by Matt Neuburg — [email protected]
(with comments by Adam C. Engst — [email protected])
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.