Some people say the Apple Macintosh plays second fiddle to the IBM Personal Computer when it comes to word processing. Indeed, IBM and compatible machines do play host to some very powerful word processing programs. But with three new high-end word processing programs on the horizon, the Mac may soon wind up in the lead.
Microsoft will soon release the newest version of "Word," its popular Mac-based word processing program. A relatively unknown company, Paragon Concepts of Del Mar, Calif., has just released Nisus, one of the most powerful and flexible word processing programs for any personal computer. And computer trade magazines have reported that Claris, a spinoff of Apple Computer, will soon release a greatly enhanced version of the original Mac word processor, MacWrite. Claris has made no official announcement, so I don't have any details on that program.
I've been testing a pre-release copy of Word 4.0 and I'm quite impressed. The new version has at least 300 features, but most users will need only a fraction of them. To avoid cluttering the menus with endless options, the program can be customized so that you see only those commands you actually need.
Any command can be added or removed from any menu, and you can assign a command to a function key or a letter key when that key is used in conjunction with any combination of the Option, Command, Shift or Control keys. You can use a command that's not on a menu by selecting a special "command" option.
You can also use Word's "Short Menu" feature, which provides you with relatively simple menus, making the program less intimidating for new users. When you're ready for adventure, you select "full menus" to explore the program's potential.
Word now has an "insert table" feature that allows you to enter text into cells or columns without having to worry about tabs and margins. You tab to the appropriate column and type. When you reach the end of the line, your cursor returns to the left portion of that column, perfectly aligned. Without this feature, you'd have to press the tab key after each line and would have a terrible time realigning your columns. It's great for parts lists, charts or other documents where you want a lot of tabular information.
The program can now display text in color if your Mac is equipped with a color monitor. However, you can change only the color of the text. The background remains white.
The outlining feature has been improved, and Microsoft also beefed up the indexing and table of contents features. The program can now count words, characters, lines and paragraphs.
Although Word lacks a drawing function, it is now possible to place boxes or lines around text. You could do that in the earlier version, but it was limited and awkward. You can now place plain, shadowed or double-lined boxes around any group of paragraphs. Like all Mac word processing programs, you can import graphics from other programs. But Word, which comes with a free copy of SuperPaint, includes a facility to automatically update a revised SuperPaint graphic that has been pasted into a Word document. Such "warm links" also work with Excel spreadsheet data and charts.
Word is an impressive program, but Nisus, the newcomer to Mac word processing, is in many ways even more advanced.
In addition to word processing, Nisus has drawing features that let you insert circles, boxes, lines, arcs and shading. You can draw a picture in the middle of a document and have the text wrap itself around the drawing.
Graphics are a nice touch, but the main purpose of a word processing program is writing and editing. Fortunately, Nisus is a very able word processor with a number of innovative features.
The program's unique "catalogue" feature makes it easier to locate documents. You can even search and replace text quickly in documents that are not in memory. An unlimited "undo" feature makes it possible to reverse the consequences of any commands you may have issued.
Nisus' two most impressive features are its macros and its incredibly powerful search-and-replace function. A macro facility is like a tape recorder. You can tell Nisus to watch what you are doing and to "play back" your keystrokes and commands whenever necessary, making it possible to automate complex sequences of commands. It's also possible to create a macro by typing commands directly into a built-in macro editor. This isn't as easy as using the record feature, but it offers many more options.