Back in the day... that would be 1986 to be precise, the year i bought my first computer. It was an Amstrad PC1512, all of 512k ram and twin 360k floppy drives. It came with a choice of operating systems. MS-DOS or CP/M and two windowing systems, Windows 1.2 and GEM.
The principal reason for the purchase was word-processing. My girlfriend had an earner typing up a science journal for a publisher and the Amstrad could run a dedicated mathematical wordprocessor which would turn out pretty respectable typeset pages, well respectable given that it was 1986.
People used to drop by and ask us to show them ‘cutting and pasting’. These were heady times....
The main application I used for wordprocessing was Wordstar. It was a tough piece of software to love, it got in your way and had no redeeming factor other than it worked. We got a hold of Wordperfect which was like driving a BMW in comparison. WP was kinda cool, especially when they did a version for my new Amiga which rapidly became my main machine. I stuck with WP for quite some time, until the computer in work had Word on it, and then that became set in stone, of course, for me and for everyone.
Now, nearly fifteen years later, I find I’ve been avoiding Word. i have so many writing tools available to me, even the most basic of text editors is more pleasurable to use, it seems ridiculously cumbersome to me. And the fact that I’ve been using it for so long and I am still at sea on how to use whole chunks of it, annoys me. So I’ve set about finding an alternative.
I checked out Mellel, (very impressive, if I was more of an academic I’d be thrilled) and Pages, (real potential, but too much of a design tool for what I was looking for). Finally, I came across Nisus Writer Pro, which is in beta, and it’s been a joy. There’s a sixty day trial period, long enough to persuade you that you can’t ever go back...
It’s fast and responsive, nothing sluggish about it at all. No hangs or waits, no spinning balls.... the beta is very polished, it’s never stalled on me once. I’m using it every day and, yes, in work.
Overall they have struck a very good ratio in how they handle the balance between interface and functionality, you can do a lot, and the interface is designed to make that potential very manageable and not at all intrusive.
- Number one in my book, I want to write, a nice clean toolbar with just what you need on it. There’s no massive list of buttons you can put on the toolbar, so it stays nice and simple. They use palettes for pretty well most options instead.
- The palettes live in a pop out drawer. It’s a simple thing with a big result, you can make them disappear. If you want them available at all times, you can have them float like other applications do or simply keep the drawer open, but I love being able to put them away.
- On top of that, you can configure different sets of palettes into groups in that drawer, so it’s very customisable. And you can set up as many different groups of palettes as you want. There’s huge functionality here, the range of palettes is very thorough.
- It handles styles better than any other writing tool I’ve used, ever. It’s very easy to set them up and implement them, again handled visually in an unobtrusive and straightforward way, a small set of icons at the bottom of each window.
- And every software should borrow how they handle setting up keyboard shortcuts, it’s that easy.
Generally, the UI is great. There seems to be a real focus within Nisus on getting the heck out of the way and keeping it simple. All the while delivering real high end functionality, certainly covers all of the uses I’ll be needing.
It can import and export Word docs, especially RTFs, but the quality is no better than okay. The same applies to most alternative word-processors, but this isn’t a deal breaker for me, I can certainly deal with the table that’s imported slightly longer than it should be very easily in NW Pro. Far easier than I can in Word if something went wrong there....
Best of all, It’s got a simple full-screen mode which is configurable. I’ve been struck by the Full-screen mode we are seeing everywhere, from MacJournal to Montage. The screen blacks out and you just see... crazy after all these years... your words on screen, nothing else, not a menu or palette in sight. Naturally, it recalls all those early experiences, I have actually gone to an amber on black background. Nothing else on screen, just these glowing amber words. Back home... punching in text, but knowing, when I need to do something fancy, it’s going to be easy and quick to do.