Nisus Writer Express 2.1.1; Mellel 1.8.2

Introduction

Looking for a word processor that has power where you need it but doesn’t come with a lot of noisy bells and whistles you never use? Two recently released OS X word processors, Nisus Writer Express 2.1.1 and RedleX’s Mellel 1.8.2, offer competitive feature sets at very competitive prices. One may be just right for you.

Sleek, flexible, and a bit geeky
With the release of version 2, Nisus Writer Express comes of age. It now has solid support for style sheets and tables, footnotes and endnotes, columns, in-line images, section formatting, and hyphenation – the features that distinguish word processors from text editors. There’s a lot here for power users. You can assign keyboard shortcuts to almost any command. The program offers nameable, editable clipboards, a three-level find-and-replace function including regular expressions (grep) and search criteria you can save, and noncontiguous selection. You can automate processes in AppleScript, via scripting in Perl (a language designed for manipulating text), and by using the basic but efficient Nisus Macro. But there’s nothing intimidating about Nisus Writer Express; in fact, it’s so easy to use, and its user interface is so uncluttered, that beginners will take to it like baby ducks to water.

Writing by numbers
Many users won’t mind, but Mellel 1.8 lacks macro and AppleScript support, and its find command is limited to searching only for literal text strings. Its idiosyncratic user interface makes sense once you get to know the application, but you may find that figuring out critical features such as styles and autonumbering is impossible without reading the guide.
Nonetheless, where Mellel delivers, it really delivers. The program’s distinctive excellence is its extraordinarily powerful and flexible autonumbering system. You can also view numbered levels reflecting document structure as an outline in a separate pane and much more (see “Auto-numbering”, below). In addition, Mellel 1.8 offers unequalled footnote and endnote options, a bibliographic database, and table-of-contents generation – features scholars will welcome. And with Mellel’s support for user-definable document variables, it’s clear that the program is up to the task of creating complex structured documents without a hint of feature bloat.

Head-to-head
Using styles to format the parts of a word-processing document is more efficient than using ad hoc formats. Styles also help you achieve consistency in your formatting and allow you to reformat documents later by simply redefining styles. Unfortunately, Mellel’s implementation of styles is the program’s biggest weakness. Only global (application-wide) styles are editable, so defining and editing a common style – Body Text, for example – differently in various documents is not an option.

In Nisus Writer Express, changes made to styles in a given document affect only that document; this makes it possible to define and save a variety of differently styled document templates for different purposes. And while Nisus Writer Express has a conventional section feature, Mellel currently does not. It’s far too difficult in Mellel to get a different header to appear reliably in the different parts of a document.

Both programs tout their support for non-Latin alphabets, and in my tests both Nisus Writer Express and Mellel did a great job of handling Simplified Chinese. Nisus Writer Express 2 does not support right-to-left languages such as Hebrew, but Mellel does – not surprising, as Mellel’s developers are Israeli (mellel means “text” in Hebrew).

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