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

Posted:
in Mac Software edited September 2017
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
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    I use Calibre and Word (Mac) and write a lot of long documents. I'm on my 5th Novel.
    I have looked at this App as a possible replacement for Word.
    My issue is that I'd like to try it out for say 30days but I'd have to but the product to try it.
    Over the years, I've lost count of the amount I've spent on Software that seemed a good idea at the time but when used it was a dismal failure.

    This review makes me think that I chose correctly in not buying it.

  • Reply 2 of 11
    I've been a Mellel user since 2012. 

    Brilliant product. It's very much a purist's word processor. It does things its own way though, using its own engine rather than macOS' (the latter which you'd find in Pages or Nisus Writer.) It's quite user-friendly, however, and the distraction-free modes are great. It handles typography beautifully, too.
    edited September 2017
  • Reply 3 of 11
    Word has “formatted” our mind to work in a certain way. Mellel offers a different way (better for writing) and it may take some time to get used to it. Also, the learning curve might be a bit steep, but the reward is great.
    quadra 610
  • Reply 4 of 11
    Give it to me for free and I will give it a shot. I am happy with what I have
  • Reply 5 of 11
    The users of the app on IOS give it bad reviews.

    Maybe the MacOS app is better...
  • Reply 6 of 11
    I use Calibre and Word (Mac) and write a lot of long documents. I'm on my 5th Novel.
    I have looked at this App as a possible replacement for Word.
    My issue is that I'd like to try it out for say 30days but I'd have to but the product to try it.
    Over the years, I've lost count of the amount I've spent on Software that seemed a good idea at the time but when used it was a dismal failure.

    This review makes me think that I chose correctly in not buying it.


    Mellel has a 30-DAY-TRIAL. Go to Mellel.com to download it for FREE.

  • Reply 7 of 11
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,872administrator
    I use Calibre and Word (Mac) and write a lot of long documents. I'm on my 5th Novel.
    I have looked at this App as a possible replacement for Word.
    My issue is that I'd like to try it out for say 30days but I'd have to but the product to try it.
    Over the years, I've lost count of the amount I've spent on Software that seemed a good idea at the time but when used it was a dismal failure.

    This review makes me think that I chose correctly in not buying it.


    Mellel has a 30-DAY-TRIAL. Go to Mellel.com to download it for FREE.

    Yup. We've linked t the trial in the third to last paragraph. Go crazy!
  • Reply 8 of 11
    djkfisher said:
    Give it to me for free and I will give it a shot. I am happy with what I have
    If you are happy with what you have, then you do need to be given something for free.
  • Reply 9 of 11
    Although I use Word most of the time for organizational reasons, I have used Mellel for many years for papers and even large and complex manuscripts.  The review of Mellel 4 is good but omits a few things that I find especially valuable.  The first is tight integration with the Bookends bibliographic program.  This allows seeing the in-text citation the way it will actually appear (rather than with coding symbols) and having citations and bibliographies update automatically* as one adds citations or modifies bibliographic information. The other terrific feature is automatically updating section numbering, figures, and cross references (e.g., "blah blah (see page ___), where the page number is automatically corrected).  It is possible to do a bit of this in Word (as illustrated by some conference-paper templates), but doing so is very complicated and error-prone. These features existed before Mellel 4, whereas indexing and story-boarding, which use some of the same apparatus are new. As the review noted, an important feature of Mellel is that one doesn't have to worry about crashes, short-on-memory messages, or document corruption, as with Mellel.  A little upstart company has, in my opinion, a much better product than Word despite the gargantuan capitalization behind Word. 


    *The update occurs when Bookends is invoked again. For example, if you change the publication date of something in your bibliographic data base, the change will occur in Mellel when you add a new citation (or delete and re-enter the previous one).  
  • Reply 10 of 11
    Your comment "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." irritated me as it does when I read similar comments based on trivia.
    Have a thought for those whose eyesight is not what it used to be. Most apps these days have icons that are TOO SMALL ; and what is wrong with "basic" icons. It is the code lying behind the icon that is important, not how pretty or sophisticated the icon appears on the user interface. Please stop judging applications on their icons.
    IanPhilipp
  • Reply 11 of 11
    Hey there! I am very curious about Mellel as I have seven computers in my household and almost all of them use one MS Word version or other (all legal) and I simply do not want to buy an eighth one for my new Apple. However, trying out the program, I am slightly disappointed as it does not seem to be able to process texts that are set in a table with just one row and two columns that goes over several pages. I need this sort of text depiction to produce special scientific paragraph-by-paragraph translations. Is there a trick that helps me to get Mellel to display the multi-page table properly or is it just not made for such a purpose? Cheerio
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