Few applications have been able to overcome Microsoft’s word processing juggernaut, but Nisus Writer has maintained a respectable following in a field littered with also-rans. Nisus Writer Express marks Nisus’s entry into the world of OS X–native applications, and the end of updates to Nisus Writer. As such, the program sports a new interface with features — such as drawers containing the program’s tools — typical of Cocoa applications. But because it’s essentially a brand-new program, Nisus Writer Express doesn’t yet include all the features that were available in Nisus Writer; it will need them in order to be a tenable replacement for your current word processor.
Back to Basics
According to the company, Nisus Writer Express is for “users who don’t want or need a lot of features that they can’t or won’t use.” It’s kind of like the original Volkswagen Beetle: a solid engine, limited features, and a low price. In short, Nisus Writer Express is a word processor for people who want to type, save, and print documents, with no fanfare whatsoever.
This stripped-down product does sport some powerful features. It offers standard text formatting, support for multiple columns, pagination within sections, and a real-time word count. Plus, Nisus Writer Express is highly scriptable, with either PERL or AppleScript — there are already several third-party scripts available that add to or enhance the program’s features. That said, scripting isn’t likely to be a feature high on your “can’t live without it” list.
People familiar with Nisus Writer will be pleased that Nisus Writer Express also supports noncontiguous-text selection (within a document) and multiple editable clipboards. Unfortunately, the clipboard feature is poorly implemented: unlike Microsoft’s similar feature, it offers no way to preview what’s being stored on the clipboard, short of opening the stored text in an editing window or pasting it into your document.
The program includes a very powerful Find feature with which you can use a multitude of predefined expressions for finding and replacing words, sentences, and phrases within a document. You can also save your custom searches for future use.
Stuck in the Lowdown
For all its capabilities, Nisus Writer Express is fairly deficient in ways that will irk you if you plan on using it for anything other than basic documents. For instance, it provides no support for style sheets. Although you can convert and read Microsoft Word documents, any line spacing and paragraph formatting set by a Word style doesn’t translate well. For example, if you create a document in Word’s default style and then format the text as boldface, Nisus Writer Express can open the document and display it all without a problem. But if you set up a style that formats documents this way, the line spacing gets lost in the translation. Also, Nisus Writer Express provides no support for tables, footnotes, or endnotes — omissions that may surprise students working on term papers.
Nisus Writer Express’s spelling checker uses the squiggly red underlines familiar to anyone who has used TextEdit, Mail, many Cocoa applications, or Word, but it also includes two confusing options. If you select Check Spelling from the Edit: Spelling menu, the program scans your document and highlights questionable words — and that’s all. Unlike typical spelling checkers, this one doesn’t suggest an alternative word or offer to replace a possibly misspelled word. To access a standard spelling checker, you need to select Spelling instead. You’ll probably want to stick to the in-line spelling checker. And plan on keeping your favorite thesaurus handy; this program doesn’t have one.
New and Not Always Improved
Inherent in any redesign of an application, especially one as extensive as Nisus Writer Express, is the possible addition of new features that inhibit or limit the program’s usability. One example in Nisus Writer Express is the sliders, which you use to adjust everything from line spacing and font size to the percentage at which you’re viewing the page. In most programs, you control these functions with drop-down menus or clickable arrows, but Nisus Writer Express’s sliders are so imprecise that you’re better off typing in your font size or line spacing.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Nisus Writer Express has great roots, and it’s an excellent foundation for future versions. But while Nisus has succeeded in cutting back on features, it hasn’t yet created an OS X word processor for everyday use. Unless you can make do with the most-basic features of a word processor, this program will need significant changes in order to make the grade.
People still searching for an alternative to Word should continue using AppleWorks or Mariner Write — both are similarly priced and offer fuller feature sets.