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Broken Bells and Feeble Whistles

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.

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