[If you read last week’s TidBITS-263, you recall that this review began with a look at Nisus Writer’s text processing features. This week, we look at its word and document processing features, and finish next week with details on multimedia features. -Tonya]
Styles — Nisus supports character and paragraph user-defined styles, which you set up in the Define Styles dialog box. Character styles can include all the usual attributes: font, colour, size etc. Paragraph styles add a named ruler to control paragraph layout.
Nisus follows the original MacWrite method of inserting rulers into a document to control layout. A ruler specifies attributes such as margins, line spacing, and space before paragraph (there is no space after paragraph). In Nisus Writer, you must define a ruler (though you need not set its attributes) in the main document window before you can include a ruler in a user-defined style. In earlier versions, you could name a new ruler in the Define Styles dialog box and Nisus Writer would automatically create the ruler on first use of the user style – I can’t figure out why Nisus Software made the change.
The split between user styles and rulers can cause much frustration. The problems are at first minor annoyances, but they can become significant. When applying a paragraph style, Nisus attaches the style information to the text, but inserts the ruler into the document – and then only if Nisus thinks the ruler is needed. [Word users might understand this better by thinking of style information as character formats and ruler information as paragraph formats. -Tonya]
The example below shows problems this causes. Consider a document containing five paragraphs, the first three in style A, the last two in style B. The document looks something like:
Ruler A Paragraph 1 in style A Paragraph 2 in style A Paragraph 3 in style A Ruler B Paragraph 4 in style B Paragraph 5 in style B
If you move paragraph two below paragraph four you get:
Ruler A Paragraph 1 in style A Paragraph 3 in style A Ruler B Paragraph 4 in style B Paragraph 2 in style A Paragraph 5 in style B
Paragraph two ends up styled according to A but laid out according to B! The fix is not difficult, you just manually insert an A ruler into the text. However, that Nisus Software did not fix this in Nisus Writer is indefensible.
Nisus Writer has a number of similar quirks, and as a result you must be careful while editing documents. Whenever you move text or change its style, you must make sure you end up with the ruler and style you expected. The fact that Nisus Software did not fix these quirks shows a misunderstanding on their part of what word processing rather than styled text editing is about.
[A few days ago, I innocently asked Nigel to give some examples of the "similar quirks" referred to above, and Nigel helpfully replied with an assortment of examples, most of which I ended up not including. Unfortunately, to understand them, you need a deeper understanding of Nisus Writer than we have room for. – Tonya]
You might ask why people (such as myself – Nisus Writer is my main text processing workhorse) use Nisus Writer if it has these quirks. The answer is simple: Nisus Writer’s powerful text processing capabilities usually offset the annoyance of having to be careful with rulers, or the lack of hierarchical styles – a much-requested feature.
Numbering and Referencing — You can set up flexible numbering sequences for chapters, four levels of sub-topics, figures, equations, and tables. Nisus Writer also provides six custom numbering sequences for anything else you might need to number (maps, pie charts, whatever).
Nisus Writer has added the ability to restart the page numbering within a document, something missing from earlier versions, but in an obscure manner which requires the selection of the page break character to access the settings.
Nisus Writer provides powerful cross-references that automatically update. Sections of text (or most anything else, such as graphics or tables) can be marked with a label and then referenced. The reference may contain the contents of the marked item, and you can also reference the page number of the object, its line number, and so on. By making multiple trips to the Cross Reference dialog box, you can insert references like "See Cheese Preferences on page 68, paragraph 6."
Unfortunately, you must individually mark anything that you want to cross-reference. Nisus Writer does not automatically mark figures, figure numbers, and the like. Further, though you can refer to the current chapter number in a header or footer, you cannot refer to the title of the chapter itself.
Nisus Writer provides footnotes or endnotes (but not both in the same document). You cannot place a cross-reference in a footnote or a table. Nisus Writer works with Niles and Associates’ End Note Plus, a popular utility for tracking lots of reference works and quickly formatting references.
Tables of Contents and Indices — Any text can be marked for inclusion in the table of contents or index – and the index marking can be done through the powerful Find and Replace feature (and thus through a macro if you like) or through a user style. For example, you can set the Table of Contents attribute to be part of the definition of the styles you use for section headers. The Create Contents and Create Index commands each accumulate all the appropriately marked text and produce a separate file containing a table of contents or index. You must then format the file and either print it separately or insert it into your document in the right place. If you recreate the table of contents or index, you must format it again: probably a good job for a macro.
Graphics — You can paste graphics in-line or on a separate graphics layer, which supports basic drawing tools with colour and grid alignment. Items on the graphics layer can appear in front of or behind the text, or text can flow around them. Graphics can be attached to a particular page or flow with a paragraph. You cannot, however, flow a picture with a paragraph and keep it at the top or bottom of a page. The graphics support and flow-around would appear to make Nisus suitable for small newsletter-style documents, but only if their designers want to put up with having the same number of same-width columns on all pages.
Will OpenDoc be this bad? Apple has seen the future, and the future is OpenDoc – or so we are told! With OpenDoc, the document, rather than the application, becomes the centre of things. A document acts as a container for objects produced by different applications, so your text object might be under the control of Nisus Writer, but your molecule picture might come from a chemistry program.
How is this relevant to Nisus Writer? Tables and equations, two new features, are supplied by separate modules: Macreations’s Tycho Table Maker and Design Science’s MathType (a full version, not the crippled version that comes with Word – but it only launches from Nisus Writer). To insert an equation, you launch MathType by choosing Insert Equation from the Insert menu. After creating an equation in MathType, you close the MathType window, thus returning to Nisus Writer with your equation inserted. Inserting tables works the same way, but with Tycho Table Maker acting as the editor. All this magic works by means of an Apple event suite called EGO (Edit Graphic Object), and any program that supports EGO (such as Expressionist and DeltaGraph Pro) can provide services to Nisus Writer – though the initial insertion is more complicated as the program names do not appear on the Insert menu.
[Late-breaking news flash! Nisus Writer owners can update to the most recent MathType version for the same price charged any MathType owner. The update launches with or without Nisus Writer. -Tonya]
This sounds wonderful, and very much like OpenDoc, but there are problems. Nisus Writer contains style sheets; Tycho Table Maker contains style sheets; MathType contains style sheets. Three sets of styles sheets are hard to keep in sync! You can spell check in Nisus Writer, but you can’t spell check a table from Tycho Table Maker, or in Tycho Table Maker itself. We can hope that OpenDoc will do better at integrating tools while retaining power.
Interoperability — Nisus uses the Apple/Claris XTND system to support other file formats and comes with a handful of filters. Although the filters handle basic formatting information, they lose some important elements of the document’s structure, including user styles. Nisus Writer also comes with a PageMaker import filter, and FrameMaker support is available thorough DataViz’s MacLinkPlus.
The latest version of the MacLinkPlus translator package from DataViz reportedly has added support for user styles; however, Nisus Software should address this problem more directly (even if that just means bundling MacLinkPlus) in order to better work in the real world of multiple file formats.
Word and Document Processing Conclusion — Nisus Writer offers a reasonably rich set of word and document processing features. It lacks some features that others have, and has others that they do not. However, Nisus Writer has a do-it-yourself feel to it, which programmers and fiddlers will love, but which lacks the polish to make it attractive as an everyday word, and particularly document, processor – unless you want or need its editing and multilingual text processing.
DataViz — 800/733-0030 — 203/268-0030
Design Science — 800/827-0685 — 310/433-0685
Niles and Associates — 510/649-8176 — <[email protected]>
Nisus Software — 800/890-3030 — 619/481-1477
619/481-6154 (fax) — <[email protected]>
[For more opinions and resources related to Nisus, check out the Nisus Writer page on World of Words. -Tonya]