Pro File: Q&A with Jerzy Lewak

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Microsoft Word may be the 800-pound gorilla of the Mac word processing market, but Nisus Software's Nisus Writer -- which debuted back in 1989 -- has long offered an alternative, particularly for users who want more text-processing power or better WorldScript capabilities. Lately, though, those features have been available only in OS 9 or in OS X's Classic environment, as Nisus worked on an OS X–native version of the word processing program. With the recent release of Nisus Writer Express for OS X, Macworld caught up with Nisus CEO Jerzy Lewak to find out what to expect from the new program.

About two years.

The interface was significantly influenced by Okito, and the development team was strengthened. When we purchased Okito Software, we were well on the way with our own development, and it turned out that there was very little overlap between the features we each had developed up to that time. It made sense to merge the two projects.

The principal challenge is the system itself -- it just takes a lot of time to get used to a new system. In addition, the system is still too new to make development easy. Development tools were also far behind. Two aspects of the new system that make development not as easy as it could be are the slow response of the built-in text engine and the relatively closed architecture of the system tools, [which doesn't permit] sufficient flexibility in development.

That is difficult to judge, because there are always many unanticipated encounters in any new development, but it could be that developing for OS 9 from scratch would have been faster. However, the built-in features of OS X aren't present in OS 9, so more programming would have been needed to add them, and it would have been very hard to make them compatible with other programs, as with, for example, Mac OS X's Services feature. Foundational development under Cocoa probably takes longer, but the payoff comes in subsequent feature additions, which should take less time. I think development under Cocoa would be easier and would result in better end products if developers were allowed lower-level access -- more flexibility -- to the system calls in all the standard tools.

Yes, they have, and we look forward to further improvements.

Nisus Writer Express is a relatively basic release. It certainly cannot be -- and is not meant to represent -- a replica of the feature set of Nisus Writer Classic. It is a new foundation for a new word processor, written in Cocoa, with some flavors of Nisus Writer Classic. Improvements over the beta release largely consist of the polishing of the details, which will have a substantial influence on user perception. After release, we intend to have quite frequent new feature releases, with the feature priorities guided by our users' requests.

The most obvious, though subtle, feature is the user interface -- the intuitive drawer-style formatting palettes, which give you almost continuous control of the various text attributes, the ability to customize your tool palettes just through drag-and-drop. Taken from Nisus Writer Classic are the multiple editable clipboards; the non-contiguous selections; the PowerFind and PowerFind Pro, modified to use the standard Unix and Perl text pattern matching; and the Summary Find feature that lets you see all instances in context and jump to each from the summary. The adopted new macro language of Perl, plus Nisus Writer's traditional Menu Command dialect, allows, with a single menu command, for the automation of almost any repetitive or long and arduous text operations on open files or on unopened files on disk. Support for a large number of AppleScript commands allows control of Nisus Writer Express from other programs. Built-in support of different file formats, notably Microsoft Word, makes for smooth compatibility with others. Finally, there is the Document Manager feature. If you set your preferences for automatic saving, you need never be interrupted with the "Do you wish to save" dialog message. You can use the Document Manager for all those files that you don't know where to put, and they will always be available to you in the Catalog.

Some of these features are fundamental, and their usefulness to users is obvious, though we believe our specific implementation is better, more intuitive, and more powerful. In general, users will find Nisus Writer Express features enhance their ability to compose and edit. For example, the Summary Find allows users to see the context of each instance without extensive scrolling of the document, and jump to it with just one click -- clearly a very useful feature when revising and correcting documents. Why would you need an editable Clipboard? I know I have used it often when I copy or cut something needing editing before pasting. Editing could be done after pasting, but then it is usually harder to find those parts needing editing. We do not expect most users to write Perl macros, which enable users to add custom features as new menu commands. We do, however, expect the advanced users to write Perl macros and to publish them for everyone to use. We will continue releasing useful macros on our Web site, in addition to those already included with Nisus Writer Express. Those learning Perl will find very useful the ability to easily and quickly test out snippets of code in their Nisus Writer Express document. Non-contiguous selections are useful in that the multiple selections can have their attributes changed with a single menu command. This is particularly useful in the context of Find All.

I don't think we do stand much of a chance head-to-head with Microsoft, but I do think that we have a select market now and see a much bigger additional market for Nisus Writer Express -- a market that Microsoft does not care about on the Mac. [It's] a minority market by far, but one that cannot be satisfied by Microsoft, which caters to the great masses.

The current Nisus Writer Classic market includes higher education, professional writers, and those who, for numerous reasons, find Microsoft Word limiting. Necessarily, this market comprises a large number of advanced users. Nisus Writer Express is targeted at the average user. From the responses to our public beta release, we conclude that this market will add a substantial number of average users who find the Nisus Writer Express experience superior to that of Microsoft Word.

Perhaps, although our goals, directions, and therefore features seem to be sufficiently different from theirs.

We would hope that our mission is reflected in our product. Our mission is to "enable the creativity of the user." Specifically, we try to remove as many traditional limitations as possible. We try never to say "Oh, nobody will need to do that!" We do not hide features behind multiple layered dialogs, and work hard to make our features as convenient for the user as possible. More generally, we strive to have our feature implementations make those little details that we take for granted easy, useful, and non-distracting. With Nisus Writer Express, we are starting from nothing once more, and this means that it will take a few versions to catch up on those little details that make life easy for the user -- but you can be sure we will get there soon.

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