Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Word processing redux

If you're not a Mac user, this will probably bore you, unless you just have an interest in word processing in general like I do. (Freak!)

My occasional quest to find a word processor that's quite the equal of Nota Bene for the Mac is over. There's a word processor out there for the Mac called Mellel which, from a feature standpoint, is nothing short of incredible. It's not even at version 2 and is missing a "standard" feature or two, but nothing make-or-break, and it can do things that Word can't even dream of. They're not things I, personally, am ever going to use. But I have to admire the chutzpah. It's going after the Nota Bene market of academics and scholars -- or more accurately for old Macheads, the Nisus Writer market. But like Nisus Writer, it was written with a peculiarly Martian understanding of what makes a good user interface. Nisus always felt like it was written by engineers who had heard of word processors but never seen one; Mellel feels like it was written by people who consciously wanted to everything differently than Microsoft Word, whether or not the way Word did a specific task actually made sense.

But before Nota Bene came along, before I was a PC user at all, there was a Macintosh word processor that the really old Macheads will remember: WriteNow. A simple, elegant, very fast program that did just about everything that you want a word processor to do, unless what you want a word processor to do is pretend it's a desktop publishing program. In my college days, I wrote almost everything with WriteNow. But, WriteNow is long gone from the marketplace; its company, T/Maker, sold the product to WordStar International -- no, really -- and when WSI went down it took WriteNow with it.

Its spiritual descendant, though, is Mariner Write. I'd come across this program before and waffled about it. Compared to Mellel, Write is not full-featured. And Write's toolbar (which I've turned off) makes it look positively kindergartenish. But the more I played around with Write, the more I realized that it had what Mellel sorely lacked: a great, clean interface, one that looks, in fact, a great deal like the Mac word processors of old.

And, of course, Write doesn't feel like it's stuck in the early '90s. It can handle RTF, it opens Word documents without undue pain, it knows about style sheets. It uses the OS X Services system. And apparently, it's scriptable with AppleScript, which I'm finally beginning to realize is the Mac's equivalent to the Amiga's ARexx.

The one complaint I have with Write, which kept me from buying it for months, is that compared to its competition (other than Microsoft Word itself) it's not cheap--it's almost as much as AppleWorks, it's much more than Mellel, and it's a bit more than Nisus's OS X entry, "Nisus Writer Express." And NWE and Mellel both have a few really cool, innovative features, like Mellel's page style system and NWE's all-results-at-once find window; "innovative" won't be a word you'll ever think of looking at Mariner Write. But NWE lacks basic functionality that Nisus seems to be in no rush to add, and Mellel is ultimately just a little too alien to be comfortable.

This doesn't mean I won't still be on a quest for a perfect word processor, but I'm curious to see if writing with Mariner Write will "feel" like writing with WriteNow did. In theory, tools for fiction-writing shouldn't matter that much; for me, though, I'm not sure if that's true in practice.


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