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Typing, Clicking, and Moving

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.

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