A little nostalgia

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Joined: 2003-03-06 15:16:43

A little nostalgia

Post by irev »

Thought someone might want a glimpse back to the ‘good old days’ when NWE was still in its infancy (version 1.x). This was way before they became international software moguls and moved their operations into a new 60 story Nisus Tower. ;-) Unfortunately I don’t know who penned this article and unable to give credit. Maybe the folks at Nisus can fill in the missing author’s name.

Tales of a Solana Beach Software Groupie

- My visit to the headquarters of Nisus, Inc. -

Curiosity demanded that I take the exit. Pushing 100 mph on the southbound Coast Highway, en route to the glorious beaches of San Diego, the exit sign for Solana Beach whizzed by my right side. That was the moment I first felt The Call of the Computer Geek. I was about to make a pilgrimage to the headquarters of what has rapidly become my second-favorite software company. There was no turning back now.

As I drove by the shops of this ritzy beach town, I daydreamed about what the headquarters of Nisus, Inc . might look like. Was it a sprawling campus of Redmondesque proportions? Surely the presence of 410-plus members on the Nisus community boards, each possibly shelling out $59 a pop for Nisus Writer Express, was a sign that the company was bathing in an ocean of cash. Ahem. Or maybe Nisus was a shadow corporation, a front for the increasingly profitable digital underground a cyberspace mafia that exists only in the mind of resident CEO (and evil genius) Jerzy Lewak. My mind wandered feverishly on the melodramatic possibilities.

The office wasn’t easy to find. I knew that Nisus was located on Cedros Avenue, the heart of the artsy and oh-so cozy Design District. Lets see: Aimee Mann is performing at a local club; there’s a department store just for dogs; no hint of any national chains or anything generic. Even Starbucks has been pushed off to one of the less desirable streets. Solana Beach may just be too perfect for the fast-moving world of software design. Id bet the much-anticipated Nisus Writer Express 2.0 would be here by now if Nisus, Inc. was headquartered in Newark, New Jersey.

I was sure Id found the place when I found a small mailbox with the words NISUS SOFTWARE almost but not completely scratched off the front. Progress. I was getting warmer. I crossed my fingers, walked up one flight of stairs, and strolled into...

A room full of ladies getting their hair styled. A lanky, effeminate man asked me if I was interested in a facial scrub. I wondered: was this Charles Jolley? I said: No need for a facial scrub, thank you. Nisus Writer Express already has the best interface in the industry. My attempt at wit (such as it was) was received with absolute deadpan. Nope, definitely no software people here.

Now I was getting desperate. I went to the rear of the building, and found garbage cans and parked cars. Then a woman driving a car stopped to ask me what I was looking for. When I said Nisus Software, she decided I wasn’t a vagrant, after all, and she asked if I was a programmer. No, just an enthusiast. She introduced herself as Yolanda, Queen of the Nisus Office, and without the slightest prompt, she invited me inside which, it turns out, is tucked away behind the hair salon.

Figuring that all software companies are ruthlessly secretive about their future plans, I didn’t dare ask to see what I was most curious about: the much anticipated Nisus Writer Express 2.0. This, I figured, was the company’s crown jewels, to be kept away from outsiders like me. No doubt the software was tucked away in a bullet-proof vault and shielded from prying eyes by a commando unit of Green Berets.

That was when Yolanda turned to me and said: Would you like to see Nisus Writer Express 2.0? Would I? Now I felt like one of the Willy Wonka kids who’d stumbled on the golden ticket in his chocolate bar. I choked back my enthusiasm and almost forgot to answer with a resounding yes!

As I was beginning to find out, the people at Nisus couldn’t have been more welcoming. Far from being a shadow corporation, the inner sanctum of Nisus, Inc. is actually an informal, rather messy suite of rooms connected by a single corridor. I was introduced to Mark Hurvitz, a well-known contributor on the company’s community boards, who writes all the manuals and help files for Nisus products. Then I was brought to a swamp of computer documentation and Judaica that is known to employees of Nisus as Mark Hurvitzs office.

As it turns out, Hurvitz is both a hard-nosed software writer and a Rabbi with a penchant for wordplay. If I had a nickel for every person like Mark, Id have exactly one nickel. As he took me on a tour of NWE 2.0, I began calling him The Cocoa Rabbi, which he found so amusing that he stopped the tour in order to google his new nickname and see if anyone else had taken it. Yes, you could say I liked Mark right away. (And yes, he IS the Cocoa Rabbi.)

So what about my prized sneak-peek of Nisus Writer Express 2.0? Well Mark gave me the tour, and it is good. There can be no doubt that this will be a major release. All of the promised features are up and running. Styles looked good, and the footnotes were unusually flexible. Tables have a visual, uniquely Nisusish implementation. The overall look has been toned-down a bit, with the headers in the sliding toolbar now metallic-white instead of Windows XP pastel blue. (Whew.) The whole package is presented with Nisus trademark visual economy: No bloat in the code, no bloat for the eye.

From top to bottom, there remains a conscious effort to stress the unique advantages of Mac OS X, the aqua interface, and cocoa. Transparency is used cleverly for highlighting text while preserving text-color. There’s an auto-complete feature thats as powerful as any I’ve seen. In short, 2.0 has all the makings of a word processor that can compete with Microsoft Word, while exceeding all rivals in user-friendliness, innovation, and just plain smarts.

The overall impression was like this: In many ways the move from Classic Nisus Writer to NW Express felt like moving from Mac’OS 9 to Mac OS X 10.1. From the ground up, the whole thing was a radical change; the new software was less mature, it upset the traditionalists, and it boasted fewer bells and whistles but no one doubted that its superior foundation promised great things for the future.

Likewise, the move from NWE 1.0 to NWE 2.0 feels like the upgrade from Mac OS X 10.1 Puma to 10.2 Jaguar. Bugs have been swatted. A lot of the basic features that consumers expect are finally there. There’s not one single improvement that makes it worthwhile to everyone; rather, its the dozens upon dozens of little improvements and smart ideas that make the software really hum. Its all about building on top of a strong foundation.

Of course, all was not perfect in the land of 2.0. As of my visit (the first week of June) Nisus Writer Express felt every bit the early-stage alpha software that it was. Tables and footnotes could be agonizingly slow, inconsistent, and sometimes not responsive at all. (When the tables failed to resize properly, Hurvitz let out a winsome cry that could be heard across the hall. Chaaaaaarles! Somethings wrong with the tables! Please help me in here! You just had to feel for the guy.) NWE 2.0 was not even ready for something like a public beta much less a final release.

That said, I have every bit of confidence that ninety percent of these issues will be cleared up at its unveiling to the public. (You wouldn’t want ALL the bugs removed, would you? What would you have left to talk about on the Nisus community forums?) Despite the casual California atmosphere, these guys are working hard and they give their products the kind of attention to detail that should make a polished release in due time. How long is due time? Glad you asked. Given my complete lack of expertise in the field of software development, I estimated that if the Nisus team ever decided to make a major investment in amphetamines, NWE 2.0 could hit the shelves by Independence Day.

Later, I met the resident Boy Genius, Charles Jolley. While a student in Kansas, Charles designed Okito Composer, the first word-processor for OS X that really knocked my socks off. Now that Nisus had bought his baby and made it the centerpiece of their product line, he was busy turning 2.0 into a heavyweight. He was flattered that I was enthusiastic enough about Nisus to pay them a visit. Then he hinted about his long-term plans to have a second word processor, to be sold separately, that would boast even more features than Express. (Can you say, Nisus Writer Pro anyone?)

(Charles also liked my idea about someday building screenwriting software based on the Nisus code, that would aim to be a Final Draft killer. There’s many a screenwriter hoping that happens , I know.)

By this time I knew I had overstayed my visit at the office. But Mark and Yolanda, generous hosts that they were, found a clever way to send me off: they deposited a Nisus Software T-shirt in my lap. Happy me, I wore it all the way down the Coast Highway to San Diego and then in Tijuana. (The Mexicans I met across the border were not too interested in Nisus Writer Express 2.0, but they did have some human growth hormone to sell me. No prescription needed, real cheap.)

The best news of my visit was that Nisus Writer Express has long legs. The Nisus people have a deep love and understanding of the Macintosh platform. They have a long-term vision, pride in their own quirky culture, and dedication to their work. They keep a close eye on the competition, and all the latest developments in this highly competitive field. They really do think different, and it shows in their software.

Academics, letter writers, and Mac scribes of all size and shape, get ready for the future. Nisus Writer is looking good and its here to stay.

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