Series: Nisus 3.0
Article 1 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
by Matt Neuburg -- CLAS005@cantva.canterbury.ac.nz (with comments by Adam C. Engst -- firstname.lastname@example.org) NOTE: My original review was too long, so Adam decided to cut some of the detailed technical discussionShow full article
by Matt Neuburg -- CLAS005@cantva.canterbury.ac.nz
(with comments by Adam C. Engst -- email@example.com)
NOTE: My original review was too long, so Adam decided to cut some of the detailed technical discussion. But he also felt that some readers (including current Nisus users) might want these details. So in this version the tag <more> indicates the omission of material; the full version can be downloaded as TB/Nisus_Review.etx from sumex-aim.stanford.edu or your favorite archive site.
Nisus 3.06, the dark horse of the Mac word-processing world, is a paradox. Devoted users world-wide swear by it; yet it remains relatively unknown, and in a comparative evaluation of word processors in the Sep-91 Macworld it was not ranked top in any of seven document categories. Nisus provides tremendous flexibility and incorporates features borrowed from far pricier page-layout programs; yet it lacks some basic functions necessary to produce acceptable formal copy. It comes with a powerful macro/programming language; yet that language is nearly devoid of fundamental page-description capacities. Nisus is a pure original, a rethinking of the philosophy of word processing on the Mac from the ground up; yet its creators often seem not to have considered the most elementary needs of word processor users. It is the best of word processors; it is the worst of word processors.
Nisus is cobbled together from so many elements, and its look and feel is so different from other word processors, that only a large description can give a fair sense of it. Imagine Nisus as three worlds piled upon one another, of which we will explore each in turn. The bottom is the hugely powerful find-and-replace and macro/programming capabilities from which Nisus derived its earliest incarnation (QUED/M). The top is a suite of page-layout-like capabilities such as page placing, graphic characters, updatable cross-references, footnotes, indexing, and so on. The middle is the word processor itself, where you see, navigate, edit, and format your document. The find-and-replace and macros are solid and worth buying the whole program for, and the word processor milieu is a brilliant tool for entering and editing text, but the page-layout features are, on the whole, badly enough constructed that you could not use Nisus as your chief word processor for generation of large formal documents. Nisus styles itself "The Amazing Word Processor," but I view it more as "The Amazing Text Processor;" creating and editing text is a blast and a half, but building certain types of complex printable documents may prove almost impossible.
Adam suggests that Paragon aimed Nisus not at the market already held by Microsoft Word, but at a hitherto unknown niche, into which he happens to fit nicely: a word-processor for someone who writes constantly but prints infrequently. He's interested in its abilities to create and manipulate text, and usually couldn't give a hoot about page layout or long complex documents. I think my own point is that Nisus is so loaded with features that ought to make it into a powerful word processor that it is rather a shame it turns out not to be one.
In what follows I therefore sometimes compare Nisus's behaviour with that of Microsoft Word. This is not meant to imply that I like Word as a whole. But Word is Nisus's most obvious competitor, and many of Nisus's behaviours feel like deliberate improvements upon Word's way of doing things. Besides, a common question floating around the nets just now concerns upgrading to Word 5.0 or switching to Nisus. So this review aims at helping you form your own answer: in brief, it probably depends on what you do. If you're interested in output of long complex documents with tables and other such features, stick with Word. If you want perhaps the most powerful program in existence for text creation and manipulation, go for Nisus.
We begin with the middle level, the word-processing milieu.
Article 2 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
One senses Nisus's originality from the moment of starting to type. The blinking insertion point vanishes and does not reappear; lines of text after it do not move out of the way as you type, but are temporarily ignoredShow full article
One senses Nisus's originality from the moment of starting to type. The blinking insertion point vanishes and does not reappear; lines of text after it do not move out of the way as you type, but are temporarily ignored. The program is busy following your typing; only when you pause is the screen updated. You may like this, or it may drive you mad; it is wonderful when you're typing, but if you spot a mistake a character or two back and hit Delete right after some typing, it may take a frustratingly long time (on a 68020 or 68000 machine) for Nisus to leave typing mode and respond to your Delete keypress. It's nice that even if Nisus doesn't update the screen smoothly, it doesn't forget what you're typing and doesn't force you to wait up, something often noticed with other programs on slower Macs.
Double-clicking selects a word, as one expects; but triple-clicking selects a sentence, quadruple-clicking selects a paragraph, and quintuple-clicking (not as daunting as it may sound) selects the whole document! Option-dragging enables rectangular selection, as in Word, which can be handy for selecting and manipulating columns of text. Selection has an excellent intuitive "feel," and operates much more conveniently than in Word. For example, in Nisus, shift-triple-clicking after the insertion point selects from the insertion point to the end of the sentence; in Word, you have to use a hard-to-remember keypad command. In Word, double-clicking to select a word and then shift-clicking elsewhere extends the selection to include the whole word where you shift-click; in Nisus, it extends the selection only to the letter where you click, and will embrace the whole word only if you shift-double-click instead (though double-click-dragging will extend the selection a word at a time).
Moreover, Nisus features non-contiguous selection (hold down option-command to select without deselecting any previous selections). Adam feels this should be standard in absolutely all word processors, because it is inherently Mac-like: you select a number of like objects and perform a single action on all of them, just as you do in the Finder. You can, for example, select all and only the scattered bits of text you want to italicise and then italicise them all at once with a single menu choice; or select a number of lines, cut or copy them, and paste them back in later to create a quick list. This feature is also basic to many macros (more on this later).
You can move around the document (or extend a selection) by keyboard combination shortcuts. I find these difficult to remember, and long for something like Word's simple key-pad shortcuts. Adam disagrees; he finds Nisus's choice of option-arrows and command-arrows no more difficult or arbitrary than Word's use of the keypad, and excoriates Word for this mapping of the keypad to navigational movements (keypads do not exist on certain Macintosh models, and the use of the NumLock key can be tough on a beginner). My point, though, is that the keyboard combinations for these commands cannot be directly user-modified in Nisus, whereas in Word they can be.
Moreover, although key combinations allow you to move by character, word, line, or paragraph, there is no quick way to move to the start or end of a line, and no way to move by sentence (even though the triple-clicking mentioned above clearly shows that Nisus knows what a sentence is). Further, although hitting Enter brings the insertion point into view (handy after scrolling to examine a different region), there is no way to return the insertion point itself to where it just was earlier, so that if you accidentally rocket yourself to the wrong place, you have to find your way back manually (whereas in Word, hitting keypad-0 would get you back instantly). The same problem arises in another form after pasting a large amount of text. After the paste, the insertion point is located at the end of the inserted material. But what if you need to be at the beginning? In Word, keypad-0 gets you there; in Nisus, you'll have to hunt for the spot manually. Of course you have to decide for yourself if this is the sort of feature that actually makes a difference to you (for Adam it doesn't).
On the other hand, Nisus does provide you with the capacity to give places in your text names of your own choosing via the Mark Text command, and then later on to jump to any named place with the Jump To command. This can be a very handy way to navigate. Of itself, it involves enough menu- and dialog-selection that it isn't the sort of thing one would want to do before every paste; but (and this is characteristic of Nisus) you can combine this feature with the ability to modify the menu command keys (discussed below) and to write macros (ditto), in such a way as to work around the difficulty with pasting, in essence writing your own command whereby a command key-combination of your choice would mark your current location and then paste, all in one go, and another command key-combination would then jump you to the beginning of the paste. <more>
Similarly, there's no reason you couldn't write a macro (accessible by a command key-combination of your own choice) to jump to the beginning of a line, or to the end of the next sentence (in fact, a macro that jumps you to the end of the next sentence is included with Nisus).
And this raises a curious philosophical problem: where, in a program's milieu, should such tools as Jump To End of Sentence properly dwell? If you're hooked on Microsoft Word, or you think (like Microsoft) that the purpose of word processing on the Mac is to let the user play video games with text, then it should be part of the word processor's interface, a textual analogue to some nearly mindless physical screen- or keyboard-action. But if you think that users have some intelligence, and that the purpose of a computer is to be programmed and made to do its individual user's bidding, then you don't mind building the machine that will accomplish the tasks you have in mind; you don't care if the capacity to jump to the end of the sentence has to be constructed at the bottom level, the level of nuts-and-bolts programming. And this is what Nisus permits you to do.
My own prejudices make me sympathetic to Nisus's approach. My first home computer was an Apple ][c, and I learned to program it top to bottom in Assembler; and I held tenaciously to it for years, refusing to switch to a Mac because, in my view, Mac programs were not, in general, as powerful as Apple programs were in this sense: they imposed their own limitations on the user, rather than empowering the user to accomplish her own goals, the way the great Apple programs did. To the extent that Nisus does thus empower the user, I think it is the greatest word processor in its price class; but when it doesn't, I feel more unhappy with it than I would with Word, because Word makes no pretence of empowering the user in the first place.
Article 3 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The text window can be scrolled vertically or horizontally. Icons at lower left and upper right of the window allow you to: split it horizontally or vertically (or both at once, giving four panes and four sets of scroll bars); show or hide a horizontal and/or a vertical ruler (a unique and occasionally invaluable feature); toggle between text and graphics mode; or show or hide a row of page, line, character, and memory informationShow full article
The text window can be scrolled vertically or horizontally. Icons at lower left and upper right of the window allow you to: split it horizontally or vertically (or both at once, giving four panes and four sets of scroll bars); show or hide a horizontal and/or a vertical ruler (a unique and occasionally invaluable feature); toggle between text and graphics mode; or show or hide a row of page, line, character, and memory information. A terrifically helpful little feature is that the display of what page you are on refers to what page is showing, not what page contains the insertion point, and it updates as you move the scroll thumb, before you even let it go - a valuable help for navigation.
You can open numerous documents at once; you can even open multiple copies of one document, though only one can be written to. Then Nisus is ready to manipulate your windows for you. With just a click, all windows can be tiled or stacked; menu choices allow you to choose any window, send back the front window, or toggle the front two. With click-combinations, you can close back windows from the front window, select or scroll in a back window without making it active, make two windows scroll in synchrony, and more. Nisus is also smart about multiple screens, so if you zoom a window on an SE/30's small screen, it zooms to that size, whereas if you zoom a window on a second 13" color screen, you get a much larger window (most programs zoom only to the main monitor, extremely frustrating when you have two screens).
An icon at the upper right also lets you open a page-layout view window - a window which can be left open while you work elsewhere. This reflects Nisus's larger philosophy of window management, a sort of "anything can be a window" approach. A scrolling list, called the Catalog, provides a private version of the Standard File Open dialog; but it's a window. Macros are loaded through macro files; the currently open macro file is a window. The Find/Replace dialog, the Spell Checking dialog, the current Glossary, are all windows. The Clipboard is a window - an editable window, and there are ten of them! Any or all of these windows can be left open for easy access and manipulation.
But then why wasn't this splendid windows philosophy carried on to footnotes? When you create or edit a footnote, a new window does not open; rather, the current text window changes into a footnote window. There is thus no way whatever to edit a footnote and see the main text at the same time! But since the whole purpose of a footnote is to comment on the main text, to be able to see both simultaneously while working on the footnote would seem to be essential. Adam points out that there may be historical reasons for this: the first release of Nisus had no footnote capabilities at all, because Paragon said they were working on footnotes, but wanted to avoid the vaporware label that crippled the eventual release of FullWrite. Version 2.0 came out shortly thereafter with the footnotes included, but the rush may have precluded the use of a separate Footnote window. Still, I find Nisus's method of windowing footnotes rather inconsiderate of how people actually use footnotes when they work; and even Adam, who doesn't use footnotes, agrees that he would like to see Paragon come up with a more flexible way of displaying the footnotes, perhaps using a separate window or by splitting the screen.
Here's another irritation. It's neat to be able to tile windows (Adam says he once tiled 54 windows, approximately one megabyte of TidBITS text, on a 13" screen). But if you tile, say, just the top two windows (probably the most common situation, and one available with a single click), they are tiled side by side: that is, you see two thin vertical columns consisting of only the left bit of several texts. What's the sense of that? You cannot read any of the texts, because you can't see the entire line of any of them. What is not provided is any fast way of tiling above-and-below, so that you might see several full lines of one window and several full lines of another (though of course you can manually resize and adjust the windows to this position).
Article 4 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Menus, too, show the originality of Nisus's philosophy. A number of menus are hierarchical. You can make the Macros menu and the Windows menu pop down directly from the title bar of a window with a click while holding down the option or command key, so you don't have to go to the trouble of finding your way in from the menubarShow full article
Menus, too, show the originality of Nisus's philosophy. A number of menus are hierarchical. You can make the Macros menu and the Windows menu pop down directly from the title bar of a window with a click while holding down the option or command key, so you don't have to go to the trouble of finding your way in from the menubar. A click while holding down shift and option will drop the Macro menu from a window title bar but instead of executing the menu selection, you will be put into the current macro file with your cursor ready to edit the selected macro, a very useful shortcut for those of us with numerous macros. And finally, an option-click on the menu bar of the clipboard window allows you to select which of the ten clipboards to display.
You are free to assign command-key combinations to any item in any menu. These command-key combinations may involve a function-key, a keypad key plus command, or a normal key plus command; and, in addition, any or all of shift, option, and control. Furthermore, you may make a command-key combination up to three characters in length! Note that this is not like the terrible WordStar commands, like Control-K-Q to save a file; since Paragon merely provides the facility and does not force it upon you (any idea what Command-F15 does in Word?), it turns out to be one of the most useful features in Nisus. This is because you can assign a shortcut for infrequently used commands and still remember them easily. The Save As command is a good example. If you wanted to assign a keyboard shortcut in Word or even QuicKeys, you'd probably have to settle for something like Command-Shift-Option-S, because you want to be able to remember the shortcut as being the shortcut for Save. But then what do you use for Spell Check? In Nisus, though, you can just assign Command-S-A to Save As (hold down command, hit S-A in quick succession) and never worry about forgetting because you've used a built-in mnemonic. Adam adds that utilities like QuicKeys would do well to emulate Nisus in this regard since it's getting harder and harder for him to think of meaningful key combinations for his QuicKeys macros as the number of them continues to increase.
When I say that you can assign a key combination to any menu item, I really mean it. If the menu item is one that changes or in some other way comes and goes - for example, a particular font that may or may not be loaded - Nisus allows you to assign it a key combination that is completely name-dependent; if the item is present, the key combination applies to it. Or, you can make your key-combination position-dependent instead; it always designates, say, the first font, regardless of what it is.
What's more, the menu items available in menus can change, not only according to what mode you are in, but according to what modifier-keys you hold down. In the Edit menu, the Copy command appears in the usual place; but if you press shift it changes to Append Copy, and if you press option it changes to Clear Clipboards. This works even if you have already selected the menu; you can press different modifiers or combinations of modifiers and watch some of the menu items change right before your eyes. (In certain cases, though, such as a User-Defined Style, option-selecting opens an item for editing rather than applying it, and this fact is not registered by any change on the menu.)
The editing tools offered in these menus also reflect of Nisus's originality. Not only can you Cut or Copy, you can Append Cut or Append Copy, gathering additional material into the clipboard without wiping out what is already there - and remember, you have 10 clipboards to work with, and can look at any one of them (though not several at once, alas). You can Paste; you can also Swap Paste, swapping what's in the clipboard with what's selected in the document. You are given virtually infinite Undo and Redo power: all changes to your document are remembered (up to a number that you set, based on how much memory you want to devote to this) and you can move backwards through the list, undoing them all one by one. Just about everything can be undone, so one has very little fear of making alterations to a document. Saving the document does not affect the Undo level, so there's no need to fear accidentally selecting all and replacing your document with a single character the instant before an autosave utility kicks in and saves the single character; in other word processors your document would be toast. Not so in Nisus. What's more, a very cute recovery feature is that if you Copy when no text is selected, the text that you last deleted - even if you deleted it with the Delete key or by over-typing it - will be moved onto the clipboard, whence it can be Pasted!
The only capacity I miss is that you cannot Paste as Text Only, stripping what is pasted of all character formatting and making it conform to its surroundings. (It turns out that it is possible to write a macro to permit this; the method, attributable to Jon Matousek of Paragon, is so unlikely that I cannot believe it was ever discovered.) Also, I actually have a complaint about Undo: when you Undo, the insertion point is not restored to where it was, so that you can undo the effect of some dumb thing you did, but you may well lose your place in the document. Surely it would not have been that hard to add the location of the insertion point to the list of things Nisus is memorizing each time it adds to the Undo list. [Adam: Picky about those insertion points, isn't he? Am I strange or do very few people actually ever notice where the insertion point ends up after some action?]
Another place where a valuable suite of menu items appears is under Style. This refers in the first instance to character styling, and you get a lot of options here. In addition to the usual Bold, Italic, Underline, you get two levels of super- and subscripting, three kinds of underlining, strike-through, overbar, boxed (apparently useful for creating a blank box with an option-space that can then be filled in with an X later on), inverted (white on black), and eight colors. The colors are not trivial additions, even if your monitor is black-and-white. You can use them to help in the writing of powerful macros, as a way of marking text temporarily. Further, making text White, the background color, renders it invisible without stopping it from taking up room; this is valuable if you want to make an indent match exactly the width of some text above without resorting to the ruler.
I do sometimes wonder about the menu status of certain items. For example, if I want to type a forced return or a soft return, I have to hit characters from the keyboard, which I must remember; they are not menu items, and they cannot be made menu items. But if I want to type a forced page break, I go up into the menu. Why don't these actions, which seem to me perfectly parallel, have the same status? Why should one be available from the menu, while the others require that I remember a keyboard code? However, Adam replies that lots of reviews have criticized Nisus for having too many menus, so there's no reason to put commands like soft return into a menu when almost no one ever uses them and most people wouldn't even be sure why they would want to, whereas forced page breaks are extremely common and should be put out front. In fact, Adam goes on, the basic problem Paragon faces is that Nisus has so many features that it's hard to decide where to put them. In some ways Nisus's interface is quirky, but they do some things that make perfect sense. For instance, Font, Size, and Style are all right in the menubar since those are some of the most commonly used menus in any word processor. In any case neither I nor Adam agree with those who criticise Nisus for its heavy use of hierarchical menus.
Article 5 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The horizontal ruler area at the top of a text window contains the expected formatting tools: you can set the paragraph containing the insertion point to be ragged-right, ragged-left, centered, or right-and-left justified; you can insert four kinds of tabs; increment or decrement line leading and paragraph leading; and, of course, slide the wrapping marginsShow full article
The horizontal ruler area at the top of a text window contains the expected formatting tools: you can set the paragraph containing the insertion point to be ragged-right, ragged-left, centered, or right-and-left justified; you can insert four kinds of tabs; increment or decrement line leading and paragraph leading; and, of course, slide the wrapping margins. There is also a ruler icon which, if checked, causes small ruler symbols - the Governing Rulers - to become visible to the left of some paragraphs in the text.
It appears that Paragon began by hoping to do without Word-type named paragraph styles altogether; and the curious hierarchy of ways to manipulate paragraph formatting reflects the remnants of this hope. At the bottom of the hierarchy is a mechanism for physically and namelessly manipulating paragraph styles, the Governing ruler, rather like the ruler in the original MacWrite. Under this metaphor a ruler appearing in the left margin continues to govern every subsequent paragraph until a paragraph is encountered whose format information (margins, justification, tab placement, line leading, paragraph leading, etc.) differs in some way, and then a new ruler appears in the left margin next to that differing paragraph.
You can do many things with these rulers:
(i) You can alter the format of one paragraph. <more>
(ii) You can select any number of paragraphs (contiguous or otherwise, remember) and alter their formatting. <more>
(iii) You can alter the format of one paragraph and all contiguous paragraphs governed by the same individual ruler. <more>
(iv) You can alter the format of one paragraph and all identical paragraphs - that is, all paragraphs anywhere in the document whose formatting is just like the current paragraph. This is a cool feature because you can essentially redefine a paragraph style for the whole document without ever worrying about style names. <more>
(v) You can treat the Governing rulers that appear in the margin as characters, and cut and paste them as a way of altering paragraph formats. <more>
Adam thinks that when it comes right down to using Nisus, over 90% of users will never even notice or care that they can do anything but format either the paragraph holding the insertion point or the selected paragraphs, although he admits to being fond of the ability to cut, copy, and paste ruler icons to format text. This may be true, though I happen to think that even such users will probably accidentally run across the more advanced properties of Governing rulers. But in any case we both agree that the combinations of these various actions on Governing rulers are extremely powerful, a fantastic implementation of the concept.
Article 6 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The Paragon people at some point decided that this way of working with formats was incomplete, and so a second level of hierarchy is included, Named RulersShow full article
The Paragon people at some point decided that this way of working with formats was incomplete, and so a second level of hierarchy is included, Named Rulers. A ruler can be assigned a name; if this is done, a slightly different ruler icon appears, and the name can now be selected from a pop-up menu in the ruler at the top of the window as a way of assigning the given format to a paragraph, just as in Word. <more> Any changes made to the formatting of any paragraph governed by a Named ruler will instantly be applied to all paragraphs governed by a ruler with that name; this is what makes Named rulers so powerful and useful.
(If you've been working entirely with unnamed rulers and decide things would be easier if you used Named rulers instead, it is easy to make the transition: if you hold down Command as you name a ruler, all identical rulers throughout the document will be given that name. Try THAT with Microsoft Word! I'm deadly serious here: the only way in Word to give a single Style name to all identical paragraphs in Word is to find them all, one by one, and apply that style. Score a big one for Nisus here.)
Things can get a bit tricky in the interplay between named and unnamed rulers; you'll have to download the longer version of this review if you want details. <more>
Article 7 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The top level in the formatting hierarchy is User-Defined Styles. In Nisus, the term Style in this context does not refer to paragraph formatting per seShow full article
The top level in the formatting hierarchy is User-Defined Styles. In Nisus, the term Style in this context does not refer to paragraph formatting per se. It may involve character font, character size, character styling, or paragraph formatting by way of a ruler name - or any combination of these. (You will notice that paragraph formatting, as we have been discussing it so far, has not involved character features in any way. Pasting a named ruler, for example, will do nothing to the font, size, or style of any characters in the document.) This is the level on which you really want to operate, because it is the most global and convenient. Any change made to any part of the definition of a User-Defined Style is instantly reflected in all text to which that Style is attached; and you make your changes quickly and easily in a dialog box. Nisus is incredibly intelligent about remembering why text looks the way it does; you can cancel the effect of a User-Defined Style upon text, just by selecting the text and choosing the Style from the Style menu (whereupon it unchecks in the menu); and when you do, characteristics of the text that are imposed by that Style are removed - but characteristics of the text that are imposed by other Styles applying to it, or that were imposed manually (by choosing Italic from the menu, for example), are not removed.
The price of this power, though, is that User-Defined Styles work in a tricky way. The options available to the user when defining a Style include Named Ruler, font, size, color, and character styling. Now, if a User-Defined Style does not include a ruler name, then when you choose it from the Style menu it applies to the character formatting just of any selected material, or to the insertion point and any subsequent typing. But if it does include a ruler name, then, when you choose it from the Style menu, no matter how much text is selected, the ENTIRE paragraph containing the insertion point will take on the character formatting defined in the Style, - and the Named ruler in question will appear to the left of the paragraph. <more>
Well, you may disagree, but I find this more than a tad confusing. <more> However, let me get one thing perfectly clear: despite these confusing behaviours, I LOVE the way Nisus handles Rulers and Styles, and I think they put Word completely in the shade; Nisus gives you a power and convenience that Word just cannot match. <more>
A noteworthy aspect of Rulers and Styles is the way in which these are made transferable from one document to another. If several documents are open at once, the User-Defined Styles of all of them are available in the Style menu (those that are not in the frontmost document are marked with the name of the document they are in). If you select a User-Defined Style that is not in the frontmost document, it will be applied in the frontmost document, and it will also be transferred into that document. Thus a single action can change the character and paragraph formatting of a paragraph, and create a new Named ruler in your document, and define a new User-Defined Style in your document. Since you do this with only those Styles that you desire in your document, you have a method of making paragraph formatting and character styling match that of another document which is, I think, far better than that of Microsoft Word.
You can also create style and formatting libraries. A document called "Nisus New File" in the same folder as Nisus will contain all the formatting information for new files, so you can create styles in that document and then delete all the text, leaving just the styles to use later on in each new document you create. Or you can have the styles live in an ordinary file, since, remember, any window (including a macro file) that you open on the screen will have its styles available for use in any other document. <more>
Named rulers also provide a handy way of navigating your document. If you hold down the Shift key while selecting the name of a Named ruler from the pop-up menu at the top of the window, Nisus will find the next instance of that Named ruler for you. As you will doubtless assign a Named ruler (most likely by way of a Style) to every heading your document, for example, you can now quickly page through the sections of your work. (You can also find character styling or User-Defined Styles in Nisus; see below.)
Missing is any way to arrange Named rulers or Styles into a hierarchy, by defining one in terms of another, as Word does. If I change the principal font of my main paragraphs, I probably want that of my subordinate paragraph types to change to match it. In Word you can arrange to have this happen automatically; in Nisus the onus is on the user to select beforehand all paragraph types to which a change is to be made. (However, once you do this, changes made to a Named ruler or Style are of course reflected instantly throughout the document.)
A very important thing you cannot do from within a Style definition is to require that your paragraph be kept on the same page with the start of the following paragraph. There is thus no way, from within the Styles dialog, to ensure that a heading will not become isolated from the succeeding paragraph, appearing instead alone at the bottom of the page. (Indeed, this error occurs several times in the Nisus manual.) This is not to say that there is no way whatever to ensure that a paragraph will be kept with following material; but again, this is a place where Nisus's philosophy of what level a feature should dwell on might strike one as perverse. Under the Format Menu is an item, Keep On Same Page. I don't know why this is under the Format Menu; it does not in fact alter formatting; Keep On Same Page is in reality a style (I think of it as a pseudo-style), and what choosing it from the menu really does is to impose this style on your selected text. If you want to prevent material from being interrupted by a soft page break, you have to impose the Keep On Same Page pseudo-style upon the entire run of material yourself. What you would need to do in order to keep headings from being separated from their following paragraph, for example, is to write a macro which selects every heading and a couple of lines of whatever follows, and imposes the Keep On Same Page style onto them. In the same way, Nisus does not come with any automatic prevention of widows and orphans: it is possible that as you type, a single line from the start or end of a paragraph will wind up isolated on a page. To prevent widows and orphans in your printed document, you run a macro (included with Nisus): it selects the first two lines and the last two lines of every paragraph, and imposes the Keep On Same Page style.
You have to adjust your working method to accommodate this way of doing things, and you may find it just too inconvenient to do so. It is up to you to remember to run these macros relating to widows and orphans just before print time; and you dare not run them any sooner, either, for if you impose the Keep On Same Page style onto a run of text, and then find you need to make alterations to that text, your Keep On Same Page style will be incorrectly attached in the document - being a style, it is attached to specific text, and is moved or expanded or deleted with that text. Moreover, there is no way to render the presence of Keep On Same Page style visible on the screen, so it is easy to make an error in this regard (though admittedly you could make such text temporarily visible by writing a macro to select it - but this is only a workaround, not a real solution). A macro is included for simply removing all Keep On Same Page styling, and you certainly would need to run this, if you have previously run the Widows and Orphans macro, before making any changes to your document that might alter the first or last lines of any paragraphs, or else your widows and orphans will come out wrong; but this can hardly be termed a solution. What if some of your paragraphs or paragraph styles intentionally include Keep On Same Page formatting that you would rather not lose (such as a small columnar table that needs to be kept together)? The macro will undo that styling as well! <more>
Article 8 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
We turn now to the bottom level of Nisus, the area where the nitty-gritty is, the stuff that Nisus seems truly made for: the find-and-replace and macro/programming facilities. You set up a find or find-and-replace in a dialog window, and the flexibility of what you can do is astonishingShow full article
We turn now to the bottom level of Nisus, the area where the nitty-gritty is, the stuff that Nisus seems truly made for: the find-and-replace and macro/programming facilities.
You set up a find or find-and-replace in a dialog window, and the flexibility of what you can do is astonishing. You can include any sort of styling in your Find text or your Replace text - font, size, character styling, User-Defined Styles - as part of what Nisus is to look for, or the change it is to make. A built-in global regular expression parser ("grep"), or as Paragon was asked by Apple to call it, PowerSearch Plus, lets you build complex textual patterns to find and complex ways of dealing with them when they are found, and, in the Find dialog window, those not wishing to learn and type the cryptic, but oh-so-powerful codes to match patterns can select expression components from a menu instead. (It's interesting to note that Nisus is one of a few programs that put menus in a window rather than further burdening the menu bar, something which is especially handy on large and multiple monitor setups. It would be nice to see more of this in the future.) You can find forward or backwards through a document, find one or all instances, limit your find to previously selected text. You can have your find performed on just the frontmost document, all open documents, or even on closed files for which you provide a list via the Catalog.
There is no point trying to enumerate all the features of PowerSearch Plus, but some examples will illustrate the power of the results. To change all instances of underlined text to italicised text is trivial. To change all instances of an imported marked-up expression such as "<it>some text<ro>", where the <it> and the <ro> may or may not be capitalised, so as to have the <it> and <ro> removed and whatever is in between become italicised, is only mildly less trivial. (That's a real example in my life.) To find all instances of text that might be a phone number is an interesting challenge, but it is in fact possible to set up a single find that would be able to find such variations as "KI4-3459", "(607)-4215151", and "301 421-5353"; a single find-and-replace procedure might find all phone numbers regardless of their format and alter them so that they conform to some set format - say, parentheses round the area code if there is one, space after the area code, hyphen between the first three and last four digits of the number.
No doubt numerous possibilities for using all this power are occurring to you as you read, from free text databasing to file format translation - and rightly so. PowerSearch Plus (together with the macro capacity) is what I bought Nisus for, and it has done me yeoman service in this regard.
There isn't much not to like about this wonderful aspect of Nisus. I have one suggestion, though. I often use foreign alphabets. Nisus's PowerSearch Plus distinguishes numeric, alphabetic, uppercase, lowercase, alphabetic-with-diacritical, and punctuation characters, but these definitions are pre-defined for the Mac's standard character set; the possibility that someone might be using a font where it is not true that a character is uppercase alphabetic if and only if it is ASCII 65-90, seems not to have occurred to Nisus's designers. What I'd like to see is some sort of dialog that would let the user define these categories for any given font. Perhaps the new Script-Sensitive finding option present in Nisus 3.06 indicates some coming step in this direction; I've no documentation on it, so I can't tell.
Finding text also responds inconsistently to the Keep On Same Page pseudo-style (see above). If text gets into the Find dialog that is marked Keep On Same Page (which can happen quite easily without the user's knowing it if Copy is used to obtain the text to be sought), a style-sensitive find will not find text in the document unless it is marked Keep On Same Page (quite disconcerting, since the find will seem to be failing for no reason that the user can detect); but if the text in the Find dialog is not marked Keep On Same Page, then, even if the find is style-sensitive, text in the document that is marked Keep On Same Page WILL be included as a match. This is weird behaviour, but the root of the problem is really the fact that Keep On Same Page is a pseudo-style.
Article 9 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The macro facility is divided into two levels, referred to as Macros and Programming. The difference is formal: the two levels involve different commands, which cannot be combined on a single line of a macro (though they can be combined within a single macro), and the Programming Dialect requires the presence of a special interpreter fileShow full article
The macro facility is divided into two levels, referred to as Macros and Programming. The difference is formal: the two levels involve different commands, which cannot be combined on a single line of a macro (though they can be combined within a single macro), and the Programming Dialect requires the presence of a special interpreter file. In addition, you can record a macro by asking Nisus to watch what you are doing, and then go in afterwards and customize the macro that Nisus has created for you.
The Macro level, in a nutshell, allows you to do anything you could have done with menus and typing. You can enter find-and-replace commands in a single line rather than having to make Nisus fill in the Find dialog piece by piece, and a few other menu commands can similarly be encoded in condensed form within a macro; but the net effect is precisely to automate actions you could have taken through menus and keyboard. A macro can call itself or another macro; the find-and-replace syntax provides a means of terminating a macro, which may be in a loop or calling itself, if the find fails. The macro file appears in a window which is a version of the regular text window, with the normal tools at the top of the window and all menus available; this means you can include rulers and styles in a macro and cause them to appear in the document on which it operates. Writing macros is not at all difficult (although I find I have to have the manual in front of me if I'm to remember the find/replace syntax), and there is an excellent facility for testing them: you can tell Nisus to regard any selected text as a macro and to attempt to execute it (and you can Undo the results in one stroke, so you're not afraid to experiment).
What the Programming dialect adds is: mathematical and string operations and functions; a rudimentary control structure (if, goto, exit); functions for obtaining information about the document - what is the name of the ruler governing the current insertion point? what is the character offset (from the start of the document) of the insertion point? of the current ruler? of the next ruler?; a storage class which is sort of a cross between an array and a stack; and commands for obtaining or setting the selection point in the document. A thing you are likely to do is combine the selection-point commands with the storage class. For example, you might do a find which results in a number of non-contiguous selections; you could then store the selection-points in the storage class; this would allow you to run through the selections one by one, doing some complicated (possibly conditional) operation on each of them.
The power of all this is so obvious as to need no further elaboration. Yet, to the reader's possible astonishment, I should like to say that I think nowhere near enough power is provided. Nisus has a lot to live up to in this regard. On my little Apple ][c, with just 128K, I ran a program called Gutenberg. This fantastic program, by John Wagner of Scarborough, Ontario, is my measuring stick for all other word processing programs. It had no WYSIWYG bells and whistles, of course; but it revolved around a programmable page-layout language with which you could dictate, through a nesting series of macros, down to the last pixel what your dot-matrix printer would ultimately generate (in other words it was like TeX). What attracts me to Nisus is that it dwells in Gutenberg's philosophical world; what disappoints me is that it never quite lives up to its promise. That's right: I'm saying that Gutenberg was more powerful.
The reason for this is that Gutenberg's programming language gave the user access to something Nisus's does not: the global variables of the document. There is no way to find out from within a Nisus macro such things as: what is the font of the text at the insertion point? what, numerically, is the placement of the left margin? what, numerically, is the position of the insertion point on the line? (You can figure out how many characters there are from the start of the line to the insertion point, but not how many centimetres.) Similarly, you cannot set these global variables, unless through a menu command - and menu commands do not do everything. There is absolutely no way, from within a Nisus macro, to set a tab or move a margin. (Of course you can impose a ruler which includes preset tabs and margins; but I'm talking about being able to respond flexibly and numerically to the actual situation: e.g., set the left margin to 1 inch more than its present value.) I cannot believe that it would be much trouble to add this sort of facility and give Nisus's programming language some truly incredible power. Remember, this is all stuff I used to be able to do on an Apple ][. Paragon does realize this, but has had other priorities, such as getting Nisus Compact and Nisus XS out the door. I'd like to see them focus on their programming language next, since it would help Nisus to further break from the word-processor pack.
One silly feature of macros, by the way, is that for many commands you need to be able to enter special symbols for Option, Shift, Command, arrow-keys, and the like; a special font is provided to allow this, but there is no way to type some of the symbols (no way to type any of them if you've no Control-key) - you have to pull down a special window called ASCII which shows the symbols, and double-click each one as needed to get it into the macro. (However, things are better than they used to be. In Nisus 3.01, you couldn't even see the symbols in the ASCII window; you had to memorize their ASCII codes, and double-click the correct code number to cause the required symbol to appear in your macro!) The only other workaround is to turn on macro recording, type some keys with the modifiers down, and then copy the modifier symbols from the recorded macro. It's clumsy, but it works. I just leave the symbols in a comment at the top of my macro file so they're easy to get to.
Article 10 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
We now come to the top layer of Nisus, a number of miscellaneous page-layout features cobbled together (a recent MacUser refers to it as a "Swiss-Army knife," an apt comparison)Show full article
We now come to the top layer of Nisus, a number of miscellaneous page-layout features cobbled together (a recent MacUser refers to it as a "Swiss-Army knife," an apt comparison). In my opinion these are of uneven quality and value, especially in comparison to the fantastic find/replace and macro facilities; but I'll describe them and let you be the judge.
The Footnote facilities are the most disappointing. On the one hand, it is true, Nisus has commendably gone out of its way to provide much more flexibility here than many other word processors do. You can let any given footnote be numbered automatically or give it a special symbol, or no symbol at all; if it is numbered, you can include any sort of constant punctuation with the number, superscripting it or not, and the number format can differ in text and notes. (Thus the footnote could be marked as "(2)" in the text but "2." in the footnote.) You can restart automatic footnote numbering at any point in the document. You can have footnotes or endnotes; if footnotes, you can choose whether footnotes may be split, whether they may be separated from their main text, whether they appear at the bottom of the page or tight up against the main text, even how much of a page can maximally consist of footnote material.
But you still wouldn't want to have to produce a proper book with Nisus's footnote facilities. They are awkward to use because, as pointed out already, you can't write or edit a footnote with the main text in view without messing around with manually copying the text and using the Show Clipboard feature. This may be a personal thing, but I hate not being able to see my text while writing the footnote. A Nisus document has no sections, so you cannot cause notes to appear as endnotes after each section or chapter. An unbelievably rudimentary omission is that Nisus does not allow you to define the separator line between main text and footnotes differently depending on whether the first note on that page starts a footnote or is a continuation of a note from the previous page (called a continuation separator); this is something that even Microsoft Word lets you do, and it is required by standard typographical convention. You cannot preset the font, size, and character styling of footnote numbers; you have to use the find/replace facilities to change them after they are created, and if you then make a new footnote you'll have to do it again. On the other hand, you must preset the numbering style of footnotes; if you create several footnotes and decide you don't like their numbering style, you have to change all the numbers one by one! As you make each footnote, Nisus attaches an unnamed ruler to each note; if you want to be the master of footnote formatting (or Style), you have to change this, and again you must do this yourself once more if you add a new a footnote. Unaccountably, Nisus insists on inserting a Tab character before each new footnote! When Nisus does a find, it cannot see footnotes; you have to find just the footnotes explicitly. When Nisus does a find of closed files, it cannot find text in footnotes at all! (Nor can other applications see text in Nisus footnotes, since they are a resource - whereas main text is of type TEXT.) And you cannot index text from your footnotes, which makes indexing largely useless to me, since in my academic writing the technical part of the argument, and all the references, are in the footnotes.
The upshot is that the problems with footnoting alone are enough to keep me from being able to use Nisus for routine production of scholarly work, even though I'd like very much to do so. What possessed Paragon to construct their system this way is beyond me to imagine.
There are no table-making facilities whatever. Zero. Zilch. This is an unbelievable state of affairs. Tables are not a luxury. I use them very often, not merely to display data but for such mundane things as making a syllabus, writing a resume, and making a question and answer appear side by side. Nisus has nothing, not even side-by-side paragraphs; all sorts of effects involving paragraph placement that in Word are almost trivial to attain are more or less impossible in Nisus. The manual mentions that you could, if you wanted, make a table in Microsoft Word and then import it to Nisus as a graphic. Hey, I think I'll make a table in Microsoft Word and stay right in Microsoft Word. Get real, Paragon. And remember, I'm not asking for anything here that I couldn't do with 128K using Gutenberg on an Apple ][c. Interestingly enough, Microsoft was shocked at the response they got to the addition of tables in Word 4.0. Apparently they had just though tables might be a nice way to format columns of numbers and since Word provided rudimentary calculation features, they threw in the tables, which were an immediate hit. Word's tables still have some serious problems (such as not being able to split a row over a page break), and Paragon could win over many Word users with a killer table feature. Hint hint.
Since there is no such thing as a section in Nisus, you cannot vary the columnization of your document; either it must all be one column, or it must all be two, and so on - and your columns must all be of equal width.
Article 11 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
If you want just one or two side-by-side paragraphs, or a short stretch of material in a different columnization from your document, you can have it, provided it does not involve run-over to a second page: the Paragon people have gone to the elaborate trouble of building a Place Page facility into the programShow full article
If you want just one or two side-by-side paragraphs, or a short stretch of material in a different columnization from your document, you can have it, provided it does not involve run-over to a second page: the Paragon people have gone to the elaborate trouble of building a Place Page facility into the program. This means that you can attach to a page an image of another document. Double-clicking this image opens the other document itself for editing, and any changes made to the other document are reflected in your image of it. The image can be placed as a graphic, which means you can put it virtually anywhere on the page (with no deterioration in font quality). You can even play graphic tricks with it: have it appear upside down or sideways, and so on (though these do cause deterioration of font quality, at least on my StyleWriter). This is no substitute for real side-by-side paragraphs, or real change of columnization, and in my view it uses a bazooka to kill a gnat - if something this powerful and elaborate could be built in, why not just plain ordinary table-making? - but for what it does, it works beautifully, is easy to use, and has no noticeable disadvantages. (It's true that every Placed paragraph represents a file on disk of at least 3 or 4K, and that if you move that file you lose your link to it, but I don't regard this as much of a price to pay.)
Nisus comes with a black-and-white graphic drawing facility, so you can make rudimentary PICT structures from within Nisus, or import and edit them; you can import bit-mapped graphics, of course, but they will remain uneditable bitmaps. A graphic is considered to live on the "graphics sheet" or the "text sheet." A graphic in the text sheet functions as a character in the stream of characters (this is good for fancy initial majuscules, for example), while a graphic in the graphics sheet is an independent entity: text can be made to flow around it or just cross right over top of it, and the graphic can be associated with a particular location on a particular page, or with a particular return-character. As most users probably own a more powerful graphics program (for example, in Nisus rotation must be through a multiple of 90), the graphics facility may not prove much of an attraction; the versatile interaction between graphics and text may prove valuable to some users, though, and Nisus does just fine for the occasional box or for creating graphical text blocks and dragging them around on the page for rudimentary layout.
Adam adds that although Word 5.0 added a graphics module it has some bugs, and in true Microsoft style, it is a separate window, which makes it just about useless for creating graphics while visually interacting with the text. You can't move Word graphics around on the page without using the Frame command and going into Print Preview or a dialog box. So Nisus's graphics may not be Canvas, but they're decent and well-implemented.
Cross-referencing is provided. If you attach a marker to text, you can then cause a number to appear elsewhere in your document which is the page number, line number, paragraph number, or actual content of the marked text. This number is updated automatically. However, there is no way to make visible the fact that text is marked, so you can easily delete or in some other way munge your marker without knowing it. You cannot find out the name of the marker that a cross-reference references; hence you cannot jump to the referenced text. Even worse, your marker and your cross reference to it have to be in the same document, but since Nisus provides no facilities for dividing your document into sections, you won't be able to maintain cross-referencing over a long document if it is to have any sections. For example, if you're writing a book, then if you have a section (such as a Preface) that involves a different style of page-numbering from the rest of the document (say, it uses Roman numerals), then you won't be able to include it as part of the whole book, because a Nisus document, having no sections, can only involve one style of page-numbering. And so you can't cross-reference between the Preface and the rest of the book. Since a fairly common thing to do in a Preface is refer to other parts of the book, this is a pretty stupid state of affairs. Furthermore, cross-referencing does not recognize footnote numbers - you can cross-reference to a footnote, all right, but you can't obtain the footnote number as part of the reference. So you can't say, "See p. 58, n. 7." But since this is the kind of thing I need to say all the time, Nisus's cross-referencing doesn't do me much good. Considering the fact that Word has absolutely no cross-referencing features at all though, Nisus will still be more useful than Word, especially at the more simple cross-referencing tasks.
There is a Table of Contents facility. You mark the text that you wish included in the table of contents; such marking can be made visible. When you are ready, you use Make Contents to create a rudimentary document consisting of text followed by page numbers. The text loses all styling, and every entry looks the same. You will have to play with the look of this document before you can use it, so the lack of support for automatic hierarchical contents may not be of any great concern.
The Indexing facility is more flexible. You can either mark text for direct inclusion in the index, or mark the text and associate it with the phrase that you wish entered in the index (so that stretches of text can be referenced by the subject they discuss). At the same time you can also designate a heading to be added to a "See Also" list that will appear at the end of the index entry. If you wish to reference one stretch of text under more than one index entry, though, you have to resort to trickery; the manual suggests you enter the index headings right into your text, mark them for indexing, and then make them invisible. The find-and-replace facilities "know" about indexing; you can automatically find for particular words and index them under particular entries, find for text already marked under particular headings, and so forth (you could even index every word in the document if you wanted). Finally, as with the Table of Contents, when your text is marked as you want it, a single command generates your index. Disappointingly, however, you can only have two levels of indexing; worse, you cannot index text in footnotes at all (which is ridiculous, since most of what I want indexed is probably in the notes). Nevertheless, if you are willing to plan ahead and to add a goodly quantity of manual labour at the end, you will find that the indexing facility generates a very decent basis for composing your index.
You can automate powerfully the marking-up of your document both for indexing and for table of contents. A User-Defined Style can include a Table of Contents designation that will cause text marked with it to be collected when the table of contents is built; by marking text with several different Styles (not necessarily with any visible effect), you can mark for several different tables of contents, collecting each separately by turning on the Table of Contents option for just one Style at a time. The same is true for indexing, so you could create multiple indexes this way; but you can do this only if you want the text from the document used directly as the index entry. More likely you would build multiple indexes by using the Find/Replace facility (perhaps with the help of Colors or Styles) and marking up your whole document for one index, building it, then unmarking it and marking it up for a different index.
There is a Sort command, but it is very rudimentary; the only thing you can sort by is paragraph-start. The sort knows the difference between words and numbers, and will separate paragraphs that start with words from those that start with numbers. You can also force an ASCII-order sort. But the sort is not font-sensitive, and there is no way to tell it that you might be using a different alphabet.
The current date and time can be inserted in the document. They are not automatically updated, which can be a good thing; if you want them updated, you can either cause it to be done yourself with a menu command, or set a preference that causes it to be done just before every Print. A few formats are provided for the date, but not enough; fortunately the date format responds to your setting in the System's "itl1" resource, so you can make up for this to some extent.
Nisus comes with the usual mail merge facilities. It is no harder to use than any other mail merge facilities I know about, and seems to be very full-featured (it has conditionals, Include, prompting, and so on). Word 5.0's mail merge was significantly improved from Word 4.0, but according to the people at Macworld Australia, who swear by Nisus, Nisus's mail merge is cleaner than Word's mail merge.
A line-numbering feature is included, but I can't imagine what it's good for. You cannot pick a stretch of lines to be numbered: you can only number the whole document, by page or in full. And you don't get much control over where the numbers are to appear.
There is an automatic parenthesis checker, to make sure your parentheses are balanced. I find this sort of useless because even though it is somewhat configurable it doesn't take account of the fact that the code for parenthesis delimiters may differ for different fonts, and so if I'm using any Greek it gets the answer wrong.
Spell-checking is included. I've never seen a spell-checker I liked and this one doesn't change my mind. I am told that the User Dictionary is limited to about 3000 words, although this has not proved to be a serious problem in normal use. Paragon also has foreign language dictionaries available, though I've never used them and can't comment on how well they work. The spell-checker has some bugs: it highlights words with punctuation within them (such as apostrophe) incorrectly, so they can't be replaced or corrected properly, and if the checker asks you about a word and you tell it to Ignore other occurrences of that word, it sometimes fails to do so. Adam contends that Nisus's spell-checker is very fast, much faster than Word's for instance, and is more full featured than most. For instance, Nisus has a built-in Ignore Spelling style, and when you click the Ignore button, that word will be ignored for the rest of that document's life (or is supposed to be; bugs remain), an incredibly useful feature in comparison to word processors that can only skip words or add them to the dictionary. Adding words to the User Dictionary is easy, but removing them is a slow and tedious task if you have any number in there. Luckily Paragon ships some macros with Nisus that can export a User Dictionary and import a list of words into a User Dictionary, so you can fix the list and then let it import at its leisure.
A thesaurus is included; it too is about as mediocre as these on-line thesauruses usually are, and of course you can't modify it in any way, but on occasion it can be helpful if you like thesauruses.
There is automated hyphenation, but it never prompts you for help with a word, it just goes ahead and hyphenates: you cannot set how much of a word you think needs to be washing over the margin before hyphenation should be invoked, or correct Nisus's hyphenation of a word as it sets it. Since I don't think any machine knows better than I do how I want words hyphenated, I never use this feature.
The glossary facility is good. You can create multiple glossaries (though only one can be loaded at a time), and glossary files are themselves editable. A glossary entry may include character styling attributes, or can be set to take on the attributes of surrounding text. Even a graphic can be a glossary entry. You cause a glossary entry to go into your text just by typing an abbreviation; you can then cause the actual text to be substituted for the abbreviation immediately, by a menu command, or later on, by selecting text and ordering all abbreviations within the selection to be expanded to their equivalents.
A Get Info command obtains such data about your document as the number of pages, paragraphs, lines, words, and characters; also included are the average and maximum length of sentences, and something called Flesch Reading Ease and Resulting Reading Grade Level. You'll be happy to know you're mastering a grade 16 document here, whatever that may mean. But do you really believe the average length of a word in this review is 4? Other word processors either don't reveal this information or, like Word 5.0, make you jump through hoops to get it.
A number of interesting preferences can be set. You can have backup and autosave of documents. The autosave, which is regulated by number of characters typed (though one would like a combination of that and time and actions, since you don't type much when making a lot of editing changes), can save the original file, a .bak file, and even a copy of the original file to another location of the hard drive. Under System 7 there is a clever trick to make Nisus save its secondary documents in the Trash, where they'll stay until you consciously delete them: you boot under System 6, select the Trash folder for the secondary save, and then save the preferences. When you reboot under System 7 again, Nisus will stuff those secondary files in the Trash where they'll sit until you throw them out or until you lose an original file. No other program except WordPerfect lets you do this, but it's the ultimate backup technique. The whole autosave milieu is a lot better than Word 5.0 with its auto-reminder that pops up every few minutes and asks you if you want to save. "Of course I want to save, you idiot program!"
You can set the size of the Undo list (important if you are running short of memory). You can supposedly regulate the maximum scroll speed for when you hold down a scroll-arrow but I think this is broken; I couldn't get the actual speed to rise above about 6 lines at a time. Adam also especially appreciates the Auto Indent preference. With this turned on, if you indent a line with a tab or a few spaces and hit <return>, Nisus will automatically indent the next line by the same tab or number of spaces. If you're typing in a list of things, Auto Indent is invaluable. If you want to avoid extra spaces, Nisus can also remove leading and trailing blanks as you type, but Adam admits he finds this a tad disconcerting.
Nisus page headers and footers work in a simple and powerful way. A header (or footer) is considered to be "attached" to a paragraph of the document (actually to the Return at the end of it), and it affects pages only after that paragraph appears, supplanting any earlier header. This means that as part of the act of creating a section heading you could attach a header to the section heading; the header on each page would then reflect the current topic. A given header or footer can be set to appear on all pages, even pages, or odd pages. A minor thing that I dislike is that headers and footers are regarded as inviolate separate regions of the page; they cannot infringe vertically upon the main text, meaning that they are useless for achieving certain layout effects.
Printing in Nisus is remarkably good. The Page Setup dialog lets you dictate a completely custom paper size. The Print dialog lets you print just the odd or even pages, thus making double-sided printing easy, unlike even Word 5.0. Further, the Page Layout window, in addition to extremely flexible facilities for setting or changing the document margins (including a gutter so that the look of left and right pages can mirror each other), includes a Two-Up option which permits two pages to appear on one sheet of paper, automatically rearranging the page order at print time so that if you print on both sides of the paper you will end up with sheets that you can staple in the middle to make a booklet. (You can also cause a frame to appear around every page of a document, but it can only be very rudimentary, and you have only rudimentary control over what it will look like.) If you wish, you can even set a preference so that Nisus prints Last to First.
Article 12 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
I have said nothing up to now about the manual. I'll try to be brief about this: Unless it has been heavily rewritten since the version that came with Nisus 3.01, the manual is frankly badShow full article
I have said nothing up to now about the manual. I'll try to be brief about this: Unless it has been heavily rewritten since the version that came with Nisus 3.01, the manual is frankly bad. Inconsistencies and errors abound. On one page an option in the find/replace syntax is described as finding any character that is "not alphabetic, nor diacritical, nor underscore" when in fact it does find underscores; there are about ten more such errors on that page, which I had to straighten out by trial and error. Explanations are frequently written in a weird, substandard English. Paragon seems to need an academic professional both to advise it on features for Nisus and to rewrite the manual. Say, guys, for a small consulting fee At least Paragon ships a couple of small reference booklets to the macro and programming commands, so you don't really have to use the manual much.
[Adam: We'd like to be able to say that the online help is great, but it's really clumsy. Actually, the online help and the manual suffer from the same problem - they were both done entirely in Nisus. Nisus is just not a serious publishing tool. Do you think Microsoft completely does their manuals in Word? Not a chance - for one thing it doesn't do color separations or page impositions. You write a manual in Nisus or Word and then import it into a real page layout program for layout and printing. Same thing goes with the online help. Sure Nisus can do it with a little funky programming, but I'd far rather have a slick custom-programmed (or even HyperCard) help facility. I admire Paragon for using Nisus for everything, but in this case, I'd recommend that they go to a good graphic designer for the manual and whip up a clever help facility in their spare time. Matt didn't mention this, but he whipped up an electronic cheat sheet for a lot of the more obscure commands in Nisus along with the syntax and options for the Find/Replace functions. It's terribly useful little DA - Matt used Bill Steinberg's Text DA - and one which I consider invaluable if you're using macros in particular.]
When you start up Nisus it takes a full 30 seconds (on my LC) from double-clicking the application or a document until it is ready to work. I wouldn't describe this as unconscionably long, but it certainly does mean that when I have something I just want to jot down quickly, or a large text-only document that I just want to look into quickly, I reach for Microsoft Word (or I used to: now Word 5.0 is slow as well). What can these programs be doing all that while?
Nisus is a mighty hog of CPU time when in the foreground, and can even slow things down a bit when in the background because its windows can be a mite slow to redraw. It can also be a mighty RAM hog; your whole document and anything else that has to be open during a project must be in memory all at once, for there is no facility for chaining small documents together. But of course this is only true if you want to work on lots of documents at once or on very large documents; and as Adam points out, considering the amount of memory that Word 5.0 wants and needs, Nisus no longer looks like such a RAM hog with its 700K minimum request. Perhaps one should call Nisus a RAM snob; if you need to use cross-referencing, you're only going to write a book with Nisus if you've got the money to buy the RAM to hold the whole thing.
Article 13 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Adam and I each get a separate say here, since our differing uses for a computer give us differing orientations on Nisus (though we are in agreement over the details of Nisus's strengths and weaknesses). [Matt] For large documents with layout needs such as tables, Nisus cannot compete with WordShow full article
Adam and I each get a separate say here, since our differing uses for a computer give us differing orientations on Nisus (though we are in agreement over the details of Nisus's strengths and weaknesses).
[Matt] For large documents with layout needs such as tables, Nisus cannot compete with Word. But it is perfect for what I bought it for: conversion of documents from other formats into Mac format. On the other hand one would rather compose the basic text of a document in Nisus than in any other word processor I know. In fact, Nisus's find-and-replace and macro facilities are so handy and powerful, and its Rulers and Styles so convenient, that one is actually tempted to use it also as a sort of front end for Microsoft Word: Nisus can read Microsoft Word files with some small loss of information, and (surprisingly) can write files as Microsoft Word 3.0, again with some loss of information. (It can also read MacWrite I files and carry formatted text across to MacWrite via the clipboard.) It can actually be worth the slight loss of information across the boundaries to convert a document from Word into Nisus, edit it, and convert it back again.
[Adam] Since I don't create formal documents as Matt does, I don't use Word at all. In the past I used Word occasionally to convert those Fast-Saved documents that Nisus couldn't open. Now I don't even have to do that, because there is a completely undocumented feature in Nisus 3.06. If you have Claris's XTND translators installed and hold down the option key when opening a file, Nisus will open any document for which you have a translator. Since there is an XTND package available for anonymous FTP on ftp.apple.com, I recommend that anyone who has had to deal with different document formats in Nisus check it out. In addition, if your XTND translator has export capability (not all do, I gather) you can do an option-Save As to export a Nisus file to another file format using XTND!
[Matt] But although I love Nisus's look-and-feel, and give its creators an A for effort in their rethinking of how a word processor can operate on the Mac, the point I keep returning to is that despite my genuine longing to use Nisus as my sole word processor of choice, I cannot. Things that I find constantly necessary that are easy in Word - the writing and appearance of footnotes, placing paragraphs in complex ways, tables and side-by-side paragraphs - are clumsy, difficult, or downright impossible in Nisus. These things won't change until Paragon recognizes the problems and makes time to fix them, something which can be difficult for a small company that provides at least seven different language versions of its software. Those of us who want a word processor with the features needed to write a book without the expense of a full page-layout program are going to have to go on, for better or for worse, riding a different train. But don't forget: I wouldn't be writing these words if I didn't love so much about Nisus as to wish fervently that it would fix its tables and footnotes and beat the pants off the Microsoft juggernaut.
[Adam] Here's where Matt and I differ most strongly. I agree the footnote facilities could be lots better, and there are some quirks with the way styles and rulers interact at times, but when it comes right down to it those are document processing and page layout features. I feel that Paragon added those features to compete in the advertising check box wars with Word, not because they wanted to make Nisus into a serious page layout tool. Nisus is and always has been a text processor, not an document processing tool.
The Mac helped break down the classical division between writers and printers, and that was good, but it doesn't mean that the division should be taken to the extreme so that every writer must also be a graphic designer and a printer. For those that dabble in it, like me, Nisus will do a little page layout and I find that I can use the graphics feature solely for my graphics needs. True designers seldom use anything less powerful than PageMaker or Quark XPress or FrameMaker for good reason - today's do-it-all word processors can't compare. However, if you need to produce formal documents and need sophisticated text entry and manipulation features, no one program can do that right now. Perhaps you should use Nisus as a front-end to Word, as Matt is tempted to do, or perhaps you should use Nisus along with FrameMaker, although that's more time and money than you may want to invest in the final document. Nisus just won't do it all now - so send your suggestions to Paragon. But should Nisus do it all?
I applaud Paragon's unique approach in writing a program that is not just another word processor because a large portion of the time spent creating any document must perforce be spent writing it. We need better writing tools and Paragon has provided that. I'm even willing to jump to the other side of the fence and suggest that they should strip out the graphics and the Place Page feature and all those things that are merely lip service to the great god of desktop publishing. Rulers and styles can stay, because although you'd think they are only for formatting a document for printing, they do have plenty of other uses in manipulating and editing text that are not initially obvious. [Matt: And in a way I agree; my whole point is that Paragon should either make its bells and whistles fully useful or eliminate them altogether.] I'm sure that Paragon is considering these comments and those from other users seriously and will deal with many of them in future versions of Nisus, although I have no idea when we might see that next version.
Nisus's true calling will come when Nisus XS, the module for 3.06 that will enable full AppleEvents and interapplication communication, ships sometime this spring. What I'd like to see is all those programs that require sometime significant amounts of text editing, QuickMail, uAccess, FileMaker, PageMaker, etc., all link to Nisus's text editing and manipulation tools so we can have an advanced writing environment no matter where we're writing. Too many programs use Apple's limited TextEdit routines. Let's face it, Nisus stands no chance of taking over the word processing market from Word, but it would be an incredible coup if suddenly all the major programs could link to Nisus and use its full power in whatever context made sense. I congratulate Paragon on providing a program that stands out, a program with a difference, and I encourage them to continue on their unique and often misunderstood path.
Article 14 of 14 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Nisus 3.06 Paragon Concepts 990 Highland Dr., Suite 312 Solana Beach CA 92075 800/922-2993 619/481-1477 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com D0405@applelink.apple.com Price and Availability: -- Nisus is readily available from most mail order houses for approximately $250Show full article
990 Highland Dr., Suite 312
Solana Beach CA 92075
Price and Availability: -- Nisus is readily available from most mail order houses for approximately $250. Educational discounts for $99 are available directly from Paragon, and sidegrade offers may also be available directly from Paragon if you already own another word processor. Contact Paragon for more information.