Nisus Writer Pro, the Professional Word Processor for Macs

NisusWriterPro

As a writer and publisher, I take word processing software very seriously. You can, at a pinch, use a word processor for the whole publishing process. I know people who have done that, but it is not something that I would want to do. Word processing should be a process unencumbered by the niceties of presentation and, with the exception of Apple’s Pages, word processing programs rightly put more emphasis on presenting the author with his material in a form which is easy for him to manage, not in a form suitable for other readers. Pages, as I have said, is the exception and, in my opinion, is the worse for it.

There are word processors which go to the other extreme from Pages, emphasising content over form. Of these, I like Scrivener and Ulysses, particularly the latter with its ‘semantic text editing’. However, for continuous hard slog and the organisation (and re-organisation) of complex information, there is only one program. Microsoft Word? Pah – too gimmicky, too slow and too bossy (it always thinks it knows better than I do)! No, the answer is Nisus Writer Pro. It’s not the prettiest program I’ve ever seen (not that it’s ugly), but it’s very fast and it has all the really useful features for a serious writer.

Above is a screen shot from the draft manuscript of Beware of the Feast: The History of Robt. Jowitt & Sons, a 352-page book which I published last year. On the left is the table of contents which allows one to navigate easily between chapters and sections. And look at the text itself; I’ve highlighted an endnote marker and you’ll see that it shows me the text of that note. If I right-click on the marker, it will give me the option of going to the note (it will also let me do other things, such as convert it to a footnote). When I go to the note, I can right-click on the number to take me back to the relevant piece of text. With a thousand notes, this save a lot of time.

I’m now writing a crime novel called Isleworth Madonna in Nisus Writer Pro. It’s a pleasure to use, even in a crowded Starbucks with wonky tables which spill my triple-shot Americano worryingly close to my MacBook Air. I’ve spent years writing this novel but I notice it’s going much quicker since I changed to Nisus Writer Pro!
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Why I Hate Adobe InDesign

There is a lot to like about InDesign. In my opinion it is the best DTP program on the market, but that isn’t saying much when the only real competition is Quark XPress. The trouble with both these programs is that, despite many changes of version numbers, they have evolved very, very slowly.

What few improvements have been made are mostly aimed at the more gimmicky end of multimedia and epublishing. Not that I don’t want to generate ebooks, but I want to produce them properly and InDesign makes that very hard to do. One of my long-standing complaints about InDesign is that it doesn’t support endnotes – there is a ludicrous work-around using hyperlinks which I won’t bother to discuss. As a result, one has to use InFnote, a third-party plug-in from Virginia Systems. If one exports to PDF or ePub, the links to endnotes don’t function. At least the Index links work, but index links aren’t particularly important in fully-searchable ebooks. Compare this with LaTeX (which is free) which supports footnotes, endnotes and wingnotes (and, as you reflow the text, the wingnotes will move with it). Using the Hyperref package for LaTeX, endnote hyperlinks can be generated automatically in PDFs. Even better, the links are bidirectional: click on a link in the text and it will take you to the note; click on the note number and it will take you back to the relevant piece of text. Similar functionality can be created in ePub files.

TeX and LaTeX are very old programs. When they were created, PostScript had not been invented. Over the years, various packages have been added to LaTeX to allow it to cope with the modern world – creating PDFs, using OpenType fonts, etc. It is crazy that after all these years LaTeX is still superior to InDesign and Quark in so many ways. Admittedly, it is rather harder to use, but the pay-off is that it does things the right way. In LaTeX, text is tagged according to function rather than form, as it is in XML and XHTML. This makes it incredibly flexible. Imagine a 400-page book with wingnotes (OK, perhaps you don’t like them but I do and, in any case, the same would apply for illustrations) and you’ve laid it out laboriously in InDesign for a royal 8vo page. That was for the hardback. Then you decide to produce a B format paperback. The margins need altering, the text area needs altering and, worst of all, every wingnote and illustrations needs repositioning. How long do you think it would take you to rework the book? It could take weeks and you’d have to check it all very carefully when you’d finished. In LaTeX it might take five minutes.
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ZipBar

This blog is created in Rapidweaver using the standard blog page. Although I sometimes hand-code, Rapidweaver is great software because it allows you to produce a site very quickly and make it look pretty well exactly how you want. A particularly important plug-in for Rapidweaver is Stacks (especially the very elegant Stacks 2). This has spurred the development of many individual stacks which add functionality. I particularly like Seydesign’s new ZipBar stack which adds a particularly elegant menu bar to your page. I have been experimenting with it on a number of unpublished pages and have just used it to rework a rather cumbersome page on the danckwerts.com website. I particularly like the way that the page’s colour scheme can be matched in seconds.
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ScopeWorks

I made this animation with ScopeWorks... Read More...
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InDesign

I’ve been rather hard on InDesign… Read More...
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ePub Horrors Continue

I have nearly turned my edition of Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds into an ePub... Read More...
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ePub

I’ve said before that ePub is pretty awful... Read More...
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Repurposing

Why do I keep going on about word processing, Desktop Publishing (DTP) and typesetting software? Read More...
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The Apple Secret

What is Apple’s secret? Read More...
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Yet More Software

There is a new breed of what I suppose you’d call document processors... Read More...
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More LaTeX Software

Perhaps it’s the downturn in the economy... Read More...
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The End of the Road for InDesign?

I’ve used InDesign since it first came out and I used PageMaker for many years before that. PageMaker was far cheaper than Quark, which was my main motivation for using it, and in some ways it was a better program... Read More...
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Apple iPad



Apple’s much-anticipated tablet computer, the iPad, has arrived. It looks great, but there are two problems from my point of view. I’d love to be able to use all my Mac software on it, but it doesn’t run the full OS X, just the iPhone OS. No great surprise - the iPhone OS is designed for keyboardless portable devices and has been developed to run on low-power, high-performance ARM processors. Also, Apple don’t want to sell the iPad at the expense of their laptops.

The other problem is that the ebook format they will be supporting on the iBookstore is ePub. This makes sense for simple books and possibly newspapers but it’s no good for my books. ePub is a reflowable format based on XHTML. This just won’t work for most of my books. The Bibliomania or Book-Madness, for instance, has end-notes to the footnotes. Try doing that in ePub format.
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Open University

I have signed up for another Open University course. I’m a great fan of their teaching materials, at least the printed stuff. With their E303 course (English Grammar in Context), they include an ‘activities’ CD-ROM which achieves something quite incredible. It is a simple interactive presentation created in the Adobe Director. Director is a cross-platform tool and yet the OU’s presentation is Windows only. Not only that but it will run in XP but not in Windows Vista. I’ve been slow installing Windows 7 so I don’t know if it works in that, but I doubt it.
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Rapidbook

These pages, as I have mentioned elsewhere, are produced using the excellent RapidWeaver program. One of the most useful plug-ins for this is the recently-introduced Stacks from Your Head Software. One of the best things about RapidWeaver, and in turn Stacks, is that they have spawned third-party development. For instance, the appearance of Stacks has encouraged a whole new wave of products, including a Stacks version of John Malinowski’s RapidBook, a very neat way of putting sample pages of one’s books on the internet. RapidBook for Stacks was developed by Phil Warrender and is a remarkable example of the sort of collaboration which occurs in the RapidWeaver environment: RapidWeaver create the basic web design program, Your Head create Stacks, John Malinowski creates Rapid book for Blocks (another Your Head plug-in), and Phil Warrender adapts RapidBook for Stacks. My first attempts are here, here and here. You need Flash to view them
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