Back in the day, Nisus was a hit for serious word processing. When OS X came along, it floundered for a time, and was eventually rebuilt from the ground up to emerge as the excellent Nisus Writer Express. Remarkably flexible, it was nonetheless very much a personal word processor designed for comparatively simple projects. The release of Nisus Writer Pro, which sits alongside rather than replacing Express, aims to address some of the latter's shortcomings, and it positions itself as a heavyweight word processor for demanding users. It's a positioning we're only too happy to endorse.

Clean and simple

On first launch, Nisus Writer Pro looks fantastically clean and simple. It feels superbly responsive and continually surprises with the degree to which various settings can be customised. It inherits the ethos of, and a number of features from, Express. These include access to the OS X user dictionary: tell your Mac once in, say, Mail that your surname is correctly spelled and Nisus will know it too. Task-specific palette sets for the pop-out drawer that can be collapsed and configured at will, live word count, rich table options and nice little touches such as the option to sort paragraphs are all present and correct, and when allied with clear text rendering and clean windows, make for a wonderfully crisp user experience.

The big news, though, is the index and table of content generation abilities. Mark a block of text as something that should appear in the table of contents - optionally turning on a user-definable coloured highlight to make it stand out as dynamic text - and Nisus can automatically generate a contents page. You can tie this attribute to paragraph styles so that every time you style up some text as a heading, say, it will automatically be added to the contents. Up to nine levels can be set, and you can show a navigation tree in a pane in the document (we'd hoped to be able to re-order the entries in this tree and have them drag the blocks of text around, but were disappointed.) Multiple tables of content can be defined (one for images, say, and one for text), as can multiple indices. Indexes can be spectacularly complex - nesting terms and formatting them - but they can quickly be built, particularly if you can get to grips with the powerful search features. The only annoyance, then, is that neither tables of contents or indices update live; you must refresh them manually.

Bookmarks can also be added, and dynamically updating cross-references defined. All this makes producing long, complex documents nice and simple, and while Word can do similar things, Nisus Writer Pro is much more nimble. InDesign CS3 can offer to map the styles in Nisus' RTF documents, though CS2 appears unable to, even when the file is saved in .doc format.

Rival to Word

There's no formal provision for an outlining mode to match Word's, though it can be faked with styles. Comparisons to Word are justified - indeed as well as the common-denominator RTF format it defaults to, it can read and write to Word's native format, though not currently the XML-based .docx format introduced to Windows in Office 2007 - but Nisus is consistently much more pleasant to use. It also includes configurable suppression of widows and orphans, and some well-implemented behaviour in dealing with imported images; it's anticipated that the next release of Nisus Writer Express will also gain these abilities.

And that's the only real problem with Nisus Writer Pro: its little brother, Express, is so good. If you need indexing, table of content generation, bookmarks and cross-referencing, $79 (or, for Express owners who want to upgrade, $45) is money well spent. If you just need a graceful, versatile word processor, the $45 Express will do just as well.