Nisus Writer 4.0.6, Part 1: Text Processing
[Welcome to our Nisus Writer review! Because the review is somewhat lengthy, we plan to run it in three parts: text processing, word and document processing, and multimedia. So, this week, keep reading to find out about Nisus Writer’s text processing features, and stay tuned for next week’s installment about word processing features. -Tonya]
Late last year, Nisus Software released Nisus Writer, the long-heralded update to Nisus. The last major release to Nisus was about four years ago, with an update (Nisus 3.4) in between (see TidBITS-168). Updates to Nisus were promised, with Nisus Software even advertising "Nisus XS," but nothing appeared. Nisus Writer was released last October with a maintenance update coming out just in time for Christmas (see the URL below for the update and a demo). Nisus has always been a product with a loyal following, and its users – admittedly with growing impatience – eagerly awaited the update.
Nisus Writer wasn’t made from the same mold as other word processors. To understand it, you must understand that Nisus Writer combines a text processor, a word processor, and a smattering of multimedia tools. I will address each area in turn, and try to share the flavour of Nisus Writer and how it differs from Nisus. In the rest of this review "Nisus" means both Nisus and Nisus Writer; "Nisus Writer" means only Nisus Writer.
Nisus Writer, at 1.9 MB in size and with a 3 MB RAM allocation, is bigger than Nisus’s more svelte 513K on disk and suggested RAM allocation of 1 MB. Much of the size increase comes from the lack of compression: previous versions of Nisus used the AutoDoubler Internal Compressor (as did the first release of Nisus Writer – updates are no longer internally compressed). File saving time also seems to have increased, so if you have the regular backups preference set, you get disconcerting pauses at the interval you’ve specified once your file grows past about 30 pages. One feature which speeds up Nisus is that it keeps documents in RAM, but this is also one of its disadvantages if you wish to work on long documents that are larger than Nisus’s available memory, since there is no way to chain smaller documents into a longer one. Based on unscientific measurements, Nisus feels faster than Word 5.1, Nisus Writer a bit slower.
Text Processing: — Nisus Writer comes from the same company that produces QUED/M, a highly regarded macro-programmable editor for programmers. Given this heritage, Nisus has superb text processing capabilities. Nisus offers keyboard and mouse commands for moving the cursor, selecting text, and extending a selection forward or backward by character, word, line, sentence, paragraph, screen, or document. Nisus provides a unique discontiguous selection feature along with a slightly more common rectangular selection.
For Cut and Paste operations Nisus offers ten clipboards and such unusual but useful operations as "append to clipboard" and "swap selection with clipboard."
Nisus Writer adds little to the text processing facilities of Nisus, but that is because these features were already so comprehensive! The editing window has had minor 3D-style interface improvements and some of the menus have been reorganised – this might make the program a little easier to use but adds little additional functionality.
WorldScript — Nisus is a WorldScript I and II compatible editor and handles right-to-left and multi-byte languages with ease. It supports European, Scandinavian, and Japanese languages with the appropriate Language Module and/or Apple software. Users can also purchase a Language Key and extend Nisus to support Arabic, Cyrillic, Eastern European, Farsi, Hebrew, and Chinese. The Language Key, also known as a dongle, must be plugged into your Mac’s ADB port. This feature was universally loathed by Nisus users, but Nisus Software has kept it in order to avoid piracy and to satisfy contracts with overseas partners who required the dongle in exchange for technical and marketing assistance. [See TidBITS-170 for a fleshed out discussion of this complex issue -Tonya].
In mixed left-to-right and right-to-left text, Nisus handles selections correctly. The Find/Replace command handles multilingual text both through its support for fonts and special PowerFind wildcards that match character sets in the languages. Nisus also supports glossing. [As one example, people use glossing to place Hiragana or Katakana pronunciations above Kanji characters. -Tonya]
Finding and Replacing — Nisus provides an unparalleled Find/Replace feature, offering three levels of complexity: Normal (just text), PowerFind (a simple, icon-based GREP), and PowerFind Pro (full GREP). You can also find and replace using character formats and styles. So, for example, if you want to find text in 10-point italic Geneva and change it to 14-point bold Helvetica, Nisus easily handles the job. Another example of the flexibility of the Find/Replace command: consider the task of finding all dollar amounts in a file, such as $45, and placing them in brackets together with "NZ" (after all, this review comes from New Zealand!), so $45 would become [NZ$45]. In PowerFind, the Replace operation could be written as:
Find: $(Digit)(1+) Replace with: [NZ(Found)]
(Note that in PowerFind, "(Digit)", "(1+)", and "(Found)" would appear as icons.)
Nisus Writer adds a "sounds like" (or "fuzzy") find feature which is useful if you’re not sure of how a word is "spelt."
Nisus provides multiple levels of undo and redo, up to 32,767 steps with a default of 300! If you perform a complex Replace operation and end up with a mess, just undo it.
Nisus allows you to open multiple files at once, limited only by memory. This is a real limit as Nisus is a memory-based editor and cannot edit files larger than will fit into memory. This is an area Nisus Writer could have improved upon but did not. On the plus side, the Find/Replace command can search multiple files, whether open or closed, which makes handling groups of files easier. [Of course, if you can give Nisus a lot of memory, as I do when I wish to perform multiple searches through 30 or 40 large files of the chapters of my books, being RAM-based means that Nisus can handle all the files quickly and easily, unlike in other word processors. -Adam]
Macros — Nisus supports a macro programming language which is a curious mix of two dialects: the menu dialect and the programming dialect. Macros (either coded or recorded) help you easily accomplish extremely complex operations, especially with the help of PowerFind statements. For more sophisticated programming concepts like loops, you will end up typing code in the programming dialect, which is not as easy as it could be. The combination of the two dialects is peculiar, with a strange mix of menu command equivalents and programming language features such as arrays and stacks – some of the language also attempts to appear object-oriented. That said, the macros are powerful and, once learned, a useful tool, even if the phrase "great hack" comes to mind when studying them!
Macros could do with improvement: they execute onscreen, so while a macro runs dialog boxes may flash up and have text "typed" into them, and menus will flash away. Macro speed is often a problem, but even though macros can take a long time, doing the same job by hand would typically take far longer.
[The folks at Nisus Software point out that they believe they’ve cut down on the amount of onscreen macro executing for the Nisus Writer 4.0 release, thus somewhat addressing this concern and speeding up macro execution times. -Tonya]
Two sought-after features – multiple open macro files and AppleScript compatibility – have not arrived with the upgrade. The lack of AppleScript is a major blow to scripters, though Nisus Writer does support Frontier (the runtime-only version of which is supplied). Using Frontier, it is possible for Nisus Writer macros to control other applications, but Nisus Writer itself cannot be controlled. The manual covers Frontier in just two pages, with no details of the UserTalk language – so writing Frontier scripts is not easy.
Text Processing Conclusion — Nisus Writer runs slower than Nisus on some operations, particularly Find/Replace on long documents has become much slower. Fortunately, in a few low-key tests that I ran on a beta copy of the next release of Nisus Writer (version 4.0.7), the Find and Replace feature ran 33 percent faster on average, although this is still 50 percent slower than the average speed of Nisus 3.4L. These times could easily improve before shipping.
Among Macintosh word processors, Nisus Writer is unparalleled for text and multi-lingual processing. In fact, if you need to handle multi-lingual text then Nisus might be the only real choice, depending on the languages you need.
Nisus Software — 616/481-1477 — 619/481-6154 (fax) —
<[email protected]> — <[email protected]>
[For people wanting more opinions and resources related to Nisus, check out the Nisus Writer page on World of Words. -Tonya]