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Nisus Writer Pro is simple, responsive, and packed with useful features—the only reason not to use it is that its cheaper sibling is so good.
Back in the day, Nisus was a hit for serious word processing. When Mac OS X came along, Nisus floundered and was eventually rebuilt from the ground up to emerge as the excellent Nisus Writer Express. Remarkably flexible, it was nonetheless very much a personal word processor designed for comparatively simple projects. Nisus Writer Pro doesn’t replace Express ($45, www.nisus.com), but aims to address some of that app’s shortcomings. The Pro version positions itself as a heavyweight word processor for demanding users—and it’s much more pleasant to work with than Microsoft Word any day of the week.
Nisus Writer Pro’s interface is clean, simple, and responsive, and it’s easily customized. The app inherits a number of features from Express, including access to the Mac OS X user dictionary—if you tell your Mac once in, say, Mail that your surname is correctly spelled, Nisus will know it too. Task-specific palette sets for the pop-out drawer can be collapsed and configured at will. Live word count, rich table options, and nice little touches such as the option to sort paragraphs are all present and correct. When the feature set is allied with clear text rendering and clean windows, it makes for a wonderfully crisp user experience.
The big news in Pro is its handy index and table-of-contents generation. Mark a block of text as something that should appear in the table of contents—optionally turning on a user-definable colored highlight to make it stand out as dynamic text—and Nisus can automatically generate a contents page. You can tie this attribute to paragraph styles so that every time you style some text as say, a heading, it will automatically be added to the contents. You can set as many as nine levels and show a navigation tree in a pane in the document. (We’d hoped to be able to reorder the entries in this tree and watch the app drag the blocks of text around, but no dice.) You can define multiple tables of contents (say, one for the text and one just for images), as well as multiple indexes. The indexes can be spectacularly complex—nesting terms and formatting them—but it’s quick to build them, particularly once you master the powerful search features. The only annoyance is that neither tables of contents nor indexes update live. You must refresh them manually.
You can also add bookmarks and define dynamically updating cross-references. All of this makes producing long, complex documents nice and simple, and while Word can do similar things, Nisus Writer Pro is much more nimble. InDesign CS3 can offer to map the styles in Nisus’s RTF documents, but we weren’t able to map the styles in InDesign CS3, even when the file was saved in DOC format.
There’s no formal provision for an outlining mode to match Word’s, though it can be faked with styles. The app defaults to the RTF format, and can also read and write to Word’s native DOC format, but currently not the XML-based DOCX format used by Office 2007 for Windows and the upcoming Office 2008 for Mac. So the comparisons to Word are justified, but Nisus is consistently more pleasant to use.
The bottom line. If you need indexing, table-of-contents generation, bookmarks, and cross-referencing, Nisus Writer Pro fits the bill nicely. Then again, if you don’t need such features and just want a graceful word processor, Nisus Writer Express does just as well.
PRICE: $89 on CD, $79 download
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3.9 or later
It’s a joy to use. Superbly configurable. Index and contents feature is powerful. Universal binary.
No formal outlining mode.