Mellel 2.6 review

There are three types of people in the word processing world: those who use Microsoft Word because they have to, a smaller group who use Microsoft Word because they actually like it, and a third group, who don't have to use Word and are interested in alternatives.

For these independent-minded Mac OS X users, there are now a number of strong alternatives to Word, including Apple's Pages, Nisus Writer (Pro or Express), Scrivener, and Mellel 2.6.1, from RedleX. With the release of version 2.6 earlier this year, Mellel stands as a very attractive alternative to Word, especially for academic users, technical writers, and linguists.

Structured and flexible

Do you outline your thank-you notes, number (and then renumber) the items on your shopping lists, or use footnotes in email? Then Mellel is probably the word processor for you. Writers of long technical documents will love the control that Mellel offers over outlines, cross-references, footnotes, table of contents generation, figures, and more.

Mellel doesn't have a traditional outliner like the one in Microsoft Word or like the excellent stand-alone program OmniOutliner. You don't simply go into a traditional outline mode where you type the titles of the four main parts of your document, with each return automatically creating the next element in the outline.

Instead, in Mellel, you insert auto-titles to identify the structure of the document. Auto-titles are the elements of your document that correspond to the headings and subheadings of a traditional outline. The term auto-title seems a bit misleading to me, though, because the titles themselves are not automatic. You have to enter each one via a dialog. For outlining, many users may not find Mellel's approach as easy as using outline mode in Word.

But this brings me to a key point: The more you expect Mellel to work like Word, the more frustrated you are likely to be, at least initially. What Mellel calls outline view is really a view of all of the many structural elements in your document: not just headings and subheadings, but also charts, equations, figures, pictures, tables, and bookmarks.

Assuming that you mark the parts of your document correctly, each of these structural elements has its own flow, and what's automatic is the way that Mellel keeps track of all these independent sequences. If you have tagged a figure, for example, and then you move it somewhere else in the document, Mellel keeps track of where it is relative to other figures--and relative to the rest of your document.

If you tag a section as an auto-title, you can move the title and all of the content it contains by simply adjusting its position in the outline panel on the left side of your screen. Also automatic is the way Mellel applies the right style for each structural element.

This flexibility extends to all of the other parts of your document that you would want to index or catalog, such as tables and figures. Mellel also supports cross-references, including virtual cross-references--that is, parts of your document that don't exist yet but which you can identify briefly ("Chapter 12: Conclusions"). Set 'em up now, fill 'em in later.

In short, Mellel's organizational tools are remarkably complete and extremely flexible.

NEXT: Nota (very) bene

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