears thicker on screen than a 1/2 point border, even when zoomed in to 300 percent. With significant fiddling, I was able to replicate most of the borders and shading we use in Take Control books, but this pair of features appears not to have been tested thoroughly and still needs some refinement.

You can now add a watermark to a document — that is, an image or text that appears behind or in front of the text on some or all pages — and that seems to work just fine, although I can’t say it’s something I’ve needed to do more than once or twice in my entire life.

On the other hand, the newly added drawing tools are quite nice. You can now add lines, arrows, shapes, callouts, and text boxes. Nisus Writer Pro offers elaborate control over these objects’ size, shape, stroke and fill colors, rotation, opacity, text wrap, alignment, grouping, and numerous other characteristics. I frequently need to include arrows, callouts, and the like in my documents, and I am impressed by the thoroughness and care with which these drawing tools have been implemented. My only complaint is that while you can apply attributes such as borders and shadows to imported graphics just as you can to shapes you’ve drawn, those options are available only for floating graphics, not inline graphics. (We often need to apply borders to inline graphics in Take Control books, and it’s no problem to do so in Word or Pages.)

Ins and Outs -- Compatibility with Word remains a priority for much of my writing, and in this respect Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 is a curiously mixed bag. Nisus Writer Pro uses RTF as its native file format — a smart choice, given its near universality and the fact that programs like Word and Pages can save or export files in RTF format. But the question for those who have to exchange files with Word users is whether a Word document can make a round-trip to Nisus Writer Pro intact — with or without using RTF as an intermediate format. The answer, as I can definitively say after considerable testing, is: sorta.

Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 includes two entirely different translators for importing Word (.doc or .docx) and (.odf) documents; you can choose which one to use for each file type in the Advanced pane of the Preferences window. If you choose “Mac OS X (faster),” files open almost instantly but lose so much of their formatting as to be nearly useless. If you choose “ (more complete),” it may take several seconds longer to import a file, but considerably more of the formatting survives.

To test translation fidelity, I used Take Control manuscripts in Word (.doc) and Pages formats and opened them in Nisus Writer Pro every which way I could. I tried saving (in Word) and exporting (in Pages) as RTF and opening those files directly; I tried opening the Word files directly, using each of the translators; I tried exporting from Pages to .doc and saving from Word to .docx.

Files saved in RTF format came through fairly well because Nisus Writer Pro required no import translator to open them. But paragraph borders and shading were off to one extent or another, most bookmarks were lost, and internal links didn’t work at all. Outcomes weren’t as good when importing Word files. With the “Mac OS X” translators, the results were truly awful; the formatting was hideous, user-defined styles were gone, and in some cases hyperlinks were turned into useless raw codes in the text. The “” translators were much better, though still far from perfect. The user-defined styles came through, more or less, and most of the formatting was pretty close, but paragraph borders and shading were significantly off. Bookmarks and internal links were, again, either missing or broken. And, in the translated Word files, certain special characters such as curly quotes and em dashes were replaced, at seemingly random intervals, with garbage characters.

In fairness, these are all things I could fix with a macro, but that shouldn’t be necessary; the translators need improvement. Nisus Software acknowledged file-translation issues, but pointed out that since the company relies on third-party translation code, fixes are challenging at best. Be that as it may, I can see no argument for including the “Mac OS X” translators; the one-time savings of a few seconds in no way makes up for the terrible file translation. Nisus Writer Pro would be better off eliminating the preference and sticking exclusively with the better, if marginally slower, option.

To find out what would happen if I chose to work with a Word file in Nisus Writer Pro and then send it back to a colleague, I re-saved the files in Nisus Writer, and opened them again in Word. I was pleasantly surprised to see that comments and change tracking survived the round trip. Still, something was always off — a style wrong here, a border misaligned there. I imagine that for fairly simple documents without elaborate styles, the process could be seamless enough that an editor or publisher might not realize the file had been altered by another program. But for something of the complexity of Take Control books, translating into and out of Word format would be a non-starter.

Supposing we were to use Nisus Writer Pro from start to finish for Take Control books (thus sidestepping the whole file-translation issue), we’d be most interested in how well it creates PDF and EPUB documents. I’m delighted to say that PDF output was the best I’ve ever seen from a Mac application. Bookmarks came through correctly, as advertised; internal and external links worked as they should; everything looked exactly the same in the PDF as it did in Nisus Writer. Although nearly any Mac application can create PDFs, we’ve had serious problems with PDFs produced by Word and even Pages, and seeing such fine output from Nisus Writer Pro warmed my heart.

EPUB output was less impressive. It wasn’t terrible; the books are certainly readable, but the styling was iffy. In particular, to repeat a common theme, paragraph borders and shading rarely came through correctly, as they do when creating EPUBs from Pages. In addition, all the links to internal bookmarks were broken. It’s not terribly difficult to fix these things after the fact by editing an EPUB’s constituent XHTML and CSS files — for example, to repair the broken links, I simply replaced every instance of “%23” with “#” — but even though I could automate this sort of thing with macros, it’s a hassle that I’d just as soon avoid. I hope Nisus Software can improve EPUB output considerably. (And indeed, a representative from Nisus Software told me the bug regarding internal links in EPUBs will be fixed in version 2.0.1.)

Missing in Action -- File translation issues notwithstanding, Nisus Writer Pro has come a long way, and is indeed now tantalizingly close to being the word processor of my dreams. But it still has some other irritating shortcomings that I’d love to see addressed in the near future.

Although Nisus Writer Pro offers draft, page preview, and full-screen modes, all these share in common the limitation that a document can appear only as a continuous vertical scroll. You can’t split the screen to show different parts of a document at once, as you could in Nisus Writer Classic (and still can in Word, BBEdit, and many other applications). You can’t show two or more pages side-by-side, or even display page thumbnails. In short, you’re limited to seeing a single portion of your document that’s no taller than your screen. You can zoom in and out, but if you want to maintain readability and still see more than a single page of your document at once, you’re out of luck. I find this tremendously limiting, as I’m used to seeing as many as six full pages of a Word document on my 27-inch display and easily comparing text in two parts of a document without jumping back and forth. If I could change just one thing in Nisus Writer, adding more (and more-flexible) view options would be it.

Despite having unlimited undo and redo, Nisus Writer Pro still lacks one of my favorite and most frequently used Word commands: Repeat, which reapplies whatever command you performed last. Another Word feature I miss is single-click line selection (move the pointer into the left margin so it turns into a right-pointing arrow, and then click — no dragging required — to select an entire line). And although Nisus Writer’s paragraph styling features are quite thorough, they strangely omit a “page break before” attribute, which we use, for example, on all chapter headings in Take Control books. Sure, we can stick in manual page breaks, but being able to build that into a style is much more convenient.

Another thing both Adam and I noticed almost immediately was the absence of syntax coloring. When I need to edit code of any sort — Markdown, HTML, XML, PHP, Perl, or whatever — I immediately reach for a dedicated text editor such as BBEdit, which can automatically color-code tags, comments, variables, and other code elements to make the text more readable. It’s entirely fair that Nisus Writer’s developers don’t want to delve into all the sorts of features users expect in a text editor designed for programming. But TidBITS, Macworld, and many blogging platforms rely on John Gruber’s Markdown syntax for styling plain text using simple tags, and since so much of my writing uses Markdown, I have to choose between using Nisus Writer Pro and having those visual cues I’ve come to rely on. For that matter, syntax coloring would be quite useful when working in Nisus Writer’s own macro language, which after all can include blocks of Perl and AppleScript. (Sure, one could use a macro to apply static syntax coloring after the fact, but that helps little when actively writing — what’s needed is coloring that changes dynamically as you type.)

Speaking of macros, Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 is far beyond Nisus Writer Classic in its automation capabilities, and the flexibility to add entirely new features by writing macros is invaluable. Even so, the macro language as it exists today is a weird hodgepodge of several inconsistent “dialects” that frequently require jumping through a series of counterintuitive hoops to do ordinary things. For example, a macro can tell you the name of the font at the insertion point, but it took me an hour of experimenting and poring over the inscrutable Macro Language Reference to figure out the roundabout sequence of steps necessary to achieve such a trivial thing. Another example: If you want to resize a window in Nisus Writer Pro using a macro, you can — but only by embedding a snippet of AppleScript with the necessary command, as it’s not part of Nisus Writer’s own macro language.

The problem isn’t merely that the documentation is unhelpful; the macro language itself lacks cohesion and completeness. Experienced programmers will be frustrated to find that so many things act almost, but not quite, as they would in other languages; that “objects” don’t mean what one expects; that obvious features are missing; and that a macro’s left hand doesn’t seem to know what its right hand is doing. On the other hand, beginners will probably not get much beyond the simple Menu Command Dialect, because the language itself, and the reference material for using it, are simply too opaque. This is all a great pity, because macros are in fact enormously powerful, and with a bit of spit and polish, the macro language and its documentation could be made vastly more accessible to ordinary users.

In the “so near and yet so far” category, a few other items are worth mentioning:

  • Having multiple, editable clipboards is nice, but you have to remember what you put on which clipboard, and be careful not to overwrite something you want to save. A more interesting and useful approach, offered by numerous third-party utilities such as PTHPasteboard Pro, is to automatically save a clipboard history going back as far as you need. (Nisus Writer Pro does include a set of macros to rotate among four clipboards, but this is a clunky, manual, and partial solution.)

  • You can define a string of text as a bookmark, and elsewhere in your document, insert a cross-reference to that bookmark such that if the original text changes, the cross-reference does too. This is a neat trick that I used all the time in Nisus Writer Classic, but as it’s currently implemented, the cross-reference won’t update correctly if you change the first or last character of the bookmarked text. The manual explains a complicated workaround, but the problem didn’t exist in 1994 and could certainly be avoided today, too. This is an example of something we’ve seen often when writing Take Control books: if you have trouble documenting something, the feature itself may be poorly designed. (I should point out that cross-references of other sorts — for example, to page or figure numbers — do update correctly when the source changes; only cross-references to the bookmark text itself are problematic.)

  • The interface for defining character, paragraph, list, and note styles is unquestionably better than Word’s, which piles layer upon layer of modal dialogs. And yet, in Nisus Writer Pro, you can’t see your style definitions at the same time as your document, and the interface for removing style characteristics is completely different from that for adding or editing them. It’s needlessly confusing, and I think more attention should be paid to usability.

  • Along similar lines, a number of icons and other user interface elements could use a designer’s touch. Consider the statusbar at the bottom of the window. The three leftmost blobs represent the currently selected text’s background color, highlight color, and font color. Can you guess which is which? Me neither. And those icons for list style, character style, and paragraph style, because they’re so small, look very fuzzy due to antialiasing. These things could easily be remedied (see my non-artist’s rendition, beneath the current version, for just one possible approach), and they’d make the program so much more inviting. (According to Nisus Software, these icons will be improved in version 2.0.1.)

  • Image

  • A paragraph’s ruler — that is, the settings describing its overall shape, including indents, tab stops, alignment, and spacing — can be displayed, copied, pasted, dragged, and dropped. It’s sometimes useful to work with these characteristics independently of paragraph styles, but it would be more useful still if you could name rulers as was possible in Nisus Writer Classic, and if dragging a ruler to another paragraph didn’t insert the letter “a” along with the ruler (a clear bug, which Nisus Software says will be fixed in the next update).

  • Outlining in Nisus Writer Pro is unusual. If you assign heading styles to paragraphs, they appear automatically in the Table of Contents Navigator, which you can display or hide in a sidebar and which is designed mainly to let you see your document’s overall structure and navigate through it easily. The various headings are indented hierarchically as an outline should be; you can promote and demote headings, collapse and expand them, and drag them to other locations within the Table of Contents Navigator — and the material beneath them moves just as it should. If you assign automatic numbers to the heading styles, these update as you rearrange the outline too. It’s a rather artificial way to work, though, in that you’re typing text in your document but arranging your outline in a separate view, which contains only headings. It’s certainly better than nothing, and serviceable for simple outlining tasks, but nowhere near as capable as Word’s outliner, to say nothing of stand-alone tools such as OmniOutliner.

  • The built-in Document Manager, which lets you organize and access your files, strikes me as being almost entirely superfluous. The Finder seems to be perfectly well suited to that task, and in my view this is one of several examples of Nisus Writer Pro putting a lot of effort into solving nonexistent problems.

Final Thoughts -- The features (and bugs) I’ve called attention to here are merely the ones that happened to catch my attention in several days of intensive use. Even listing the other features in Nisus Writer Pro would make this review twice as long — it’s a deep, deep program. So when I criticize the program’s shortcomings, it’s only because they stand out so starkly against the backdrop of a thousand brilliant, correctly functioning features. I mention the issues I do because they comprise — finally, after all these years — a relatively tiny delta between what I have and what I need.

Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 checks off almost every requirement for professional, modern word processing Adam imagined in a hypothetical WriteRight program back in 2004, and then some. The things Nisus Writer Pro still lacks are bothersome, but not so bothersome that I can’t use it to get my work done more efficiently than in Word or Pages. Even as I type this review in Nisus Writer Pro, writing macros and tweaking keyboard shortcuts as I go, I’m toying with the possibility of using the application to write an upcoming book. I mean that as high praise — and it also feels like coming home after 15 tedious years of wandering in the wilderness. I’ve been given the opportunity to enjoy the craft of writing again, and I find that deeply meaningful. I can’t promise you the same experience, of course, but I encourage you to give it a try and find out for yourself.

While the number of improvements Nisus Writer Pro has accumulated in the last year is breathtaking, I’d be happier with slow, steady progress — for example, monthly bug-fix releases and a handful of new features once a quarter. It’s fine to save up major changes for a paid upgrade every two or three years, but in my experience, customers are more content and loyal when they feel their needs are actively being addressed. And, I’d rather get 10 percent of the features I’m still missing in a few months’ time than to get them all — but only after waiting for years.

The reason I became a Nisus user way back when was the same as the reason I switched to, and stuck with, the Mac — it made my life easier, enabling me to get my work done with less grief and fewer distractions. With Nisus Writer Pro 2.0, the software has come almost full circle, and I once again feel that I can both use it and recommend it enthusiastically. Now if it could just move forward that last, tiny little bit, I’d be beside myself with delight. Then the only thing missing would be a proper book about the software. I know a guy who could write it.

Nisus Writer Pro 2.0, a 160 MB download, is a universal binary and costs $79 new, or $99 for a three-license family pack. Upgrades from Nisus Writer Pro 1.x or any version of Nisus Writer Express cost $49, and a 15-day free trial is available. (Nisus Writer Express, which has only a subset of the features in Nisus Writer Pro, remains available at $45, but hasn’t been updated since April 2010.)


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Comments about Nisus Writer Pro 2.0: The Review

Michael Cohen  2011-06-08 10:07
Joe, this is very exciting. Yesterday, I would have said that the last thing I need right now is Yet Another Word Processor, but I'm suddenly very interested. Thanks for such a detailed and helpful review.
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-06-08 11:37
Nisus Writer Pro may be many things, but YAWP isn't one of them :-).
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-06-08 11:46
A small point in Joe's article is that Nisus Writer Pro can't show two portions of the manuscript at once. The Take Control book series recently switched to Pages from Word, and the lost Word feature that is most lamented by the most of us is the lack of the Navigation pane. This pane/panel/sidebar optionally sits beside the main pane in a Word document window and lets the user quickly see the outline of the document. The user can also collapse and expand the outline and switch the main pane view to any outline item with a click of the mouse. In this way, for example, I can assess quickly whether a chapter's one-page introduction accurately describes the headings throughout the chapter.

Given the many differences between Pages and Word, I found it interesting that this one missing feature has posed the biggest problem for us.
The other big downgrade for us from Word to Pages has been Pages' limited search/replace feature. Maybe Nisus Writer Pro is in our future...
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-06-08 12:34
Nisus Writer Pro's TOC Navigator does basically the same thing as Word's Navigation pane, only better. It's interesting to me that you miss that so much, though, because I never liked using it at all! But I sure would like to be able to split the window!
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-06-09 14:12
I am glad to know about the TOC Navigator, thanks!
Interesting to hear about Pages' limitations. But what are its advantages over Word? Is there perhaps an earlier TidBITS article discussing the switch?
It seems to me the time is ripe for an in-depth comparative look at Word, NWP, Mellel, and Pages.
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 06:20
To make a very long story short, Word simply isn't a reliable tool. It crashes frequently, introduces unwanted garbage into our carefully crafted documents, and seems to go out of its way to put obstacles in the way of getting one's work done. It's infuriating to use for long, complex documents like the ones we create. To the extent that Pages lacks those annoyances, it's better than Word!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 06:22
The two big advantages of Pages over Word for Take Control's purposes is that Pages exports linked-up PDF and EPUB directly, rather than forcing us to go through a step in Word for Windows. That said, the PDF export in Pages is pretty weak (no bookmarks; we build those using Aerialist Pro from the PDF) and somewhat broken (it actually makes two PDF links for every link in the document). But the EPUB export, which is newer, is quite good, and that was a big win for us, since our own EPUB looks better than the converted EPUB we were getting, and it's much faster to get it.
Grant Jacobs  2011-06-08 17:53
Being a lazy sort [ :-) ] I'd welcome any comments comparing Mellel with NWP2. (I mean to look into these and other applications, but never seem to have time...)
I have been using both Mellel and NWP since going to OS X and they made their appearances. Mellel’s great strengths seem to be in Hebrew (and similar) language support, extensive auto-titling, multiple, independent note streams, style sheets, very different from all other WP with a few limitations, but still very powerful, especially with multiple languages. Basically I use Mellel for long documents and academic work.

NWP has always felt like a word processor (going back to 1990 on the Mac). Once you get things set, there is little fiddling. Length of document, especially with many footnotes, affected speed. I use NWP daily, but I have not explored this issue, since Mellel does so well. Moving across country so 2 months til I can try the new features.

Mellel is my primary power WP and NWP is my everyday workhorse. In 7+ years of Mellel and 4 years of NWP, neither program has ever crashed on me. That speaks volumes for both sets of developers/programmers.
BTW, there is a problem with truncating the digit number in footers. Check the NWP forum for more info. Nisus is working on it and will provide a fix soon.
If Mellel works so well for you, I'm curious as to why you would switch to NWP for certain kinds of documents. What are the (short document-specific?) weaknesses that prevent you from using Mellel for everything?
And once you try out NWP2, I'd be interested to know whether you think it would serve for long academic documents.
Very useful review. If I were still in need of a heavy duty word processor these days I'd seriously consider it. (Also, nice shout-out to PTH Pasteboard, which I found to be the most full-featured of the multiple-clipboard utilities.)
Joe, I smell a "Take Control of Nisus Writer Pro" book coming.
benrus  2011-06-10 22:06
Good Review, Joe. Thanks, & looking forward to a Cocoa Nisus Way book. :-) I haven't downloaded the upgrade yet, but you do make it sound encouraging. You mention some important little missing things— side-by-side page viewing, and split screen. Almost embarrassing to think they are still lacking isn't it? Two other thorns in my side are: 1) triple-click is hi-jacked for sentence selecting making it inconsistent with Cocoa standard paragraph, and 2) no way to get Nisus to share the Cocoa find string. Let's get Nisus to fix these little things before you write your book, so you can skip across work-arounds and get right to the juicey stuff, to finish out a pleasing writing tool! :-)
Geoffrey Heard  2011-06-13 01:43
Hi Joe -- good review. Been on Nisus/Nisus Writer Professional, forever too. This is a great upgrade. A couple of differences with your review:

1) NWP is a great for simple stuff like letter writing, it's such a friendly workspace. And you know you have the power under the hood when you need it.

2) The Document Manager is a godsend. I never save documents to it but I have it open first thing when I launch NWP to give me instant access throughout my work session to continuing documents (e.g. an invoice series, a macro calculates the thing!), documents containing passwords, a document containing needed business information and contacts, a bunch of proformas, several alternate "New File" templates (including outlining), and a couple of documents I call on from time to time. Along with the regular "New File" (command-n) and the Recent Files (set to 30), that gives me instant access to every document I need at start-up.

Look forward to the book! Check out Kino's macros at Nisus!
Geoffrey Heard  2011-06-13 01:46
Joe, my use of Document Manager gives me similar facility to that special documents item in the old Nisus File menu (can't think of the name, immediately above Recent Files, I think) which gave instant access to your most important files. Think of Document Manager that way and I'm sure you'll find good use for it.
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-06-13 03:21
The thing is, I already have 147 different ways to access important files instantly with one or two clicks or a keystroke. A shortcut in a Finder sidebar or toolbar, an alias on the Desktop, a folder in my Dock, the Spotlight menu, LaunchBar, QuicKeys, an AppleScript (with or without a keyboard shortcut), Login Items, a one-line Nisus Writer macro, the Recent Items submenu, and on and on and on. I truly don't need yet another method—especially one that works only within a single application, when everything else works system-wide.
Geoffrey Heard  2011-06-21 23:41
Ha, Kissell (he said toughly) you're spoiled for choice. Only 147 choices? You’re not a serious geek after all! :) System-wide, I go for a single alternative to NWP's Quickfix, but for me your preference for System-wide stuff in the recent documents or key documents area doesn't make a lot of sense. BUT that being said, I use only one WP, which is NWP, while you use a number of them so having some kind of system-wide reference makes more sense. Roll on the day with the next upgrade (not after such a long silence, folks at Nisus, please!) when you need to use only one.
samrat kanjilal  2011-06-28 01:11
Thanks for the awesome detailed review. Surely, would like to try it out.
Allen Watson  2011-07-09 17:47
Joe, I still have my copy of "The Nisus Way," kind of a nostalgic thing. I've been a fan of your books ever since. Like you I loved the old Nisus and have been watching the periodic upgrades. I bought the 2.0 upgrade but, having gotten locked into using Pages for most of my writing lately, I had not really examined its new features. I'm thrilled to read all about it in your review, and I definitely will be seeing if I can easily switch over to NWP. Until recently about the only use I made of it was to open an RTF created in pages, save it as HTML, and then re-open the file with the option to view the HTML code, which I then copied from and pasted into a website. NWP's HTML/CSS output puts both Word's and Pages' to shame.
Very useful review, and I too would love to see a book on the application (and the application on the App Store).

A small thing but I think the outliner you mention is called "OmniOutliner" (not "Omni Outliner").
Joe Kissell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-25 23:01
I've corrected the typo, thanks.
Toulouse Gabin Guzman  2011-08-04 10:10
Your careful and devoted coverage of this software is much appreciated. I'm up to here with Word but in the middle of a large book...will go back and read your comments in more see if the pain of conversion is worth it. I hope you pass your ideas along to Nisus as fodder for further growth and improvement!