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41 Chapter 3. Switching from Another Word Processor

In this chapter, you’ll learn…

This chapter is likely to attract the attention of two types of people. If you are the first type, you have just purchased Nisus Writer after using another word processor for a while, and you’re starting to get frustrated. Things don’t work the way you’re used to, you can’t find your way around, or some key features seem to be missing—and you can’t get the help you need from the manuals. You’d like someone to guide you through the transition process and assure you 42 that everything will be O.K. If you’re the second type, you’re dissatisfied with your current word processor and are looking for a change—a proselyte at the gate, so to speak. But you still have some doubt, because you don’t want to give up the features to which you’ve grown accustomed or the security of familiar surroundings. Perhaps you’re standing in a bookstore right now, reading this chapter to determine whether or not you should really make the switch (and buy this book).

To the first type of person, I say this: Relax. You made the right decision. You have entered the ranks of the truly enlightened Macintosh users of the world. In the following pages you’ll find all the help you need to feel right at home. To the second type of person, I say this: Read on. You’ll find a fair evaluation of the pros and cons of what you’re contemplating, from the perspective of someone who has grown to know and love this unique program. I won’t hide Nisus Writer’s limitations from you, but I will show you creative ways of overcoming them. And I will also do my best to infect you with my own enthusiasm for Nisus Writer. While my comments will mainly be directed to users of Word and WordPerfect, those familiar with other applications will also be able to get a good feel for what Nisus Writer does differently.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Every program has its strengths and weaknesses; Nisus Writer is no different. More than one person has remarked, only half-jokingly, that the designers of Nisus Writer must never have seen another word processor. On the one hand, this is good, because it means that the designers were not subject to conceptual limitations imposed by other products. They could put very imaginative and helpful features in the program because there was no reason to suspect it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done.

On the other hand, it is bad, because some of the most useful features of other programs seem to be missing or are awkwardly implemented. Such is the paradox facing the new Nisus Writer user: marvelling at the power while puzzling over the putative limitations. In Chapter 1, we discussed the 43 evolution of the program and how it came to be the way it is. Here, I want to concentrate on what’s unique about Nisus Writer, how it’s better and worse than other programs, and how to rearrange your word-processing paradigms so as to get the most out of the program.

Why Nisus Writer is Unique

No matter what program you’ve used before, you’ll immediately find some features of Nisus Writer very unique. These are things you won’t find in any other word processor:

OK, Microsoft Word has finally trumped us here. Word not only has multiple undos, it gives you a list of all the actions you’ve done (and undone), so you can arbitrarily undo or redo back to a specific action without going through all the intervening steps. Nice!

Nisus was also the first Mac word processor to include macros, which make it easy to automate complex tasks. In addition, it has the best available implementation of WorldScript for multilingual writing. Its sound and text-to-speech features are unparalleled. It offers extensive file and window management controls. And there are countless “little touches” that make editing a more enjoyable experience—like multiletter keyboard shortcuts, a battery indicator for PowerBook users, outstanding autonumbering features, and the ability to select a vertical column of text by holding down the Option key while dragging with the mouse. In short, it has a lot to offer that you won’t find anywhere else.

What’s Missing

As indispensable as all these features are, let’s be candid: it is by no means a perfect program. For one thing, there are some features missing that can be found in most other high-end word processors. Although there are ways to simulate or work around all of these, they do represent a limitation. Some examples:

There are other shortcomings too, as we will see. But in some cases, what appears to be an omission is simply a difference in design, or even in terminology. For the vast majority of word processing tasks, you can achieve the same effect in Nisus Writer as you’d get in other programs, by approaching the task differently.

What’s Different

If you’re used to another program, your first few hours with Nisus Writer will probably be spent thinking, “I know this feature must be in here somewhere, but where?” Nisus Writer’s novel approach to some tasks leaves many new users scratching their heads. The first thing to remember is that different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. While some of Nisus Writer’s quirks may be hard to love, other features are so cleverly designed that you’ll soon wonder how you ever got by without them. This section gives you explanations of the most striking differences between Nisus Writer and other word processors, and will help you understand basic techniques to do what you need to do. For more thorough explanations of the features, though, please consult the appropriate sections 46 of this book as referenced in the text. Table 3.1 summarizes the differences described in the pages that follow.

If you use this in your current word processor…

Use this in Nisus Writer…


Named rulers plus defined styles (Chapter 10)

Page numbers in the margins

Page numbers in headers/footers

Variable-width columns

Page as Graphic command (Chapter 14)

Overlay, Watermark

Front of Text/Behind Text command (Chapter 5)


Tracking (Chapter 4)

Keep With Next option

Keep on Same Page (Chapters 4, 10)


Publish & Subscribe (Chapter 10), EGO (Chapter 5), or Page as Graphic (Chapters 5, 14)

AutoCorrect (Word 6)
Quick Correct (WordPerfect)
Macros (FullWrite)

Glossary (Chapter 12)

Table 3.1. Differences in feature implementation between Nisus Writer and other applications.

All About Styles

What Word and WordPerfect call a “style” is a collection of paragraph and character-formatting attributes. When you select a style, it applies to the entire paragraph you’re in. Nisus Writer, however, draws a distinction between paragraph formatting and character formatting. A collection of character-formatting attributes is called a style (see Figure 3.1), while a collection of paragraph-formatting attributes is called a ruler. Now, it is easy to create a style that includes a ruler, so that when you select the style, a particular set of 47 paragraph and character attributes applies to the entire current paragraph. But there are some important differences. For instance, in Word or WordPerfect, styles “stick to” the text of a paragraph, so that if you select a paragraph and move it someplace else, it will keep its style. But in Nisus Writer, when you move text, there is no guarantee that the paragraph formatting will come with it. (To learn when it will and when it won’t, see Chapter 10.) Since the “style” is in two pieces, it is possible to change (or move) the character style without affecting the paragraph style, and vice-versa. While this is a good thing in many cases (see below), it is disorienting if it’s not what you are accustomed to.

Figure 3.1. Nisus Writer’s Define Styles dialog box.

Another big difference is that Nisus Writer’s styles do not feature dynamic inheritance. In Word, for example, you can base one style on another, so that changes made to the primary style are reflected in the subordinate style. You might have a style Body 1 that consists of a left-justified paragraph in Times Roman 12. Then you create a style Body 2 based on Body 1, which is the same except for different indentation. If you then change the font of Body 1 to Helvetica, the font of Body 2 (and any other style based on Body 1) changes along with it, while the other formatting remains the same. This technique is extremely useful for maintaining consistency in your documents, and for switching among the formatting requirements of different publications. In Nisus Writer, you can copy the attrib-48utes of a style as a basis or starting point for a new style, but the link is not dynamic: changes to one style never affect another. Some day Nisus Writer may have Word-type hierarchical styles. In the meantime, there is a clever solution to this problem. The trick is to define a “parent” style as usual, but then use a macro to store the commands needed to create each “child” style. To apply a “parent” style, you simply choose a command from the Macro menu rather than from the Style menu. The macro first applies the “parent” style, and then adds additional formatting. Thus any change made to the “parent” style will automatically be applied to all the “child” styles any time you run one of these macros. This technique is described further in Chapter 15.

A sample macro file containing “child” styles and an associated stationery document with “parent” styles are on the CD-ROM for you to examine and try out yourself.

While the division of styles into character attributes and paragraph attributes may seem awkward to some, there are some significant advantages. First, styles in Nisus Writer do not override existing styles in your paragraph unless you want it that way. Say you have a paragraph that contains some words in bold and some in italic. If, in WordPerfect, you apply a new style to this paragraph, all prior formatting—including the bold and italic—is eliminated and the new attributes are given to the entire paragraph. This means that you’ll have to go back and reformat those bold and italic words. Nisus Writer styles can do this too, but it’s not required. In fact, you can apply as many different overlapping styles to a block of text as you like—the only catch is that you can have just one ruler per paragraph.

A tremendous advantage to separating paragraph and character styles is that you can apply a whole series of character formats to a block of text in one fell swoop, without lots of repetitive activity—and without affecting any paragraph styles you may be using (unless that’s what you want). Perhaps there are a number of words in your document that you want to be in Helvetica Bold 12 and colored red to stand out from the rest of your text, which is in Garamond Book 10. No problem. Just define a style that includes those attributes and apply it to the word(s) or character(s) you wish to affect. (In fact, using Nisus Writer’s noncontiguous selection, you can 49 apply all those attributes to as many different words as you like, all with a single menu command.) Even more significantly, you can include the attribute “Ignore Spelling” in a style to prevent any word in that style from being flagged by the spelling checker (for example, you might have a special style for technical terms or foreign words). You can even have everything in a given style automatically added to your index or table of contents!


By far, the most-asked technical-support question at Nisus Software is, “How do you put the page number in the margin?” The confusion results from the fact that in some programs, a margin is simply the point on your page where text normally wraps, but not a rigid boundary. For example, in Word’s Print Preview, you can simply drag a page number into the margin, anywhere you like, and there it will print. In Nisus Writer, however, a margin is normally a completely empty area around the edge of your document. (This is also the meaning of “margin” you’re most likely to find in style guides.) So, strictly speaking, you can’t put a page number in the margin. What you can do is put your page number someplace that looks like a margin: a header or footer. For example, let’s say you want to have one-inch margins all around your page, but you want the page number to be one-half inch up from the bottom. Just make your bottom margin one-half inch instead, and add a footer to your page. The footer will contain the page number, and since it is all the way at the bottom of your page, it will appear to be in the margin. Then simply insert an extra return or two (or increase paragraph spacing) before the number in the footer to make the total footer height one-half inch. Presto: a number in the margin.

Likewise, even adjusting margins can be confusing. In the main Document View, there are no margin controls, and not even a “Document Settings” command for global values 50 like margins. What you adjust in Document View is the left and right line wrap. The line wrap may, but doesn’t have to, be the same as the margins—but it can’t go beyond the margins. If you need to adjust the margins themselves, choose Layout Page… from the File menu (see Figure 3.2). This will open a window that you might think of as a “Print Preview”—a view of your entire page, including margins, just as it will print. It is here that you set the margins. If you want to do it by hand, simply click and drag the margins in the layout to move them. To enter exact values, choose Set Margins… from the Layout menu and type your settings into the dialog box. (You can bring up the same dialog box by clicking once in the measurement area on the Info Bar.)

Figure 3.2. Nisus Writer’s Layout Page, where margins and columns are adjusted.


As with margins, columns are often confusing to new users because they can’t be adjusted in Document View. If you click the Layout Page button or choose Layout Page… from the File menu as above, the Layout Page window opens and the Layout menu appears on your menu bar. Choose Set Margins… from this menu and enter the desired options (more on this in Chapter 7). Unfortunately, there is no direct way to make columns of unequal width. The solution is to 51 use the Page as Graphic… command, as described in Chapter 5. Once you’ve set your column options, you can close the Layout Page window and return to your main document. You may be surprised to see that only one column shows. In Nisus Writer’s Document View, only one column is displayed per page. So if you have a three-column document, it will appear as a single long column that spans three pages. The page breaks correspond to what are really column breaks on the Layout Page or the printed copy, and your Page Number Indicator (on the Info Bar) will read something like 2 [1] to indicate that you are on page 2, column 1. The absence of true WYSIWYG columns makes editing multicolumn text more difficult, and improved column display has been a heavily-requested feature for some time. Nisus Software has indicated their intention to address this in a future version.

Graphics and Layers

Any word processor will let you import graphics that will appear alongside the text. Some even have tools for you to create your own graphics. Nisus Writer, in addition to these features, has a nonmodal graphics interface that lets you put graphics right on top of your text, or behind it, or both. The best way to visualize this arrangement is to think of three transparencies stacked one on top of the other. The middle transparency contains your text. You can also put a graphic on this layer, and it will behave like text; i.e., it will flow along with your text when you add, delete or move material; you can adjust its justification or line spacing, etc. But you can also put graphics on the top “layer,” the bottom “layer,” or both. Simply turn on your Graphics Bar (by clicking the Graphics Bar button or choosing Graphics Bar from the Display submenu of the Tools menu). Then draw or import your graphics. Graphics will, by default, appear in front of your text, that is, on the top layer. But you can also select a graphic and choose Behind Text from the Layers pop-up menu to move it to the bottom layer. You would put the graphic in front of your text if, for example, you wanted to circle a word, draw an arrow to highlight something, or put an opaque box over a portion of your text. Or you could create a “watermark” by applying a light gray color to your 52 graphic and putting it “behind” your text. Examples of both are shown in Figure 3.3. Either way, the thing to remember is that you can still see your text while working with graphics, and therefore you can position graphics very precisely in relation to the text.

Here, too, Word has gotten way better in the last couple versions. Word’s graphic capabilities are now, in fact, much more extensive than Nisus Writer’s—and less annoying, on the whole, in their implementation. However, Word still doesn’t really have the concept of a text layer and a graphics layer, which has a certain elegance and logic.

Figure 3.3.“Watermark” and “Overlay” effects, achieved by putting graphics behind and in front of the text, respectively.

Typographical Control

One area in which Nisus Writer is not especially strong is control of typographical features. Although you can accomplish most kinds of manipulation with a bit of effort, it’s not as straightforward as in some programs. Let me give you a few examples. When you apply Superscript or Subscript style to a character, it is reduced in size by a fixed percentage (60%). So if you want your subscript in H20, for example, to be full-size (H20), you have to select the subscripted character and experiment with the font size until you have chosen a new value that looks large enough when reduced to 60%. While this does not constitute a great mathematical problem, it is certainly not as convenient as specifying an arbitrary percentage reduction for each super/subscript in a dialog box.

53 Another example is that paragraph formatting can include space before a paragraph, but not space after. To add space after a paragraph, you must insert a return character, select it, and then apply a size to it that corresponds to the amount of space you want to add. Kerning (which adjusts the amount of space between characters) is also not supported, but tracking (which changes the width of individual character blocks) is. So although you can achieve much the same effect in many cases, the procedure is a bit more awkward. And finally, there is no “Keep With Next” style to prevent unwanted breaks between pages or columns automatically. To keep two paragraphs together, you must select them and then choose Keep on Same Page from the Format submenu of the Style menu. While this is arguably no more difficult than applying a “Keep With Next” style, it does have to be done manually and doesn’t allow you to have a style definition that will always ensure that a paragraph is kept with the next one.

Document Linking

Both Word (Mac and PC) and WordPerfect (PC only) make use of Microsoft’s OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) technology for sharing information across documents and applications. (WordPerfect for Mac uses a similar but proprietary document linking strategy.) Nisus Writer does not use OLE, but it does offer three other linking mechanisms that can achieve essentially the same result—EGO (Edit Graphic Object), Publish & Subscribe, and Page as Graphic. Which one you use will depend on the type of document to which you want to link.

Publish & Subscribe is a widely-used mechanism that allows you to “publish” a portion of your document, placing that piece in a special file called an “edition.” Then, from any application that supports Publish & Subscribe, you can “subscribe” to the edition file, placing a copy of that portion of text or graphics into a new document. The link is dynamic, so that when information in the publisher changes, the edition file is updated and the changes are automatically reflected in the subscriber. A typical use for Publish & Subscribe is placing a chart from your spreadsheet into a Nisus Writer document. If the data used to create the chart changes, your chart will automatically be updated, not only in your spreadsheet but also in your Nisus Writer document. 54 Full instructions for using Publish & Subscribe are found in Chapter 10. Most graphics programs, spreadsheets, and word processors support Publish & Subscribe.

EGO is a mechanism based on Apple events that Nisus Writer uses to communicate with its table and equation tools. When you insert a table or equation into your document, a separate application is launched. This application lets you create and edit your “graphic object,” and when you’re finished, you simply close the window and the entire object is stored in your Nisus Writer document—no separate file is needed. When you double-click the object in your document, it is loaded back into the creator application for editing. This is a lot simpler than Publish & Subscribe, but it is only for graphic-like objects, not for text. A growing number of applications (like Expressionist and DeltaGraph) now support the EGO standard, and can be used with Nisus Writer as easily as the supplied table and equation tools can.

Page as Graphic… is a command that puts a graphic image of a page from one Nisus Writer document into another. As with EGO tables and equations, you can edit the original document at any time just by double-clicking the graphic. And as with Publish & Subscribe, any changes you make to the original page will automatically be reflected in the documents containing the page-as-graphic. While this is a very handy way of combining parts of different documents, you can only do this if the original document is a Nisus Writer file.

Nisus Writer’s Glossary Feature

Virtually all word processors provide some mechanism for storing commonly-used text and recalling it with a couple of keystrokes. Word 5 and 6 have glossaries; Word 6 also has AutoCorrect and WordPerfect 3.1 has Quick Correct. Nisus Writer, too, has a glossary feature (see Figure 3.4), but it works a bit differently from the others. First, anything that can go in a Nisus Writer document—text, graphics, sound, or even a Find/Replace expression—can be stored in a glossary. Each glossary entry is given an abbreviation; to insert the entire item 55 in your document, you simply type the abbreviation and press a keyboard shortcut (or choose a menu command) to “expand” it. Unlike in other programs, Nisus Writer’s glossary abbreviations can be expanded in any window—including headers, footers, footnotes, clipboards, and even the Find/Replace dialog box! This makes it an incredibly useful time-saver. Still, there are some differences of which you should be aware. In Word 5, for example, to insert something from your glossary you type a keyboard shortcut first, then your abbreviation (the reverse of the way you do it in Nisus Writer). But Word 6 and WordPerfect also offer the ability to create abbreviations that automatically expand as you type, which can be handy for correcting common misspellings like teh for the. Nisus Writer does not have this feature, but there are two ways of getting something similar. First, you aren’t required to expand abbreviations as you type; you could, for example, select your entire document when you’re done typing, choose Expand Abbreviation… and have all the abbreviations in your document expand at once. This is much faster, and much more versatile, than using the spelling checker! Or, if you really want to catch those mistakes on the fly, consider the shareware program TypeIt4Me, which will give you on-the-fly substitution, albeit only for text, in any application.

Figure 3.4. The Glossary window in Nisus Writer. Notice that glossary entries can contain text, styled text, graphics, equations, and more.

56 RAM-Based Documents

Another difference between Nisus Writer and the other programs may not be obvious to most users, but it can have a big impact on your work. When you open a Nisus Writer document, the entire file is loaded into RAM. By contrast, other programs only load a small portion of the document into RAM, retrieving other parts from disk automatically when you need them. Loading your entire document into RAM takes a bit longer initially, but it means that operations like scrolling, Find/Replace, and spell checking are super-fast, because all the information needed is already available. Applications that don’t load your entire document will take longer at these tasks, because disk access is a lot slower than memory access. However, there is an important consequence of RAM-based documents, and that is that the larger the document you wish to open, the more memory you must allot to Nisus Writer. Most of us seldom see files larger than a couple of megabytes, but if your files are very large, be prepared to give Nisus Writer plenty of extra RAM. And for those of you who want to open 500-MB files in Nisus Writer…forget it, unless you have about a gigabyte of RAM! In Chapter 9, we’ll look more closely at how Nisus Writer uses memory, and examine the pros and cons of using virtual memory (or memory management software) to expand its working space.

Missing in Action

While we have seen many things that can be accomplished with clever alternatives, there are some features that Nisus Writer just plain doesn’t have, and no amount of macro sorcery will change that. Here are some of those features, with alternative strategies:

There is one other feature that, while present, is so unpleasant as to deserve special mention: tables. Whatever else you may say about Word, its table editor is a thing of beauty, second only to that in FrameMaker. WordPerfect’s table editor is also quite strong (in some ways even better than Word’s). But about the best thing you can say about Nisus Writer tables is that they’re there. O.K., maybe I’m being a bit hard on them. Many users find them perfectly adequate for basic table tasks. But here are some reasons you may 58 want to avoid Nisus Writer tables when you can. First, tables are added by means of a separate application, the Nisus Table Tool (née Tycho Table Maker). This means that the first time you insert a table, you have to wait for another application to launch. It also means that while in a table, you can’t access any of Nisus Writer’s great features like Find/Replace, noncontiguous selection, macros, styles, or keyboard shortcuts. You can’t index something in a table or insert a cross reference into a table. Furthermore, you can’t set tab stops and hanging indents within cells, which I find to be a real limitation. And the biggest sore spot about tables is that they must fit entirely on a single page. While we will see in Chapter 5 some solutions to this last problem—and even discover that Nisus Writer tables do have a couple of very nice features—I won’t kid you: they’re not pretty to work with, especially if you’ve used something else already.

Converting Documents from Other Formats

Nisus Writer uses the Claris XTND system of file translation. This has numerous benefits, like the fact that all programs that support this system (and there are quite a few) can share a common set of translators, so software developers are spared the bother of developing a translation mechanism for every type of file their users might encounter. Unfortunately, XTND is not without its limitations. For instance, XTND only recognizes one header per document. So if your Word file, say, has a different header on each page, only the first one will show up when the document appears in Nisus Writer. The most aggravating limitation of XTND, though, is that it does not preserve style names. So if you have carefully crafted your styles in Word and open the file in Nisus Writer, you will have to duplicate that effort and define styles (and rulers) from scratch and apply them to every paragraph in your document. The same is true of files starting out in Nisus Writer that are translated into another 59 program. Also annoying, but not fatally so, is the fact that when you import a Word file that contains a table, what appears in your Nisus Writer document is not a table that can be edited with the Table Tool, but rather tab-separated text. It is easy enough to convert tabbed text back into a table, but it does count as a frustration.

With those limitations in mind, it can still be quite easy and straightforward to convert your files from another format into Nisus Writer. The first step is to make sure you have the right XTND filter for the job. Nisus Writer ships with filters for MacWrite II, WordPerfect (Mac only), and Word 4, 5, and 6 for Macintosh (plus several graphics formats). Filters for other file types can be obtained from third-party vendors like DataViz, or you might already have them installed if you have another application that uses the XTND system. If you obtain a filter from another source, be sure to put it in the Claris Translators folder, which is inside the Claris folder in your System Folder. Then launch Nisus Writer. When you choose Import… from the File Access submenu of the File menu, you will see a pop-up menu listing all the file types that can be imported. Select the file type you need, locate your file, and click Open. Your document will be opened and translated, but not named (so that you can give it a new name and also keep the original file). Also, note that you can drag and drop your Word 5 file onto Nisus Writer in the Finder, and it will automatically be processed through the translator. (This feature is not yet available for other file formats.)

If you need to convert files from another program that you can’t find an XTND filter for, don’t despair. Most modern word processors (on DOS and Windows as well as Mac) offer RTF (Rich Text Format) as an export option. RTF maintains both character and paragraph formatting (but not, thanks to XTND, style names), and can be a lifesaver if a direct approach is not possible.

Making the Switch

Well, here you are. You’ve reviewed the pros and cons, and you’re ready to take the plunge. As you begin working in your new word processing environment, there are some particular things to keep in mind. Table 3.2 summarizes the observations I make in this section for users of Word 5, Word 6, and WordPerfect 3.1.

60 If you’re switching from…

You’ll like this…

You’ll miss this…

You’ll have to adjust to this…

Word 5

  • Character-based styles
  • Sound & Text-to-Speech
  • PowerTalk
  • Macros
  • WorldScript
  • Outlining
  • Envelope maker
  • Customizable menus
  • Grammar checker
  • A single document view
  • Page numbers not in margins

Word 6

  • Smaller RAM and disk requirements
  • Faster speed
  • More Mac-like interface
  • Sound features
  • WorldScript
  • Outlining
  • Envelope maker
  • Customizable menus
  • Grammar checker
  • Wizards
  • A single document view
  • Page numbers not in margins
  • Glossary instead of AutoCorrect


  • Character-based styles
  • Sound features
  • Show Codes command
  • AppleScript support
  • Glossary instead of Quick Correct

Any of the above

  • Noncontiguous selection
  • PowerFind
  • Unlimited undos
  • Text & graphics layers
  • Multikey shortcuts
  • Borders for paragraphs
  • A different way of handling styles
  • A mediocre table editor
  • Column display not WYSIWYG
  • Weaker typographical control

Table 3.2. Quick reference of differences between Nisus Writer and other programs.

61 Word 5

Microsoft Word version 5 (including 5.1) was the unchallenged standard for several years. It had all the basic word processing features most people needed, plus a great table editor, thorough support of styles, and a highly customizable interface. Even today, many people have chosen to stay with Word 5 rather than upgrading to version 6, which places heavy demands on system resources and has a distinctly un-Mac-like feel. Word 5, however, is rapidly becoming outdated. For instance, it does not support any of the recent Apple technologies like PowerTalk, PlainTalk, or Drag & Drop. It does not have any type of macro capability, and its graphics tools are weak. In addition, it offers no support for WorldScript, just one level of Undo, and no character-based styles. So it is not surprising for a Word 5 user to consider Nisus Writer instead.

Word 5 users will find Nisus Writer similar in its basic layout, and also similar in speed. Some new features you’ll be sure to appreciate are floating tool bars, text-to-speech, and autonumbering. You’ll also find Nisus Writer’s equation tool (MathType from Design Science) to be superior to the older, stripped-down version of the same program bundled with Word. On the downside, tables will be a bit of a nuisance (see above). You won’t be able to see your columns side-by-side in your editing window. And you won’t have Word-style sections to control the format of your document.

One of the strangest things, though, particularly for power users, will be the difference in handling styles. I discussed Nisus Writer’s use of styles a few pages back, and you might want to skip back to that section if you haven’t already read it. Some additional comments are needed here, though. In Word, all of your text is styled by default. When you open a new document and start typing, your very first paragraph is in a style—Normal. And you can tell what style is active just by glancing at the ruler bar. In Nisus Writer, you could set up your new documents so that everything is styled “Normal” until you tell it otherwise. But if “Normal” 62 also included a ruler, you’d find that as you made changes to the formatting of any paragraph, all the other paragraphs with the same name would instantly change along with it! More often than not, if you’ve just started creating a new document, this is not the desired effect. But it is a consequence of the way Nisus Writer divides up character and paragraph formatting. Also, be aware that you will have to pull down the Style menu to see which Style(s) apply to the currently selected text. The ruler name, which is displayed in a location analogous to Word 5’s style name box, only indicates paragraph-formatting selections.

When importing Word files into Nisus Writer, all the tables will be converted to tabbed text. If you’d like to preserve your tables whole, you can do so at the expense of a little extra effort now, and the loss of your ability to easily edit your tables later. Here’s what you do. In Word, go to your table and select the whole thing (option-double-click). Press Command-Option-D (Copy as Picture) to copy a graphic version of your table to the Clipboard. Now delete the table (Command-Control-X), and then choose Paste. Your table will appear exactly where it started, only this time, it will be a PICT graphic. Save your file. If you then import the file into Nisus Writer, your table will look just like it did in Word, but it will behave as a graphic: you will have to move individual lines and text boxes if you decide to edit it.

Word 6

Version 6 of Microsoft Word is, without a doubt, the most feature-rich word processor anywhere. It slices, it dices, it purees, and it has more buttons and controls than a 747. But there are prices to pay for this power. For one thing, it takes up an enormous amount of hard drive space, over 25 MB for a full install. For another, its RAM requirements are onerous, especially for PowerMac users. And even with its large footprint (or perhaps because of it), the speed leaves a lot to be desired. Furthermore, it is a carbon copy of Word for Windows, so it strays far from the standards of the Macintosh interface. (My favorite gripe: you can’t cancel an action by pressing Command-period; you have to use the Esc key!). And if you want to do multilingual word processing, forget it: Word doesn’t, and never will, support WorldScript. So there are some very legitimate reasons for switching from Word, even though it is the uncontested standard.

If you’ve been using Word 6 for a while, the first thing you’re likely to notice about Nisus Writer is its relatively Spartan interface. You will not see endless rows of buttons and icons, but rather a few basic controls and a nice, large area for entering and editing text. If you prefer to control your word processor by clicking icons, however, take heart: Nisus Writer includes nine floating tool bars that let you do just this. You can use as many or as few as you like, and place them anywhere you want. You will also notice that passing your mouse pointer over an icon doesn’t 63 activate a message telling you its purpose. Nisus Writer uses balloon help for this. If that seems slightly less convenient, take heart: it makes the program run faster.

While Nisus Writer does not offer the capability of adding new tool bars, I’ve created some for you and included them on the enclosed CD-ROM

If you haven’t done so already, read the sections above on the way Nisus Writer handles styles, margins, and columns—all of which are very different from Word’s approach. Be prepared to meet a new formatting element, the paragraph ruler, and to give up the ability to see what the current style is without checking a menu. But also be prepared for a pleasant surprise: scrolling, and even jumping from one end of your document to the other, is very fast. Nisus Writer’s Document View is WYSIWYG all the time, so you don’t need to switch to a “Draft” or “Normal” mode for fast scrolling. At the same time, remember that Nisus Writer only has two viewing modes—Document View, where you enter your text, and the Layout Page (analogous to Print Preview), where you can see, but not edit, your pages from edge to edge.


WordPerfect has been, for years, the biggest word processor for DOS computers, and it was also one of the first to appear for the Macintosh. The early versions were slow, relatively cumbersome to use, and lacked many of the standard features of the Mac interface. However, version 3 was not only powerful and fairly fast—it also showed great respect for the Mac paradigms, and supported virtually all of the latest Apple technologies. Version 3.5 is better still, and offers a tempting alternative for people who don’t want to use Word 6. Still, WordPerfect has its faults. For example, the “Show Codes” display betrays the product’s non-WYSIWYG roots and seems out of place on a Macintosh. Styles, as mentioned above, have the unpleasant side effect of wiping out preexisting character formatting. And scrolling and editing speed suffers noticeably on documents which are long or which contain Chinese or Japanese text. But even more significant are WordPerfect’s limitations when compared to Nisus Writer—only one level of Undo, a single clipboard, limited Find/Replace, no noncontiguous or vertical selection, and no character-based styles, for example. WordPerfect’s autonumbering and captioning 64 options are also inferior to Nisus Writer’s, and its Publish & Subscribe support is much weaker.

If you are a WordPerfect user who is new to Nisus Writer, there are several things you should be prepared for. First, the interface is governed more by menu commands than by ruler bars. On the positive side, this means you’ll always have plenty of space on your screen for entering text (by contrast, in WordPerfect, if you turn on all the ruler bars, you can fill up your entire screen, leaving no space for text entry!). On the negative side, you won’t get to see a constant reminder of what the currently active font, style, or size is, and you’ll have to learn new menu commands. However, Nisus Writer has a series of floating tool bars that can be placed anywhere on your screen, and these can provide similar functionality to many ruler bar functions without limiting your text space.

The same statements regarding the use of styles in Word apply to WordPerfect. However, Nisus Writer does offer character-based styles in addition to paragraph styles. And when defining a Nisus Writer style, you can choose to remove existing menu styles or not, as best suits your needs. Keep in mind that what appears in pop-up menu on the left side of the Ruler Bar is not a list of styles, but rather a list of rulers, which can be applied independently of styles.


In this chapter, we looked at the similarities and differences between Nisus Writer and some other popular word processors. The goals were to help you make a good decision if you’re thinking of switching and to ease the transition process once you’ve decided. If you’ve taken the plunge, welcome! You may have the feeling you know all there is to know about Nisus Writer, but you’ve only just gotten your feet wet. In Section II, we’ll cover all of Nisus Writer’s basic features in detail. Then in Section III, we’ll turn you into a Nisus power user as we explore advanced techniques and features. And if you’re eager to see how these features are applied to real-life word processing tasks, check out Section IV for some step-by-step guides to the most common applications of Nisus Writer.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1999 by Joe Kissell

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