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Hands On: Mellel 4 targets Mac and iPad Microsoft Word users with indexing and outlining

The popular but niche word processor chiefly used by academics and technical authors has just been updated, with 95 new features.

Mellel is a word processor for academics, people writing long documents and multi-lingual writers. It's also very much aimed at being for people who don't want to use Microsoft Word. Consequently this new Mellel 4 for Mac update has targeted Word's weak spots like indexing and outlining.

Microsoft Word and Apple's Pages are the big word processors that you've heard of. More recently writing tools like Scrivener and Ulysses have risen to the fore. Yet for decades there has also been Nisus Writer and and since 2002, Mellel. These are feature-bursting word processors that have passionately vocal fans but haven't become very well known generally.

If you can't take over the world, you can have a go at taking over a particular part of it. Mellel's niche has been academia and technical writing and what it gives them is a robust tool. It lets you have multiple languages in your documents, including ones that are read right to left instead of left to right.

Mellel also includes an outliner that has been improved for version 4. It's a significant improvement in that now you can go into the outline and add new items. It's called inline editing and it means you can bash ideas into the outline one after another.

Only, while overall the outliner is better than Word's, this inline editing feature is long overdue and it still doesn't match the features of dedicated outliners like OmniOutliner.

The developer and fans of Mellel might point you to different features, but they will also all point out how it isn't Microsoft Word. Specifically that it isn't cumbersome nor prone to crashing.

We had no crashes or problems during our use but cumbersome is harder to define. There is still a great deal of depth in Mellel so you won't pick up its every nuance much faster than you might grasp Word's.

There are also confusing points in Mellel. For instance, you might mark a heading as being in the Title style but the Table of Contents feature won't recognize it.

The answer to the problem is to use what Mellel calls Auto-Titles. We learned that from the developer's website which has an excellent series of help videos on it. But, the app itself wasn't much help to deduce that.

That all said, once you know how Mellel works, you do find that it needs fewer steps to accomplish certain tasks.

We might also prefer Mellel's simpler toolbar next to the way Word buries controls under barely predictable tabs in its Ribbon. But, Microsoft's word processor does look and feel more modern — and yes, that is probably the first time that has ever been said on AppleInsider.

Subjectively, even in this new version Mellel feels old and like an academic product. During the course of our evaulation, we were reminded of apps like DEVONthink and Final Draft. That's not necessarily a bad thing — the research tool and the scriptwriting apps are hugely successful.

However, when we skipped between Mellel and its rivals like Word, Scrivener, Ulysses and Pages, we feel that Mellel's icons are over-sized and basic.

That's even true with the Mellel 4 for iPad edition which is a much newer product.

The fact that the app is on the iPad and has now been updated to better match the Mac version is superb, though. The ability to write on Mac or iPad and then to continue your work on either machine too, it's practically essential for a word process or text editor today.

We would like to see the iPad version be developed further, though. At the moment we were unable to create or edit styles on it, for instance. Also, using an external keyboard, we couldn't quickly select from the cursor to the start or end of the current line as you can on the Mac. The most we could do was select word by word.

Similarly, pressing and holding on text does pop up the regular iOS options bar but it only includes Select All, not just Select by itself. To select a word you have to double-tap it and to select anything else you then must drag the selection handles.

On the Mac where you can have a palette of styles or text attributes open, you currently have to double-click to select one on the iPad. We kept clicking once to select and wondering why it wasn't doing anything.

These are little touches and there are bigger ones we'd like for both versions of Mellel 4. Specifically, it would be good if the Table of Contents could update itself as you add new sections to your work. Currently it won't and you can't edit it directly: you instead periodically re-do the table of contents as you go.

Curiously, the new indexing feature in Mellel 4 does update as you go. Indexing is a brutal job for a writer and enough so that there are people who specialize in doing so for us. If you're submitting to a publisher, they may already have indexers they use, so this isn't as handy a feature as it might be but anything might help the process if you're flying solo is worth grabbing.

If you're an existing Mellel user then it's so worth grabbing the new version that you should have downloaded it already — go get it without a moment's hesitation and look forward to the reported 95 new features.

When you're not an existing user, though, the decision is harder. Mellel isn't as smooth and slick as Word or Pages but it is a strong academic writing tool. Get the 30-day trial of the Mac version direct from the developer's website to take a look.

If it suits your work then you can buy it from there or via the Mac App Store for $59.99.

There's also the iPad version which sells on the App Store for $19.99