Nisus Writer Express
Today is my first day experimenting with Nisus Writer Express, a Mac Word-processor that has been around a while, but which is new to me. I have a number of word processing programs available to me but have to admit that all of them have issues to some degree or other that make them less than ideal homes for composition.
On the PC, I used to use the free and open-source Open Office suite. It wasn’t beautiful, but it fit into the Windows desktop and did everything I needed it to do. It was also reasonably quick. Open Office is available for Mac OS X in two forms, neither of which is what I want in a Mac word processor. The main port of Open Office for Mac runs in the Unix environment called X-11. That isn’t a terrible problem, but it does give it some behaviors that are unlike those of normal OS X programs. The menu-bar doesn’t function normally, for example. It also looks and behaves just like Open Office for Windows. That might be a bonus for people who work in both environments, but since I made the switch to Mac I have tried to work in the Mac environment whenever possible. In truth, I like it OS X such that in it’s wince inducing to go back.
There is an Open Office port that is designed to fit into the Mac environment and play nice, and I have taken a long look at it. Neo Office, as it is called, is getting better with every release but it is dogged by two problems. The first is that it is a terribly slow program to fire up. The other is that while it does play nice with the Mac, it still does not feel like a Mac program. It looks like an open source copy of MS Office running on a Mac. That’s probably because that’s exactly what it is. You can see this phenomenon in screenshots of various Linux distributions too. In trying to appeal to Windows refugees, the designers’ slogan appears to be something like “our gulag is better than their gulag.” As a result, their programs look like cheap-o versions of Windows. Crashes, bugs and security issues aside, the Windows environment is not something designed for the use and enjoyment of human beings and I’m loathe to let it find its’ way back into my life.
What about Apple’s light Office suite, iWork? The short and sweet answer is that it’s OK. Pages, the word processor, looks nice and behaves as one would expect from an Apple program. It’s clean, functional and not difficult to use. It’s strength appears to be document formating, so that you can quickly make shorter documents that look great and will play nice with Keynote, the other half of iWork. Pages isn’t, however, the trusty companion of the long distance writer.
I’ve been playing with Nisus Writer Express for all of about fifteen minutes and this feels like the best word processor I’ve used in some time. I’m writing in a razor sharp full screen mode. It’s easy on the eyes and offers no distractions. I haven’t had this feeling while writing since using Word on DOS, and that certainly wasn’t as pretty as this. If I had to run it windowed, Nisus Writer makes it very easy to knock out all of the toolbars so that you’re composing in a window that looks like it could be a simplified TextEdit. When you need to do formating, the toolbars come back with one or two clicks.
Nisus also offers four clipboards, for pasting frequently used text, and an “auto correct” feature that you can add words to. Or shortcuts to words. These two features are huge time savers and very sexy. They may not be original, but neither is sex. A replacement tool is available as a stand alone product called Textpander, which sells for $30. I suppose it has the benefit of working in all of your programs, but Nisus Writer Express costs only $45 and has a lot more functionality. Why not compose there and just export/import any text you need in another program?
Nisus Writer is also fast enough that it can plausibly serve as a notepad, a function that I sometimes like to have when I’m gathering information on the web. I had been auditioning Mac Notepad, which is not a bad little program, but it doesn’t have nearly the functionality and is expensive ($20) for what you get. Those two programs alone would be more than Nisus and still wouldn’t match it. Then there’s another thing I like about Mac software – you can often buy “family packs” and get more licenses (usually three) at a reduced rate. Nisus offers a three pack for $80, which works out to $27 per copy.
For someone like me, who likes to write, and with other family members who could use a good Mac word-processor, this looks like a good find.