Apple Silicon and Nisus Writer

Some customers have asked whether or not the new Macs with Apple Silicon will improve their Nisus Writer writing experience. The short answer is yes! Apple’s new M1 chip is really fast and Nisus Writer has native support for M1 that will definitely reduce wait times.

Let’s take a look at some firm numbers to see what you can expect. The following benchmarks were collected by comparing two humble Mac Minis:

Intel i5: 2018 Mac Mini, 16GB RAM, SSD
Apple M1: 2020 Mac Mini, 16GB RAM, SSD

Those Macs were tested using two large Nisus Writer documents. One is our Nisus Writer Macro language reference guide, and the other is our Nisus Writer Pro full user guide. Both are relatively complex documents using features like tables, bookmarks, cross-references, etc.

Now for the fun part. Let’s have the Intel and M1 Macs fight it out to see who is faster 🤓

The above graph is for our macro guide which contains 54K words, over 145 pages, with a 330K compressed file size. The results are clear: the M1 is about twice as fast as Intel. That’s awesome!

Let’s try the same common operations using our full user guide:

That’s also nearly a 2x speed improvement for the larger file which contains 227K words, over 770 pages, with a 90MB compressed file size.

If you’ve read about the M1 elsewhere you already know that it’s a significant leap forward for computing. By all accounts Apple’s new MacBooks are excellent machines. So these results are no surprise, but it’s nice to confirm that the M1 will also speed along your writing.

How to Reopen Closed Safari Windows

Maybe file this tip under “just open your eyes dummy” but I recently learned that Safari on macOS has a feature that allows you to reopen recently closed windows. That doesn’t mean just a single web page. You can restore a window fully, including the many tabs that were inside the window.

You can use this Safari feature via the menu History > Reopen Last Closed Window, or more generally via History > Recently Closed. I don’t expect to use this often, but we’ve all had that moment of regret after accidentally closing a window with like 10 tabs we still needed to review 🤬

Thanks to a Nisus user who tipped me off to this feature. That user was actually requesting that we add the same feature to Nisus Writer, in case a window with many tabbed Nisus documents is accidentally closed. We’ll certainly consider it as a potential future enhancement.

If you’d like to see Nisus add this feature (or any others) please get in touch with us. We love to get feedback from our users! You can leave a comment here on our blog, chat on our user forum, or contact us directly.

Thanks Apple, I Hate It: Mail Sidebar

Apple Mail has been a relatively reliable app on macOS for a very long time. Well, that wasn’t always true, but it’s a work horse one way or another. For the most part it does what I need (except searching emails, but for that there’s InfoClick).

One aspect of Mail that Apple seems eager to tweak every couple years is the sidebar showing your accounts and inboxes. I think the Mail sidebar on macOS Big Sur is actually relatively straightforward considering some of the confusing messes Apple Mail has showcased over the years. But let me complain about this for a hot minute:

The “On My Mac” area has always been reserved for emails that are only stored locally, i.e. those not stored in the cloud. How the heck am I supposed to tell all these Trash folders apart? I have several accounts with local storage and there’s no labeling to disambiguate them. I’m forced to blindly click between the folders to stumble on the right one.

This is a tiny annoyance, but I still hope it gets improved. Maybe in macOS Monterey, which is likely to be finalized soon. We should know more about Monterey’s release date after the Apple event next week.

Apple’s March of Progress, circa iPhone 13

You probably already know that the iPhone 13, iOS 15, and Safari 15 have arrived. If you’re considering a nice new iPhone I thought this guide comparing the iPhone 13 to older models is a great help. You can jump to the section for your current model and see a quick summary of the top benefits.

We here at Nisus prefer stability and consistency to the hot new thing. Personally I’m not itching to upgrade. I have a perfectly good iPhone 11 and I like it when my web browser tabs look like tabs. Maybe Apple will walk back the much hated tab design in Safari 15. But this is Apple, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

That said we’re not oblivious or unprepared for change. Although Apple has yet to finalize the forthcoming macOS Monterey, we released Nisus Writer Pro 3.2.2 and Nisus Writer Express 4.2.2 last week to ensure our apps remain compatible.

My one temptation: the Apple Watch series 7 that’s available to order starting today. I still have a series 3 which performs admirably, but the incentives to upgrade are starting to pile up 🥕

MacBook Air vs. M1 Air: I’m Not Jealous!

Last year I purchased an early 2020 MacBook Air. It’s the base model with an Intel Core i3 dual core processor. At the time I purchased the M1 Air was just around the corner. However, I couldn’t pass up the new-at-the-time Magic Keyboard. I have to say that keyboard was worth the upgrade alone. The new keyboard is so much better that my fingers thank me every day I use it.

However, it’s been almost a year and the M1 machines are out and the new MacBook Air is the machine you recommend to anyone who is looking for a new laptop. My older 2020 dual core Air seems almost… quaint. So what is it like to use a dual core Air in the face of more modern hardware?

Honestly, it’s fine. Is it fast as lightning? No. However, it more than gets the job done. My usage is writing, surfing, mail, and other not terribly taxing tasks. For that, it’s fantastic. the speakers are surprisingly good for music or podcasts. However, it shows its pre-pandemic roots when you do video calls or connect it to an external monitor. At that point the Air gets hot and the fans spin up in a vain attempt to cool it down. The built-in camera is at best a potato and while on calls everyone hears the fan.

To be fair, on the plus side the Air keeps me warm in the winter. Seriously though, it’s fine for most uses. Plus, the keyboard is still great.

Am I jealous of those of you who own an M1 Air? No. I’ll eventually upgrade, but for now it’s running the Monterey beta and it doesn’t seem to mind.

So in short, don’t be jealous of those who have the M1 Air. There will be plenty of time to get revenge when the new, more powerful MacBook Pro with more ports comes out. The rest of you will be green with envy!

Fondly (?) Remembering Clippy

It’s an unexpected thing to say, but I feel a certain amount of warm nostalgia for Clippy, one of the first virtual assistants, as found in Microsoft Office circa the 1990’s.

Oh sure I hated him at the time. He was basically worse than useless. I recall that my only interaction was to annoyingly dismiss Clippy’s popup window. But as they say, time is the healer and we must forgive our enemies.

The recent news is that Microsoft may supplant paperclip emojis with Clippy. That’s seems like harmless fun, so long as it doesn’t affect final output (e.g. PDF). Perhaps Nisus Writer should replace the bicep emoji with classic Nisus Man. I see a certain resemblance…

Music Widget Madness!

One thing not on my bingo card this year was a faithful recreation of the Dashboard iTunes widget from Mac OS X Tiger. However, developer Mario Guzman, who appears to be of sound mind and body, has produced Music Widget for macOS for modern versions of macOS, starting with Big Sur.

I downloaded and I have to say it is pretty cool. It works just as I remember the OS X widget worked. Yes, I’m old.

Be aware that this works with Apple Music only. Spotify need not apply.

The app is in beta, and is compatible with Big Sur and above.

Thanks to Cult of Mac for the original article.

From Ancient Wax Boards to iPads

It’s interesting to think about what counts as “technology” for particular generations of people. We might consider Apple’s latest iPad Pro on the edge of what’s new in personal tech. But in centuries past wax boards (literally wooden frames filled with melted beeswax) may have been the exciting new writing technology:

“Wax boards can be seen as the iPads of yesterday … they all allow writing without ink, and the erasing and re-inscribing of written text as much as is desired.”

That’s from this article from the American Society of Overseas Research which goes into great detail about these wax boards and how they were used in ancient Near East regions like Egypt. It’s fun to think about how neat these boards must have been when they were first available. What’s new and exciting is always relative.

One tidbit that I found interesting is the possible “use of a release agent made from sesame oil, date syrup and ghee” to help prevent the stylus from sticking in the wax– delicious!

AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch

Apple previewed new features for people with disabilities in a post on their newsroom page. There are several great features being added but the one feature that stood out to me was AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch. It allows users to control their watch without touching the screen.

According to TechCrunch “You can activate it either by selecting it in the Assistive Touch menu, or by shaking your wrist vigorously. It then detects the position of your hand as you move it around, allowing you to “swipe” by letting the cursor linger at the edge of the screen, or interact with things using a pinch or clench.” How great is that?

Apple says this and the other features will be available as an update, though no timetable was released. The sooner the better, please.

Happy No Pants Day!

This is something I live every day, but I had no idea there was an actual No Pants Day!

Happily it’s for a good cause. Read all about it at Comics Kingdom, or see the history of No Pants Day on National Today.

Whatever you do, take off your pants and celebrate (tastefully, of course)!

New Intel Ad Features A Mac That Doesn’t Exist

Intel is having quite a marketing run of late. This latest ad (courtesy of 9to5Mac) is just about the worst of the lot:

If I had to guess I would say someone in marketing at Intel is not paying attention. No Mac as of this writing is using Intel’s 11th generation processors. The “gamer” in the photo is wearing Beats headphones. He appears to be wearing a watch, and it wouldn’t shock me to learn it is an Apple Watch. It’s just sloppy. Intel is a multi-billion dollar company. I’m pretty sure they have good people in their marketing department. How did this get through?

M1 Mac mini Review

After much thought and a generous sale price I purchased a new M1 Mac mini. It’s the step up version (8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage). I’ve used it for a couple of weeks now and I’m enjoying it.

Without getting too deep in the weeds, here are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Compatible with every app I use (your mileage may vary).
  • Hardware works as expected. 
  • Runs cool no matter what I’m doing. 

Cons:

  • I can no longer use my mini as a space heater. 
  • Can only use two monitors (that’s not really a con for me). 
  • Bluetooth issues at times. 

Needless to say I am delighted. The Developer Transition Kits (DTK) were not known to be bastions of reliability as they were barely alpha quality hardware. The M1 mini is a different story. It has been, apart from a few bluetooth issues, very reliable, from set up to everyday usage.

My Intel mini can get very warm at times running tasks you wouldn’t think would tax the machine. For example, at set up Spotlight starts indexing the hard drive. When I did this on the Intel mini it got very warm and the fans kicked in quickly. The M1 mini didn’t even get warm during this process, and finished the task much quicker than the Intel mini. I was astonished to see how easily the computer handled this task.

If I had to pick one thing that excites me the most it is Rosetta 2. All of the software I used on the Intel mini I brought over to the M1 mini using Migration Assistant worked without issues. I would say that the most impressive feature on these new breed of Macs is Rosetta 2. 

The downside for me is the bluetooth is flakey at times. The keyboard and mouse lose connection for a bit, and it comes back just as quickly. It’s better now that Apple has addressed it, but it’s something to watch. 

Overall, I’d give 5 thumbs up to this new M1 mini.

Have you made the leap to the new Apple Silicon? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 

Big Sur is Dominant

For the first time since its official release in early November 2020, macOS Big Sur’s usage has finally achieved a majority.

The chart above shows Big Sur’s usage rate amongst all users of Nisus Writer Pro (for those that opt-in to sharing anonymous system metrics). You can see that Big Sur’s usage for March 2021 has finally reached 50% of all our users.

Should you update to Big Sur if you haven’t already? There are many considerations, but by most accounts Big Sur is one of the better recent Mac system updates. Especially when compared to Catalina, which was notoriously unstable and obsoleted a lot of software. If you’re still worried about making the jump you might read this Big Sur rundown from our friends at TidBITS.

Intel Anti-Mac Ads Are Odd

Over the last week or so there has been quite a bit of talk about this new series of Intel ads. If you haven’t seen them, they feature Justin Long, the actor who was in the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials, pointing out the differences between the M1 Macs and PCs using Intel chips in the new commercials.

The ads bash the M1 chips found in the MacBook Air and Pro. No surprise, as most benchmarks and real world performance show the M1 chipset is faster and more power efficient than most Intel chips. While the ads are effective at pointing out there is more choice on the PC side, they fail to show anything that is exclusive to Intel chips. The things they highlight can be done with AMD chips too. Oh, and there is a gratuitous “walled garden” mention on the Intel GoPC page

My question is who is the intended target of these ads? The general public? I doubt it. If they wanted to reach the computer buying public they would give Microsoft ad money to produce these commercials. Also, why isn’t Microsoft running these ads? This is something Microsoft should be doing, not Intel. 

If I had to guess who they were for, I would say Intel employees. Those employees have spent years hearing how they have repeatedly failed while Apple, the company the new Intel CEO referred to as “… a lifestyle company”, has become an innovator in the consumer chip sector. 

If that is true, I get what they were going for with these ads, but I also think they are misguided and desperate. If it isn’t true, then Intel needs to put their heads down and get to work. The performance and power management gap is going to get wider, and no attack ads are going to change that narrative. 

Garamond Font Discouraged by U.S. Court

We all know the importance of using an appropriate typeface. This week courts in Washington, D.C. have officially placed Garamond on the naughty list:

the court has determined that certain typefaces, such as Century and Times New Roman, are more legible than others, particularly Garamond, which appears smaller than the other two typefaces

This is absolutely true. Garamond has a distinct aesthetic that can be nice to look at, but it is smaller and always felt a bit cramped to me with its tight kerning.

A very old version of the Nisus website actually briefly used Garamond for certain text elements. That was over 20 years ago! But it was probably always a poor font choice for a webpage.

Apple Wants Their DTK Back

According to several reports it appears that Apple would really, really like developers to send back the DTK (Developer Transition Kit) Mac mini.

Thanks again for participating in the Universal Quick Start Program and committing to building great apps for Mac. We’re following up with shipping instructions to return the Developer Transition Kit (DTK) that was loaned to you as part of the program. Please take a moment to review these details and ship all DTKs back to us by March 31, 2021.

As we mentioned in our last email, upon confirmed return of the DTK, you’ll receive a credit for 500USD in the form of a one-time use promo code valid until the end of 2021. You can use it toward the purchase of a new ‌M1‌ Mac or other Apple products ordered through the Apple Store Online.

From what I have heard from developers who have access to the DTK, most are very happy to send them back. It appears the DTK minis are at best alpha level hardware. There are reports of many hardware and software issues. Also a bit slow compared to their M1 cousins (the DTK runs an A12Z chipset found in the current iPad Pro). Yet I know that a few of these will pop up on eBay as collectables with ridiculous pricing attached. Someone is going to buy one of these (looking at you, Stephen Hackett!) and I can’t understand it. On the other hand, Nisus still has a Power Mac G4 Cube in near perfect working order, so there is that.

I say send it back, get your 500USD credit and get a new M1 Mac and hope they fix this issue.

M1 Fever

I have to admit my resistance to the new M1 Macs is eroding quickly. Between the universally positive reviews from both reviewers and customers alike, I’m struggling to stay M1 clean. I have my eye on a Mac mini, but I think I would also enjoy a fanless MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro that has all day battery life.

It’s not that I need one of these computers. I have a fairly recent mini that I quite like. I really don’t need to upgrade. Yet, I’m being pulled into upgrading like a moth to a flame, or Guy Fieri to a diner. I’ve seen the mini for as low as $599 US at more than one place, and these sales are making things worse. Twice as fast and off the charts efficient is a combination that’s hard to resist. Add in sale pricing and I’m in serious trouble. 

Do any of you have one of these new M1 Macs? If so, please leave a comment below. I’m interested in your opinions on these new machines. 

In the meantime I’m going to keep resisting. For now. 

Urdu and Digital Typography

There’s a lot of complexity that goes into the display of text. Text features like ligatures, small caps, and font substitution surface some of the complexity, even for languages like English whose Latin letters have been part of technology since the very beginning (ASCII encoding was standardized in the 1960’s). For languages whose letters and typography aren’t as simple as English things are much harder.

This article on digitizing the Urdu language explains the bigger challenges. It’s fascinating to read about:

The shape of each letter changes, depending on the letter that comes before and after … In 1980, Mirza Jamil wrote out every combination of Urdu letters that he could think of — roughly 20,000 by most accounts.

The traditional nastaliq script also requires that letters change their height based on their position within a word. There’s a slant to everything, so the text looks like the “wings of flying geese”. You can see the slant in this sample image of nastaliq:

It’s wonderfully artistic, but a difficult writing system for fonts and technology to properly handle.