How a fan recommends Nisus Writer

We're in a spot where Microsoft Word has lost its strangelhold on the word processing market and other alternatives are doing well. But before it got to that level, Word had competitors then too. One of them was Nisus and I knew it well from writing news stories in computer press that covered it. I'm not sure I ever tried it myself, though I must surely have done at some point, but I had and still have a high opinion of it for two reasons.

One is that Nisus introduced some features that all the best word processors now have – and yet which took them all years to adopt. I'm thinking chiefly of non-contiguous selection: the way that you can select this sentence, scroll down a bit, select another one and then when you copy or cut, those two sentences are taken.

But the other reason I rate Nisus without having much or maybe any direct experience of it myself is that it used to engender passion in its users. Nobody ever evangelised Word. But Nisus had its champions.

And now it does again.

Things turned around in 2011 with the release of Nisus Writer Pro 2.0. This was the first version of Nisus Writer to include both change-tracking and comments, plus most of my favorite features from Nisus Writer Classic and a bunch of new capabilities. All of a sudden I had my old toolkit back, in a modern package. It was as though I'd been limited to a machete and an open fire for all my cooking needs, and then walked into a fully equipped restaurant kitchen. In the years since, it has grown even more capable and reliable.

Tools of the trade: Why I prefer Nisus Writer – Joe Kissell, Macworld (21 May 2014)

The full piece is very interesting about Nisus's place in word processing history – and even its lore – but also specific about its advantages. If you're on a Mac and you dislike Word, take a look.

Finally – work offline with Google Docs

Previously on Google Docs and spreadsheets: you really had to be online to use them. There was a Google Drive app that let you work on this stuff in, say, your Dropbox account. But from today, you can get Google Docs and Google Sheets for iOS and work whenever you like.

I'm not a fan of Google Docs: I revise my opinion every time I see the price – it's free – yet I've found it clunky to use. And clunky to have online all the time.

This could change my mind – and I am shocked at you for making the connection that Microsoft Office for iPad just came out. Total coincidence.

Get Google Docs here and Google Sheets there. A presentation app is reportedly coming soon.

As ever, by the way, do go via these links to get the apps: going straight to the App Store and searching for them by name does not find them. Ridiculous and hopefully changing soon, but true.

Twelve million people can’t be happy

But hopefully a lot of them are. Microsoft's Office apps for iPad have been downloaded more than 12 million times in the week since launching. That doesn't really mean 12 million people: I downloaded Word and Excel so that's two right there.

Actually, I downloaded Word and Excel, then deleted them – and tonight I just downloaded Word again. None of these are any use unless you pay an annual subscription which is doubtlessly worth it for many but isn't for me. However, you can use the apps to read Microsoft documents. I didn't have any at all the night I downloaded the apps the first time.

But tonight I got one. I'm reading a draft of a book and it happens to have been written in Word. Normally I'd just read it in Mail – that will show you the text perfectly well – or maybe I'd pop it into Pages – which opens Word documents just fine. This time I got Word back, opened it up and it's really good.

The book and Microsoft Word for iPad.

The text is beautifully crisp and well designed, it is a true pleasure reading this document in Word for iPad.

Still not going to subscribe, but now I think I will keep it around. I wonder if we'll ever know how many of the 12 million downloads will stay and how many of those will turn to subscription ones. But you've got to hand it to Microsoft: this is a nice piece of work.

Use Microsoft Office for free on iPad – kinda

It's a trick, but it might be useful if you don't want to pay a subscription just to make one twiddle in a one Word document. As of today – 28 March 2014 – Microsoft Office for iPhone is completely free. Not just free as in you can read a document but must pay to edit or create ones, it's completely free.

But you can run iPhone apps on your iPad. They don't look great. This one doesn't look as good as the proper iPad version of Office released yesterday. But it is Office and it will open Word and Excel documents. Possibly also PowerPoint but, seriously.

You do still have to sign up for a Microsoft account and there are myriad better ways to write and edit documents than on the scaled-up iPhone Office but it works.

Get Microsoft Office for iPhone (it's one app with Word, Excel and the other one together) here.

Get Microsoft Office for iPad here – if you want

It's been a long time since I would've automatically bought Microsoft Word for anything, for anywhere, let alone for my iPad. Word's last killer feature was that everyone else had it and everyone needed documents sent in that format. Once we couldn't get it on iPad, we said nuts to Microsoft Office and did just fine with everything else. We did so just fine that now Office has come, it's a shrug.

Partly because we don't need it, partly because you have to pay a subscription to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint to actually do any work.

But aren't you curious? Don't you just want to try it out? You're bound to have some Word or Excel documents somewhere and you can read those in Office for iPad. You can read them in anything, really, but you can get Office and you can have at least something of a play, so give it a go.


Truly, Apple's App Store has some severe problems when you can't find Microsoft Office for iPad on it on the day it launched. Seriously: search for Microsoft Office or Microsoft Word on the iPad App Store and you will get a slew of other apps first. I couldn't find it at all. Searching for just the word Microsoft is worse.

But somehow Microsoft OneNote pops up in various searches and if you select that, there's a Related tab which does show you Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Don't bother digging, I've done that, here are the direct links:



PowerPoint (seriously, you want PowerPoint?)

Notice the /gb/ part of those addresses: these are the UK (or Great Britain) links but tap them wherever you are, iTunes will figure it out.

Even if it's the best-ever implementation of PowerPoint, that presentation app would come a distant fifth out of the three anyway. Excel is certainly the most powerful and least top-heavy of the three. But I am a writer and I've got form writing about word processors so it is Word I naturally go for. And without yet schlepping through setting up a SkyDrive (or whatever the lawyers require Microsoft to call that now) and definitely without paying around $10/month or about $100/year just to experiment with typing, I've gone for it and got it and am now deleting it.

Good to see it finally arrive. Good to see it seemingly well-worked out. I just need a compelling reason to buy it and it's been many years since its mere existence on iPad would be enough.

Me and NYT on Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages

Last Friday, I went to open a Microsoft Word document someone had sent me and found that I didn't have Word on my machine. It was a true shock: I've had Word on everything since the 1980s when I began writing about word processors in various computer magazines.

What's more, I realised why I didn't have it. When I'd installed OS X Mavericks on my MacBook Pro it had found some problems with the hard disc. Serious, creaking, get out fast problems. So I had it reformat the whole drive and sort things out. I'd backed up everything, I backed it all up again just in case, fine. But apparently I hadn't remembered to put Word back on afterwards.

And here was the reason that the shock was the slap it was: it must be a month, it could be six weeks since I installed OS X Mavericks. So I'd not needed Word in all that time, not needed it or wanted it or assumed I should use it, for at least a month.

What's more, I looked at this document and it was open. My MacBook had seen that I'd didn't have Word and so it had just opened the document in the word processor I did have, Apple's own Pages. I now had the choice of schlepping off to find my Word installer or just getting on with my work so I just got on with my work.

Now, this was one Word document in a project that had involved slightly over fifty of them and I'd done the giant part of the work on my iMac which does have Word and I did use Word. This was just one last document that came through late and I was going to have to send it back as Word; if there had been all fifty left to do this way, I'd have installed Word. I think. But for one job, I just accepted that there would be a final convert-to-Word step when I was done.

I like Pages. I've always liked it. I was on a bus when I got the idea for writing a book about productivity for writers and I wrote the first thousand words of it right there on my iPad in Pages. Perhaps because I'd started it there, I carried on. There was also the fact that mentally I was associating my iMac with the 150,000-word book I was writing about Blake's 7 and I was associating my MacBook with a Doctor Who audio script that was due at the same time. But whatever my psychological reasoning, it was still that I'd pick up the iPad to carry on writing The Blank Screen and that meant it was still the case that I'd write it in Pages.

At that stage, the project was chiefly about getting the ideas down and exploring how to convey it. I later moved all the text to Word to send to my proofreaders, I then moved it to Apple's iBooks Author to do one version. I moved it all to Adobe InDesign to make the paperback and the Kindle versions. But for bashing in the words, Pages on my iPad was perfect. The best word processor is the one you've got now but Pages did that Apple thing of staying out of my way while I concentrated on my writing.

So I did go from liking it to being quite the fan and I was aware of this. I didn't notice that it had supplanted Word on my MacBook. I'm trying to think how much else I must have written in Pages on that machine without thinking about it. Certainly a few radio reviews for Radio Times magazine. Definitely several invoices. Must be a lot, but I just can't remember the word processor I used for what.

All of which is nice for me and I could just recommend Pages to you in the certain knowledge that you already have a word processor and have no need to move to a new one.

But Pages just went through a big change. It became free for new users, for one thing. I've said before that I find the free Google Docs a bit clunky and ugly yet I like it more every time I see that price. I do wonder at the decision to make it free: it's obviously very nice for new users and I've no problem with the fact that I bought my copies because I've had a huge amount of use out of it. Yet if you make something free, you do devalue it.

I remember a friend complaining that Word, at the time, cost several hundred pounds and saying why on a Earth would it? “It's only a word processor!” I suggested that she try making one and she'd then see what an enormous job it was. She didn't appreciate the brilliance of the work that had gone in to just a word processor that cost hundreds of pounds. She didn't believe me when I reported that Microsoft had up to then spent a billion dollars developing it. (True.) How much less would she now regard a free word processor?

Curiously, the word free gets people buying, so to speak, and I'm sure it gets people devaluing the word processor, but it doesn't stop anyone bitching about problems. In this case they're right: the new, free version of Pages for Mac in particular has issues.

The key aim of Apple for this release has been to make Pages on the Mac work the same and work with the same documents as Pages on iPad and iPhone. Fine. It also has this thing now where I can send anyone a pages document and they can open it – not through conversions, not through any fiddling and actually not just opening the document either. They can open Pages. Whether they've got it or not. Whether they're on a Mac or a PC. Click on the document I send you and, if you want, you're reading and editing it in Pages in your Web browser.

Apparently it is startlingly marvellous to all of us who get what is happening and can see how hard it is to do – but, infinitely more importantly, for those who do not happen to understand all that's happening, it is just a Pages document. They have no need to tell the difference between owning Pages the application and running Pages in their browser. That is a truly remarkable accomplishment and it is how computers should be: our work is what matters first. It's also a true sea change from the Microsoft approach which makes everything just difficult enough that you appreciate and you value all the company is doing for your money.

But I say it's apparently this good because this is what I keep hearing – and I have yet to have the slightest need to use the feature myself.

And the problem many people have is that in order to get this new feature, to get the ability to work across platforms, Apple has stripped Pages down and lost key features. That's what it feels like: really it's more that they started again and haven't built it back up to all it was.

The only thing is, I've no idea what the missing features are. For me in my current work, the only thing I've hit is that it's slightly more of a pain switching on the word count. (The same cross-platform good stuff and missing features bad stuff has happened to Pages' stablemates Numbers and Keynote. I've seen the difference in Numbers and that's more annoying to me.)

Apple promises that it is bringing all this stuff back and, actually, I believe them. This is what they did with the video editing software, Final Cut Pro X. And since it's not causing me problems at the moment, it's easy for me to carry on believing them.

Plus, I like the new look and feel of Pages. I like how I get on with my writing and then if I need something, if I need some tool, I look up and find that tool just about exactly where you'd think it should be. Contrast that to Word where you have a thousand icons and have to hover over them all to see what they do.

When I started writing this to you, I didn't realise how much I wanted to say. I'd found an interesting article in the New York Times that compared Pages and Word and I wanted you to see it. So I wrote the headline “NYT on Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages”. Having now blathered on at you at this length, I've just gone to change that headline to “Me and NYT” on it. And I'm mithered over whether that now sounds as if I wrote the Times article. Sorry for any confusion there.

And if you haven't had enough of musings about Pages vs Word, do take a look at the NYT article: