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Mellel 1.8 and Nisus Writer Express 2.1

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Looking for a word processor that has power where you need it but doesn’t come with a lot of noisy bells and whistles you never use? Two recently released OS X word processors, Nisus Writer Express 2.1.1 and RedleX’s Mellel 1.8.2, offer competitive feature sets at very competitive prices. One may be just right for you.

Sleek, Flexible, and a Bit Geeky

With the release of version 2, Nisus Writer Express comes of age. It now has solid support for style sheets and tables, footnotes and endnotes, columns, in-line images, section formatting, and hyphenation—the features that distinguish word processors from text editors. There’s a lot here for power users. You can assign keyboard shortcuts to almost any command. The program offers nameable, editable clipboards, a three-level find-and-replace function including regular expressions (grep) and search criteria you can save, and noncontiguous selection. You can automate processes in AppleScript, via scripting in Perl (a language designed for manipulating text), and by using the basic but efficient Nisus Macro. But there’s nothing intimidating about Nisus Writer Express; in fact, it’s so easy to use, and its user interface is so uncluttered, that beginners will take to it like baby ducks to water.

Writing by Numbers

Many users won’t mind, but Mellel 1.8 lacks macro and AppleScript support, and its find command is limited to searching only for literal text strings. Its idiosyncratic user interface makes sense once you get to know the application, but you may find that figuring out critical features such as styles and autonumbering is impossible without reading the guide.

Nonetheless, where Mellel delivers, it really delivers. The program’s distinctive excellence is its extraordinarily powerful and flexible autonumbering system. You can autonumber document parts (or objects such as tables and pictures) on several levels; each level can have its own format, including literal text strings, numbers, and variables. You can also view numbered levels reflecting document structure as an outline in a separate pane. In addition, Mellel 1.8 offers unequaled footnote and endnote options, a bibliographic database, and table-of-contents generation—features scholars will welcome. And with Mellel’s support for user-definable document variables, it’s clear that the program is up to the task of creating complex structured documents without a hint of feature bloat.


Using styles to format the parts of a word processing document is more efficient than using ad hoc formats. Styles also help you achieve consistency in your formatting and allow you to reformat documents later by simply redefining styles. Unfortunately, Mellel’s implementation of styles is the program’s biggest weakness. Only global (application-wide) styles are editable, so defining and editing a common style—Body Text, for example—differently in various documents is not an option. In Nisus Writer Express, changes made to styles in a given document affect only that document; this makes it possible to define and save a variety of differently styled document templates for different purposes. And while Nisus Writer Express has a conventional section feature, Mellel currently does not. It’s far too difficult in Mellel to get a different header to appear reliably in the different parts of a document.

By default, Nisus Writer Express saves documents in RTF, a standard for word processing documents. Mellel offers RTF as an export option, but for editable documents, it uses its own MELL file format. Both Nisus Writer Express and Mellel can read Microsoft Word .doc files.

Both programs tout their support for non-Latin alphabets, and in my tests both Nisus Writer Express and Mellel did a great job of handling Simplified Chinese. Nisus Writer Express 2 does not support right-to-left languages such as Hebrew, but Mellel does—not surprising, as Mellel’s developers are Israeli ( mellel means “text” in Hebrew).

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Neither program will appeal to users whose primary requirement in a word processor is that it be Microsoft Word. But if you are free to consider alternatives, Nisus Writer Express 2.1.1 or Mellel 1.8.2 might be right for you. If you are an outlining addict or an academic who needs great note options, and if Mellel’s quirky styles don’t bother you, then Mellel is a great deal. And although Nisus Writer Express doesn’t include outlining, that program’s customization options, powerful text-processing tools, and uncluttered look will appeal to a wide variety of users.

Mellel’s autonumbering options are breathtakingly rich and underlie many of the program’s strengths, including its outline view.In its Draft view, Nisus Writer Express hides margins, headers, and footers. You can also hide toolbars and palettes so you can concentrate on the words.
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