Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nisus Writer Express: My Review

After much consideration, I bought Nisus Writer Express, now on version 2.6.1. Here's how a review of a much earlier version concluded:
ATPM 10.11 - Review: Nisus Writer Express 2.0:

Nisus Writer Express isn’t—yet—the power user’s word processor its namesake was. But it shows a high attention to detail in what really matters: the act of writing. And, more than any of the alternatives—Mellel, Mariner Write, Microsoft Word itself—it has a high quality of “Mac-ness.” Express just feels right in a way that no Mac word processor has to me since the venerable WriteNow. If you’re looking for a writer’s word processor from a responsive company, definitely take a look at Nisus Writer Express.
So why did I opt for NWE?

My requirements were:
1. It had to use an open file format. Practically that means RTF, RTFD or OpenOffice. I cannot abide yet another file format that will strand my data. That ruled out Mellel and, sadly, AbiWord. I don't care if it's the second coming of WordPerfect, it has a stupid proprietary file format. That also rules out Pages and AppleWorks.

2. It had to be a reasonably decent wordprocessor. That ruled out TextEdit. I thought TE might do, but I eventually realized it's a toy.

3. I wanted it to run on my old iBook well. That ruled out Pages.

4. I hate Word, despite being a certified Word guru. That ruled out Word. I have an XP version if I need it.

5. It had to be something my wife would be very comfortable using. That ruled out Word and Pages and OpenOffice and various GUI front ends on TeX engines.

6. It had to be able to save to an SMB share. That rules out TextEdit and a number of other OS X apps bitten by the SMB save bugs.

7. I really wanted a Cocoa app that would play well with OS X and support services. That ruled out OpenOffice, AbiWord, etc.

8. It had to be fast and reliable. That ruled out OpenOffice, AbiWord and a few others. I'm not sure NWE really qualifies but I'll find out.

9. It had to be able to open most Word documents so they can at least be read, and it should be able to save as a Word file tolerably well.

10. I would have loved lots of other wordprocessor features, things I remember from the Golden Age. I'd have liked outlining and hypertext and table of contents and more. Alas, this is not the Golden Age. So this is the least of my demands.
There was only one Mac wordprocessor left standing after I'd made my list -- Nisus Writer Express. So, even though I had qualms about their rigorous license enforcement and price, I bought it.

How's it stack up? I'll add comments here as I learn about them.
1. I encountered my first bug within 10 seconds of installation. If you are a non-admin user, you can't enter a license for the entire computer. The app gives an error message and continues, but the license isn't installed.

2. It does save to an SMB share. Many Mac apps have trouble with this. Stupid Apple bug, good work Nisus.

3. I have a family license. I installed on my iBook for all users. I had two user sessions run NWE. It didn't complain. So I seem to have a license for simultaneous use on 3 machines, and by a number of simultaneous users on each machine. In practice, it's very unlikely we'll have 3 simultaneous users so we're well within the official licensing rules.

4. It does outline style lists. True, they don't collapse (it's' not an outliner), but really I didn't expect that much. It would be marvelous if this turned out to be good WP, but they key test will be reliability.

5. It launches very quickly and is very responsive on my old G3 iBook.

6. It has styles! Unlike the butchered "styles" in Word they may even work.

7. It supports LinkBack, as does OmniGraffle (but, not OmniOutlinter - yet). So OG drawings can be embedded in NWE and edited. Interesting! I was one of the few people who liked Publish and Subscribe. BTW, OLE embedding in Word is worse than you could imagine.

"... In addition to these Services, Nisus Writer Express enables you to include content from other applications and then edit that content again with just a double-click (Classic users will remember Publish and Subscribe as well as Embedded Graphic Objects.)

The LinkBack Framework is an open framework that brings editable objects to Mac OS X. Using LinkBack-enabled applications, you can paste content created in other applications into a Nisus Writer Express document and later edit or update the content from the original application. When activated, content can be updated automatically by the provider application or the provider application can display the content for the user to edit. Any changes automatically replace the original embedded content."

8. This dictionary tip works in NWE! Very cool, if a bit weird. Mouse over a word, hit Cmd-Ctrl-D, a definition window appears. It don't think it works in every Cocoa app, but it does in NWE. (Maybe 10.4 required?)

9. I couldn't find out what file formats NWE imports. I thought for a while that the list was very short, but this web page has a longer list. So, really not too awful. Nisus does need to document this better, I couldn't find it in the help files or PDF documentation.
... Much more to come ...

Update 5/24/06
10. The Word import can't handle Word's change tracking feature. So if a Word document has had changes tracked, and the owner hasn't told Word to "accept all changes", it will be badly mangled when viewed in Nisus Writer Express. This is a tough test for Word document import; Nisus doesn't pass.
Update 1/7/07
11. The HTML export is text only. It's really inadequate and shouldn't be on the export list.
12. It can't auto-generate a table of contents based on the styles. A feature of WordPerfect (and Word) which I do miss.


B. B. said...

Very cool to see a review on Nisus. I've had it for years but kept going back to Word due to compatability issues with "the real world"

Well, now that the "real world" has heard of OS X and many even on the XP side are sick of Word, Iv'e been able ot use it more, and my wordprocessing time is shared between this and Pages.

Tom said...

I'm a big fan of Nisus Writer, and in general it plays well with Word on the PC. Yes, it may have problems with tracked changes, but in my experience, tracked changes is a feature so badly implemented that I'm never totally sure if it works properly on the PC either

John said...

Actually, in comparison to Word's style sheet implementation, change tracking in Word 2007 is a wonder of reliability. Of course the usability is about zero. My love of Work knoweth no bounds:

If someone has done change tracking in Word, and has not 'accepted' all the changes and saved, the word document will look pretty bad in Nisus. I doubt there's any way around this, and I doubt any other application could do better than Nisus.

Happily few people use this Word feature.