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.