Word processing isn't the most amazing thing a Mac can do. But back in 1991, it was a word processor called Nisus that convinced me to buy my first Mac, because there was nothing like it for PCs. Nisus was my primary application for years, and now — after more than a decade in which it was all but useless to me — this app (now called Nisus Writer Pro) is back on my A-list. Here's why I've re-adopted it, and why I think more people should consider it.
The everything tool
You could say I have a bit of history with Nisus Writer. After learning about Nisus in grad school, I became a user, then a fan, and then a trainer. I later got a part-time job working for the developer, Nisus Software, and eventually became the product manager for Nisus Writer. (So, disclaimer: I worked for the company from 1994 to 1997.) And my first real book, published while I was still an employee, was called The Nisus Way. It was written both about and with Nisus Writer.
Back in the day, Nisus Writer was known as a specialist in multilingual word processing. It was also a favorite of academics, lawyers, scientists, and novelists. In addition to all the usual word-processing features, it had the most advanced find-and-replace capability I'd ever seen, an extensive macro language, and outstanding customizability. (One of my favorite features was sequential multi-key shortcuts — so, for example, you could assign the key combo Command-S-C-A to Save Copy As.)
Nisus also pioneered unlimited Undo and Redo and noncontiguous text selection, two features that are commonplace today. And it offered capabilities like multiple, editable clipboards; highly flexible automatic numbering and cross-referencing; and a full suite of graphics tools. I thought of it not as a word processor but as a programmable everything tool.
The dark years
I would have been happy keeping Nisus Writer as my main writing tool indefinitely. But despite its many virtues, the Nisus Writer of the late 1990s lacked change-tracking and comments, which publishers and business users alike had by then come to depend on in Word. I could open and save Word documents in Nisus Writer, but because tracked changes and comments didn't survive the round trip, I was forced to use Word for most of my writing.
I actively disliked Word as a tool for writing books, and each version seemed to get more cumbersome. Apple's Pages was an improvement in some ways, but every time I used either app, I felt as though I were living in a time warp — word processing was to me considerably more awkward than it had been a decade earlier.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.