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Series: Nisus Writer 4.0.6
Article 1 of 3 in series
by Nigel Perry
[This article began in TidBITS-263, continued in TidBITS-264, and finishes here. -Tonya] Sound and Speech -- Nisus Writer can speak, and not just using Apple's PlainTalk either - it comes with its own English, French, German, Italian, and SpanishShow full article
Sound and Speech -- Nisus Writer can speak, and not just using Apple's PlainTalk either - it comes with its own English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Nisus does not do translation; but it can use different accents and pronunciation rules. So if you want to hear how your document would sound spoken with a French accent, or if your document is in French, Nisus can oblige. However these voices take up rather a lot of disk space, almost 1.5 MB, so you might want to rely on PlainTalk, which Nisus happily uses.
Nisus Writer also allows you to annotate parts of your document with sounds and to record sounds for your text by word, sentence, and so on. Sound annotations are shown by an icon, but - curiously - if you record a sentence there is no indication that you have done so. Nisus Writer offers a catalog of sounds (which are stored in a folder, not your document), and you can play them all back - so though you can't see which parts of your document might have attached sounds, you can find them.
Looking at the sound features prompts the question "Why?". Having the Mac read back your text using "Good News" (a MacinTalk 3 voice) is great fun for my seven-year-old son - but he uses SimpleText for this, not Nisus Writer. Nisus is not a presentation package and does not come with a "player" application, so it is not the best program to use for a multimedia presentation.
Tonya tells me that people with a variety of disabilities find Text to Speech features enormously helpful. When she took calls at Microsoft, the two most common types of people requesting Text to Speech features were people with vision problems or dyslexia who wanted to "proof read" documents by listening to them. Nisus Software might have had this in mind, but this still leaves me questioning the decision to include comprehensive sound recording abilities.
Movies -- Nisus Writer has jumped on the QuickTime bandwagon. Unfortunately, this part of Nisus Writer is poorly implemented. A movie appears in a document just like any other graphic and can be inserted into a document as a character graphic or on the graphics layer. However, for movies inserted on the graphics layer, there is no indication that the picture is a movie, not even QuickTime's standard film strip icon. To run a movie you must first double-click the picture - if its not a movie, you end up in the graphics editor; if it is a movie, a new window opens over the top of the picture and this one has the file strip icon on it. Click the icon and the movie controller comes up and you're away. Why a new window, why not inline? Nisus Software says it's so you can scroll your document and not lose the movie, but this could be made an option for those who wanted it. And of course the window title can obscure part of your text, so you have to move the thing - assuming you have anywhere to move it.
Don't get me wrong, I like QuickTime, I even write programs which use it, but Nisus Writer isn't for QuickTime aficionados. [And frankly, essentially no one ever uses QuickTime in a serious word processing document - it's a red herring feature flopping around on the word processor beach. -Adam]
So, Nisus Writer leaves me with but one question about multimedia: Why?
Overall Conclusion -- Though Nisus Writer suffers from a number of quirks and annoyances - in particular in the word and document processing areas - its text processing is unparalleled. It does have bugs - some of which are still left over from Nisus - but I can also put Microsoft Word into a tailspin.
An enormous opportunity was lost when Nisus Software chose to add new features, some of questionable value, rather than concentrate on finishing the job they started with Nisus. I don't understand what market they are aiming at with some of the additions. Had Nisus Software chosen to make the styles work more flexibly, Nisus Writer would be hard to beat for many different types of document creation, though for documents requiring high-end layout features, you'd still need to look elsewhere.
Nisus Writer currently runs in 68K mode only and requires System 7 or later. It works on any 68000-based Macintosh or newer, with the exception of the Macintosh Plus. Nisus Software plans to include support for the Plus in the Nisus Writer 4.0.7 update, which should be ready (with a free updater available online) in a few weeks. A Power Mac native version of Nisus Writer is in the works, but the program is relatively speedy even now. To use all of Nisus Writer's features, you'll need to allocate 3 MB to the program, but to do basic word processing in shorter documents without tables, equations, and sounds, you can run reasonably in 1,700K of memory. The full installation, which includes examples and tutorial documents, consumes 7 MB of disk space.
If you have been using Nisus for the last four years and it has met your needs - which it probably has as well as any rival or you would have switched already - then the upgrade is worth it.
Nisus Software -- 800/890-3030 -- 619/481-1477
619/481-6154 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[For more opinions and resources related to Nisus, check out the Nisus Writer page on World of Words. -Tonya]
Article 2 of 3 in series
by Nigel Perry
[If you read last week's TidBITS-263, you recall that this review began with a look at Nisus Writer's text processing features. This week, we look at its word and document processing features, and finish next week with details on multimedia featuresShow full article
[If you read last week's TidBITS-263, you recall that this review began with a look at Nisus Writer's text processing features. This week, we look at its word and document processing features, and finish next week with details on multimedia features. -Tonya]
Styles -- Nisus supports character and paragraph user-defined styles, which you set up in the Define Styles dialog box. Character styles can include all the usual attributes: font, colour, size etc. Paragraph styles add a named ruler to control paragraph layout.
Nisus follows the original MacWrite method of inserting rulers into a document to control layout. A ruler specifies attributes such as margins, line spacing, and space before paragraph (there is no space after paragraph). In Nisus Writer, you must define a ruler (though you need not set its attributes) in the main document window before you can include a ruler in a user-defined style. In earlier versions, you could name a new ruler in the Define Styles dialog box and Nisus Writer would automatically create the ruler on first use of the user style - I can't figure out why Nisus Software made the change.
The split between user styles and rulers can cause much frustration. The problems are at first minor annoyances, but they can become significant. When applying a paragraph style, Nisus attaches the style information to the text, but inserts the ruler into the document - and then only if Nisus thinks the ruler is needed. [Word users might understand this better by thinking of style information as character formats and ruler information as paragraph formats. -Tonya]
The example below shows problems this causes. Consider a document containing five paragraphs, the first three in style A, the last two in style B. The document looks something like:
Ruler A Paragraph 1 in style A Paragraph 2 in style A Paragraph 3 in style A Ruler B Paragraph 4 in style B Paragraph 5 in style B
If you move paragraph two below paragraph four you get:
Ruler A Paragraph 1 in style A Paragraph 3 in style A Ruler B Paragraph 4 in style B Paragraph 2 in style A Paragraph 5 in style B
Paragraph two ends up styled according to A but laid out according to B! The fix is not difficult, you just manually insert an A ruler into the text. However, that Nisus Software did not fix this in Nisus Writer is indefensible.
Nisus Writer has a number of similar quirks, and as a result you must be careful while editing documents. Whenever you move text or change its style, you must make sure you end up with the ruler and style you expected. The fact that Nisus Software did not fix these quirks shows a misunderstanding on their part of what word processing rather than styled text editing is about.
[A few days ago, I innocently asked Nigel to give some examples of the "similar quirks" referred to above, and Nigel helpfully replied with an assortment of examples, most of which I ended up not including. Unfortunately, to understand them, you need a deeper understanding of Nisus Writer than we have room for. - Tonya]
You might ask why people (such as myself - Nisus Writer is my main text processing workhorse) use Nisus Writer if it has these quirks. The answer is simple: Nisus Writer's powerful text processing capabilities usually offset the annoyance of having to be careful with rulers, or the lack of hierarchical styles - a much-requested feature.
Numbering and Referencing -- You can set up flexible numbering sequences for chapters, four levels of sub-topics, figures, equations, and tables. Nisus Writer also provides six custom numbering sequences for anything else you might need to number (maps, pie charts, whatever).
Nisus Writer has added the ability to restart the page numbering within a document, something missing from earlier versions, but in an obscure manner which requires the selection of the page break character to access the settings.
Nisus Writer provides powerful cross-references that automatically update. Sections of text (or most anything else, such as graphics or tables) can be marked with a label and then referenced. The reference may contain the contents of the marked item, and you can also reference the page number of the object, its line number, and so on. By making multiple trips to the Cross Reference dialog box, you can insert references like "See Cheese Preferences on page 68, paragraph 6."
Unfortunately, you must individually mark anything that you want to cross-reference. Nisus Writer does not automatically mark figures, figure numbers, and the like. Further, though you can refer to the current chapter number in a header or footer, you cannot refer to the title of the chapter itself.
Nisus Writer provides footnotes or endnotes (but not both in the same document). You cannot place a cross-reference in a footnote or a table. Nisus Writer works with Niles and Associates' End Note Plus, a popular utility for tracking lots of reference works and quickly formatting references.
Tables of Contents and Indices -- Any text can be marked for inclusion in the table of contents or index - and the index marking can be done through the powerful Find and Replace feature (and thus through a macro if you like) or through a user style. For example, you can set the Table of Contents attribute to be part of the definition of the styles you use for section headers. The Create Contents and Create Index commands each accumulate all the appropriately marked text and produce a separate file containing a table of contents or index. You must then format the file and either print it separately or insert it into your document in the right place. If you recreate the table of contents or index, you must format it again: probably a good job for a macro.
Graphics -- You can paste graphics in-line or on a separate graphics layer, which supports basic drawing tools with colour and grid alignment. Items on the graphics layer can appear in front of or behind the text, or text can flow around them. Graphics can be attached to a particular page or flow with a paragraph. You cannot, however, flow a picture with a paragraph and keep it at the top or bottom of a page. The graphics support and flow-around would appear to make Nisus suitable for small newsletter-style documents, but only if their designers want to put up with having the same number of same-width columns on all pages.
Will OpenDoc be this bad? Apple has seen the future, and the future is OpenDoc - or so we are told! With OpenDoc, the document, rather than the application, becomes the centre of things. A document acts as a container for objects produced by different applications, so your text object might be under the control of Nisus Writer, but your molecule picture might come from a chemistry program.
How is this relevant to Nisus Writer? Tables and equations, two new features, are supplied by separate modules: Macreations's Tycho Table Maker and Design Science's MathType (a full version, not the crippled version that comes with Word - but it only launches from Nisus Writer). To insert an equation, you launch MathType by choosing Insert Equation from the Insert menu. After creating an equation in MathType, you close the MathType window, thus returning to Nisus Writer with your equation inserted. Inserting tables works the same way, but with Tycho Table Maker acting as the editor. All this magic works by means of an Apple event suite called EGO (Edit Graphic Object), and any program that supports EGO (such as Expressionist and DeltaGraph Pro) can provide services to Nisus Writer - though the initial insertion is more complicated as the program names do not appear on the Insert menu.
[Late-breaking news flash! Nisus Writer owners can update to the most recent MathType version for the same price charged any MathType owner. The update launches with or without Nisus Writer. -Tonya]
This sounds wonderful, and very much like OpenDoc, but there are problems. Nisus Writer contains style sheets; Tycho Table Maker contains style sheets; MathType contains style sheets. Three sets of styles sheets are hard to keep in sync! You can spell check in Nisus Writer, but you can't spell check a table from Tycho Table Maker, or in Tycho Table Maker itself. We can hope that OpenDoc will do better at integrating tools while retaining power.
Interoperability -- Nisus uses the Apple/Claris XTND system to support other file formats and comes with a handful of filters. Although the filters handle basic formatting information, they lose some important elements of the document's structure, including user styles. Nisus Writer also comes with a PageMaker import filter, and FrameMaker support is available thorough DataViz's MacLinkPlus.
The latest version of the MacLinkPlus translator package from DataViz reportedly has added support for user styles; however, Nisus Software should address this problem more directly (even if that just means bundling MacLinkPlus) in order to better work in the real world of multiple file formats.
Word and Document Processing Conclusion -- Nisus Writer offers a reasonably rich set of word and document processing features. It lacks some features that others have, and has others that they do not. However, Nisus Writer has a do-it-yourself feel to it, which programmers and fiddlers will love, but which lacks the polish to make it attractive as an everyday word, and particularly document, processor - unless you want or need its editing and multilingual text processing.
DataViz -- 800/733-0030 -- 203/268-0030
Design Science -- 800/827-0685 -- 310/433-0685
Niles and Associates -- 510/649-8176 -- <email@example.com>
Nisus Software -- 800/890-3030 -- 619/481-1477
619/481-6154 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[For more opinions and resources related to Nisus, check out the Nisus Writer page on World of Words. -Tonya]
Article 3 of 3 in series
by Nigel Perry
[Welcome to our Nisus Writer review! Because the review is somewhat lengthy, we plan to run it in three parts: text processing, word and document processing, and multimediaShow full article
[Welcome to our Nisus Writer review! Because the review is somewhat lengthy, we plan to run it in three parts: text processing, word and document processing, and multimedia. So, this week, keep reading to find out about Nisus Writer's text processing features, and stay tuned for next week's installment about word processing features. -Tonya]
Late last year, Nisus Software released Nisus Writer, the long-heralded update to Nisus. The last major release to Nisus was about four years ago, with an update (Nisus 3.4) in between (see TidBITS-168). Updates to Nisus were promised, with Nisus Software even advertising "Nisus XS," but nothing appeared. Nisus Writer was released last October with a maintenance update coming out just in time for Christmas (see the URL below for the update and a demo). Nisus has always been a product with a loyal following, and its users - admittedly with growing impatience - eagerly awaited the update.
Nisus Writer wasn't made from the same mold as other word processors. To understand it, you must understand that Nisus Writer combines a text processor, a word processor, and a smattering of multimedia tools. I will address each area in turn, and try to share the flavour of Nisus Writer and how it differs from Nisus. In the rest of this review "Nisus" means both Nisus and Nisus Writer; "Nisus Writer" means only Nisus Writer.
Nisus Writer, at 1.9 MB in size and with a 3 MB RAM allocation, is bigger than Nisus's more svelte 513K on disk and suggested RAM allocation of 1 MB. Much of the size increase comes from the lack of compression: previous versions of Nisus used the AutoDoubler Internal Compressor (as did the first release of Nisus Writer - updates are no longer internally compressed). File saving time also seems to have increased, so if you have the regular backups preference set, you get disconcerting pauses at the interval you've specified once your file grows past about 30 pages. One feature which speeds up Nisus is that it keeps documents in RAM, but this is also one of its disadvantages if you wish to work on long documents that are larger than Nisus's available memory, since there is no way to chain smaller documents into a longer one. Based on unscientific measurements, Nisus feels faster than Word 5.1, Nisus Writer a bit slower.
Text Processing: -- Nisus Writer comes from the same company that produces QUED/M, a highly regarded macro-programmable editor for programmers. Given this heritage, Nisus has superb text processing capabilities. Nisus offers keyboard and mouse commands for moving the cursor, selecting text, and extending a selection forward or backward by character, word, line, sentence, paragraph, screen, or document. Nisus provides a unique discontiguous selection feature along with a slightly more common rectangular selection.
For Cut and Paste operations Nisus offers ten clipboards and such unusual but useful operations as "append to clipboard" and "swap selection with clipboard."
Nisus Writer adds little to the text processing facilities of Nisus, but that is because these features were already so comprehensive! The editing window has had minor 3D-style interface improvements and some of the menus have been reorganised - this might make the program a little easier to use but adds little additional functionality.
WorldScript -- Nisus is a WorldScript I and II compatible editor and handles right-to-left and multi-byte languages with ease. It supports European, Scandinavian, and Japanese languages with the appropriate Language Module and/or Apple software. Users can also purchase a Language Key and extend Nisus to support Arabic, Cyrillic, Eastern European, Farsi, Hebrew, and Chinese. The Language Key, also known as a dongle, must be plugged into your Mac's ADB port. This feature was universally loathed by Nisus users, but Nisus Software has kept it in order to avoid piracy and to satisfy contracts with overseas partners who required the dongle in exchange for technical and marketing assistance. [See TidBITS-170 for a fleshed out discussion of this complex issue -Tonya].
In mixed left-to-right and right-to-left text, Nisus handles selections correctly. The Find/Replace command handles multilingual text both through its support for fonts and special PowerFind wildcards that match character sets in the languages. Nisus also supports glossing. [As one example, people use glossing to place Hiragana or Katakana pronunciations above Kanji characters. -Tonya]
Finding and Replacing -- Nisus provides an unparalleled Find/Replace feature, offering three levels of complexity: Normal (just text), PowerFind (a simple, icon-based GREP), and PowerFind Pro (full GREP). You can also find and replace using character formats and styles. So, for example, if you want to find text in 10-point italic Geneva and change it to 14-point bold Helvetica, Nisus easily handles the job. Another example of the flexibility of the Find/Replace command: consider the task of finding all dollar amounts in a file, such as $45, and placing them in brackets together with "NZ" (after all, this review comes from New Zealand!), so $45 would become [NZ$45]. In PowerFind, the Replace operation could be written as:
Find: $(Digit)(1+) Replace with: [NZ(Found)]
(Note that in PowerFind, "(Digit)", "(1+)", and "(Found)" would appear as icons.)
Nisus Writer adds a "sounds like" (or "fuzzy") find feature which is useful if you're not sure of how a word is "spelt."
Nisus provides multiple levels of undo and redo, up to 32,767 steps with a default of 300! If you perform a complex Replace operation and end up with a mess, just undo it.
Nisus allows you to open multiple files at once, limited only by memory. This is a real limit as Nisus is a memory-based editor and cannot edit files larger than will fit into memory. This is an area Nisus Writer could have improved upon but did not. On the plus side, the Find/Replace command can search multiple files, whether open or closed, which makes handling groups of files easier. [Of course, if you can give Nisus a lot of memory, as I do when I wish to perform multiple searches through 30 or 40 large files of the chapters of my books, being RAM-based means that Nisus can handle all the files quickly and easily, unlike in other word processors. -Adam]
Macros -- Nisus supports a macro programming language which is a curious mix of two dialects: the menu dialect and the programming dialect. Macros (either coded or recorded) help you easily accomplish extremely complex operations, especially with the help of PowerFind statements. For more sophisticated programming concepts like loops, you will end up typing code in the programming dialect, which is not as easy as it could be. The combination of the two dialects is peculiar, with a strange mix of menu command equivalents and programming language features such as arrays and stacks - some of the language also attempts to appear object-oriented. That said, the macros are powerful and, once learned, a useful tool, even if the phrase "great hack" comes to mind when studying them!
Macros could do with improvement: they execute onscreen, so while a macro runs dialog boxes may flash up and have text "typed" into them, and menus will flash away. Macro speed is often a problem, but even though macros can take a long time, doing the same job by hand would typically take far longer.
[The folks at Nisus Software point out that they believe they've cut down on the amount of onscreen macro executing for the Nisus Writer 4.0 release, thus somewhat addressing this concern and speeding up macro execution times. -Tonya]
Two sought-after features - multiple open macro files and AppleScript compatibility - have not arrived with the upgrade. The lack of AppleScript is a major blow to scripters, though Nisus Writer does support Frontier (the runtime-only version of which is supplied). Using Frontier, it is possible for Nisus Writer macros to control other applications, but Nisus Writer itself cannot be controlled. The manual covers Frontier in just two pages, with no details of the UserTalk language - so writing Frontier scripts is not easy.
Text Processing Conclusion -- Nisus Writer runs slower than Nisus on some operations, particularly Find/Replace on long documents has become much slower. Fortunately, in a few low-key tests that I ran on a beta copy of the next release of Nisus Writer (version 4.0.7), the Find and Replace feature ran 33 percent faster on average, although this is still 50 percent slower than the average speed of Nisus 3.4L. These times could easily improve before shipping.
Among Macintosh word processors, Nisus Writer is unparalleled for text and multi-lingual processing. In fact, if you need to handle multi-lingual text then Nisus might be the only real choice, depending on the languages you need.
Nisus Software -- 616/481-1477 -- 619/481-6154 (fax) --
<email@example.com> -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[For people wanting more opinions and resources related to Nisus, check out the Nisus Writer page on World of Words. -Tonya]