Nisus/Word Comparison

This comparison, published in TidBITS a couple of years ago, was meant as one more drop in the never-ending flow of One Person's Opinions comparing Nisus 3.06 and Word 5.0. At that time it summed up the relative strengths of the programs pretty well, and since some people are considering Nisus as an alternative to Word 6, and since Nisus has not changed all that much, it is still relevant. I, of course, now like Word 6 quite a lot too; see my home page for a link to a comparison of it with Nisus...

These comments adopt roughly the order and categories of my review of Nisus, published by TidBITS; I'll put up a copy of this soon. Here I simply list categories and declare my personal winner in each.


Word; there is much less delay in screen updating and use of the Delete key, and it uses fairly standard key-input coding, whereas Nisus uses its own system and doesn't work with input-modifying extensions like SmartKeys.

Text Selection

Nisus. Any program with non-contiguous multiple selection beats everything else cold, and Nisus's selection methods generally are easy and intuitive.

Moving Around the Document

Word, where you can customize the keyboard navigation commands and can jump back instantly to a previous location. However, Nisus gets points for letting you name and jump to locations in the document, and for its clever way of letting you know what page you're on during the middle of a thumb-scroll.


Nisus. You can easily stack or tile multiple windows (though tiling is flawed), and you get more ways to move between windows; you can also do things to a window without bringing it to the front.


Neck-and-neck. Word's menus are more customizable; you can completely rearrange them, and set nearly any key-code you like (in Nisus, every key-code must involve the command key). However, Nisus's use of multiple keystrokes in the key-codes is ingenious, and so is its use of menus which change as modifier-keys are held down.


Nisus, by a mile. Unlimited multiple Undo rules! And every time I use Word I find myself hunting for the Append Copy and Swap Paste commands, and the multiple clipboards; but they're only in Nisus.

Footnotes, Creating and Modifying

Word, by a mile. In Nisus you can't see the main text when creating or modifying the text of a footnote, which is stupid.

Footnotes, Numbering

Nisus, which gives you lots of numbering formats (in brackets, in parentheses, raised, not raised) or you can make your own, and they can differ in text and footnote. In Word you get no choice.

Footnotes, Appearance

Word, which knows the difference between a normal separator and a continuation separator, and lets you modify either one completely.


Nisus, of course; this is one of its major features. Sorry, Word, your new Find/Replace is cute, but since your only wild-card is a single character, it's not very useful even in a simple-minded search. [Word 6's Find/Replace is now more in Nisus' league, but Nisus still wins (though not necessarily for speed).]

Macros and Programming Language

Well, Word 5 is completely out of it; but even when it brings its macro/programming language on line, it's going to have its work cut out for it if it wants to be in the same class with Nisus. This is Nisus's other major feature. [Note: I think Word 6's macro language is better than Nisus'.]


Hmm, this is a toughie. I guess that although I have some lengthy complaints about the details, Nisus wins for letting you do really powerful, useful things like instantly cause all identically formatted (but un-styled) paragraphs to be brought under a single style, and for allowing you to apply multiple styles to a single piece of text but keep them separate (so that you can alter or remove just one of them later). Nisus also has character styles, unlike Word, which is limited to paragraph styles. But Word lets you designate styles as Based On other styles, and includes the Keep With Next Paragraph designation; it also has a more orderly, predictable way of importing styles. In addition, Word styles import into page layout programs well.

Tables and Side-by-side Paragraphs

Word has 'em, and they're great, too. Nisus hasn't a thing.

Columnar Layout

Word. In Nisus a document can only have one columnar layout (one column, or two, or whatever) without screwing around with Placed Pages; in Word you just insert a section break, press a button on the Ribbon, and voila, you've switched to a new columnization.


Nisus. Nisus lets you mark locations in the text and refer to them by page number elsewhere in the document. Word has nothing here. [But with Word 6, this has all changed; Word's cross-reference facilities are vastly better.]

Table-of-Contents and Indexing

Word, which has far more levels and far more options and better handling generally. However, shame on both programs for not letting you index material in footnotes!

Spell-checking and Thesaurus

Both lousy in both programs.


Word, which shows you what it's doing and asks for your approval; Nisus just hyphenates, right or wrong. But neither program lets you set parameters.


Now virtually identical.

Mail Merge

The Word 5.0 interface is undeniably easy and inviting. However, both programs have essentially the same actual capacities. And shame on both for causing character formatting to be lost from the data document during the merge!


I don't think much of either program's built-in picture-making facilities, but Nisus better handles pictures created from within it. They run about even on handling pictures created by other programs; Word's linking and embedding technology may put it in the lead eventually, and it imports some formats better, I think.

Big Documents

Word, because you can chain documents together. Word has always been excellent at dealing with the possibility that the user may not have much memory. In Nisus, you have to be able to load your whole document at once to open it at all.


Word. It has one of the best manuals, in fact, that I have ever read: I'm actually impressed. Nisus has one of the worst.

Learning Curve

I think Word is much easier to use powerfully. Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make this true; hence the new ribbon, draggable text, draggable frames, Print Merge Helper, and TOC and Indexing help. I wouldn't recommend Nisus to any novice Mac user. On the other hand Word hasn't as much depth to learn about; I would certainly recommend Nisus to any programming-savvy user, and there are many uses for which it is simply the only choice.

I trust it is now obvious which one to buy...