Migrating from Nisus to Scrivener?

I would love to get advice from your collective experience and wisdom. I have used Nisus for many years and have hundreds of files in Nisus (rtf) . However, I am spending most of my time now on my iPad and it looks like Nisus for iOS is not in the works.

I am thinking of living without Nisus on my computer. For files to be created in the future the problem may be solved, for example, by starting to write all my new notes in an app that exists and syncs on both platforms (macOS and iOS), like Scrivener.

But what I would really like and need to be able to do is find a method / apps that would allow me a safe, easy and automatic round trip between my old but still important and often used Nisus rtf files on the computer (in the Dropbox folder) and on the iPad. By roundtrip I mean the ability to view, edit, save and sync a file both ways, from iPad to computer and from computer to iPad, regardless of which device I happen to be using to view / edit / save a file.

Any recommendations, tips, ideas for such an app or for some method to achieve this goal? I would prefer not to have to re-save hundreds of Nisus files into another format (txt? html?) or move them into new folders. Would batch importing a few dozen Nisus files into a new blank Scrivener project work? Any problems with it that I cannot foresee?

TIA for any advice.

Welcome Dee,

Nisus and Scrivener are perfect partners, not least because they both use .rtf as their native file format, and, as it happens both are based on the Apple text engine. So all you would have to do to get your Nisus files into Scrivener is just import them or drag and drop them.

I’ve been using Nisus Writer—now the Pro version—since it was first launched somewhere around 2002, I think, and Scrivener from the public beta just before it was launched as a paid-for app in 2007; I wouldn’t want to use any other combination of programs.

That said, do be aware that Nisus have modified the Apple text engine to give it many more capabilities than KB has for Scrivener—styles is a case in point, though a style system is coming with Scrivener 3 which we are all hoping will be available in the nearish future, and Nisus tables are much more capable than tables in Scrivener—while Scrivener has a mort of capabilities that Nisus doesn’t have. NWP is a word-processor which can approximate the page layout; Scrivener is concerned with creating the text, not how it looks on the page, but the compiled output can come close.

Do not remove Nisus from your computer—I can’t imagine why you are thinking of doing that!—as, depending on what you intend your final document for, you may well need to open it in Nisus to ‘tidy it up’ in terms of page layout; even with the forthcoming styles system, I will still open all my documents in NWP to check them before sending them on, but YMMV.

The most important things are: (1) download and install Scrivener; (2) don’t rush to buy it, as you have 30 days of actual use trial not calendar days, that’s 30 days on which you open the program, so if you go away for a couple of weeks or are insanely busy it doesn’t eat into your trial period; (3) before you do anything else, do the tutorial which you find under the help menu or on the opening screen. Scrivener is not a word-processor within the normal meaning of that term. It is amazingly powerful and it differs in many ways from a w-p like Nisus, so do the tutorial to learn how Scrivener works. There will be parts of it that you will perhaps think, “I don’t need to know this/do this!”, but then NWP has a lot of features that I, for one have never used in all these years.

Then, if you decide that Scrivener is for you, and only then, buy a licence. (How many licences have you bought for apps that you soon found didn’t help you do what you want? I’ve bought many in my time!)

As for the iOS version, bear in mind that, although brilliant, it too has inevitable differences in comparison with the desktop version and make sure you go through the tutorial and help files on that. If your needs are comparatively simple, you could start by installing the iOS version, learning to use that and export your documents as .rtf to open in Nisus without needing the desktop app at all, then if it’s all working for you, install the desktop version later if you need it. Importing and compiling—exporting—from iOS is slightly more complex, given the way iOS handles data, but shouldn’t be a problem. Also bear in mind the important question of potentially limited storage space on your iOS device … importing hundreds of megabytes of existing Nisus .rtf files might prove a problem.

I hope you enjoy Scrivener, as we all do. And if you find yourself at a loss, come back here as the forum is full of extremely knowledgeable and helpful people, and the support team are good too.



Dear Mark / Xiamenese,

Thank you so much for your long and very informative post! The issue is not to have Nisus on the computer or not, rather to find a setup that would allow the “round trips” between Nisus files on the computer and those same files on the iPad in some app – but which app?

Scrivener is one solution, probably the best at the moment, but still not an entirely perfect one. First, sync is not as automatic as I would like. Second, Scrivener thinks in projects and packages, complicating somewhat the process. And, as far as I can see, I cannot sync a Nisus file with its copy inside a Scrivener project. So, I have no choice but to abandon Nisus, at least for any files that I want to work on on both the computer and the iPad.

Ideally, I want an app on both platform with near identical feature sets, good for writing both short and long docs, with a tree-view binder / directory to structure my files, various customizable features, etc. This sounds a lot like Scrivener now, I know…

So the question remains: any downside to importing many Nisus files into one, or several, Scrivener projects? Unintended consequences? Unanticipated side effects? I don’t know what I don’t know… so I don’t even know what actual questions to ask… :slight_smile:

To clarify: the originals of the Nisus files imported into Scrivener will be “archived”, remain frozen, not to be used any more, and only their versions inside the Scrivener projects will be used, changed, edited, synced, etc., i.e., I will “live” in Scrivener and won’t need Nisus most of the time.


I think you are looking at this from the wrong angle. You talk about how to handle files and not about writing.

Scrivener is good at handling text but is essentially all about writing, not a file handler. Scrivener’s internal way of organising the text you work with, the file structure it creates for each project, is irrelevant. The strong points of Scrivener is how it enables you to work with your text, re-organise it, look at various parts together simultaneously, and keeping reference material together with the text in the project.

If you are looking primarily for a writing software which syncs invisibly and automatically between your Mac and iPad there are several alternatives, like Storyist and Ulysses, or simpler apps like Simplenote. But they are not Scrivener.

The only reason to use Scrivener is, in my opinion, because you want an extremely qualified “authoring” software. Nisus is essentially an alternative to Word, and neither of those two are really alternatives to Scrivener. They are completely different kinds of software.

So forget about apps for a moment, forget about what you have done in the past and focus on the future. What is you want to do? Write, or handle files/notes?

I think this plan will work fine. I’ve imported hundreds of documents that began in Nisus without issues. You’ll be locked into Scrivener for organization, but Scrivener is very robust in this respect. The only reason I’d think twice is if you have a lot of tables - Nisus isn’t especially good with them, but Scrivener is pretty awful.

Sorry about the excess verbiage. Scrivener imports Nisus files with no problems, other than tables—when I’ve been sent a document to edit that contains more than the simplest of tables, I’ve done it in NWP; and embedded images might be a problem, again I haven’t had to—because, as I said at the beginning, both use .rtf as their default format, so importing and exporting doesn’t involve file converters.

Round-tripping between Nisus and Scrivener is slightly more onerous, as it involves compiling and re-importing, and currently on (re-)import you won’t have the style system; v. 3 when it comes out should improve that though. I have a set up with a NWP macro which turns styling Scrivener compiles in NWP a click of the mouse or a keyboard shortcut. And the round-tripping process would best be done on the desktop. But if you do all your writing in Scrivener from now on, Mac Scrivener + iOS Scrivener is a great way to get writing with your iPad. Even iOS Scrivener on its own would work, though a little more difficult from the Importing into Scrivener side of things.

A thought that occurs to me regarding your archive side of things, if you have a lot of Nisus files to archive, you might be better off with a system like Devon Think (Pro?) which I believe integrates well with Scrivener, has an iOS app. But someone else will have to advise on that as I have no experience.


Thanks for the replies!


No “excess verbiage”! On the contrary! the longer the reply the more fun it is!

You say: “If your needs are comparatively simple, you could start by installing the iOS version, learning to use that and export your documents as .rtf to open in Nisus without needing the desktop app at all”. This could be an exciting solution but I am not sure I read you correctly. I don’t see how I can export a single file from Scrivener iOS to the Dropbox folder on my computer? Scrivener can sync only entire projects if I understand it correctly, or else “export” single files by “Send a copy” or “Open in…”, but in both cases the file appears to remain on the iPad (unless it is sent to another iOS app that can both keep the rtf format and is set up to automatically sync thru Dropbox, so that the updated file appears on the computer and can be opened by Nisus but what app can do that?).

When I say “archiving” I don’t mean anything fancy or technical, just simply leaving those older Nisus files on my computer, and not using or editing them any more. Even without Nisus the app on the computer, TextEdit can open Nisus documents, and a number of apps on iOS can display Nisus files from Dropbox and I can even copy text from them. So the issue is not accessibility to the contents of “inactive” Nisus files, it is the desire to seamlessly go from one “former” Nisus file to its iOS version and back.

I don’t want to give up on Nisus but I am forced to since it does not allow the round trips I need now and in the future. Creating new documents in Nisus and then struggle with editing and syncing them to the iPad is just too much trouble. I will miss Nisus for many of its useful features, including tables, but I just cannot see how it is worth the constant hassle syncing my documents between the iPad and the computer.

About DEVONthink Pro: what are its advantages versus the Finder? (other than searching in multiple files at once, I guess)


Thanks for the confirmation! Good to hear that you did not run into problems with importing Nisus files into Scrivener projects.

Scrivener seems to be an excellent solution now that it has an iOS version. It would essentially replace the Finder, all my active docs will be in Scrivener projects, instead of Finder folders.

What I don’t like too much is that I cannot see the files inside Scrivener without opening Scrivener, unlike in the Finder. And worry that one cannot have enough control over individual files within Scrivener?


Do I have to choose between writing and handling the files that contain my writing? I am not sure I can separate writing from “files”… yes, in theory it doesn’t matter, but in practice it does. The question is maintaining usability, keeping/transforming those Nisus files in such a way that I can edit them on the iPad and sync them back to computer - and vice versa.

It’s not really accurate to think of either Scrivener or DevonThink Pro as Finder replacements. If that’s all you want, why not just use the iOS Dropbox app with any old iOS editor?

DevonThink Pro is a scriptable full-text database, including best-in-class search, fuzzy search, and classification tools.

Scrivener is the best writing software available on any platform. (Yes, I work for them, but I thought this was true before I did.)

They are both very very good at what they do, but neither is really designed for round-tripping in and out in conjunction with something like Nisus.


I think we are talking about two different things, or at least looking at things from different viewpoints.

To me the software is unimportant. It’s the activity, what I want to do, that is important. That’s why I split the issue in the two alternatives “file handling” and “writing”. So maybe I should only have asked you: “Exactly what is it you want to accomplish?”

I re-read your initial post and I hope that you don’t mind my elaborating a bit…

As I understand it you have loads of rtf-files, in Dropbox, and you want to be able to edit them on your iPad. If that is all you want, I agree with Katherine. There are several acceptabel rtf-editors available on the App store, like Textilus and similar apps. Just get yourself a rtf-editor that can connect to Dropbox (most of them can) and you’re all done.

If “handling” your rtf-files is important, like searching, re-organising, copying, etc., then there is no really good app for iOS, because iOS simply isn’t designed for that. You can do some primitive file handling in e.g. the Dropbox app on the iPad, but it doesn’t come close to what you can do in Finder, or using a file handling data base like Devon Think, or Papers 3 (where I have all the pdf:s of my science library).

If writing is important, not just scribbling simple notes, but serious writing, authoring, working with complicated text creations like novels, non-fiction text-books, screenplays, etc., where handling the text is important (searching, re-organising, copying, testing different structures, etc), and you want to be able to do it on both desktop/laptop and iPad, then Scrivener is probably your best choice. It has tremendous power in handling the text within each project, but it is not designed for handling the projects themselves the way a file handler can do. Part of the reason for that is that a Scrivener project is not a file, like it is in Nisus or Word, but a folder with an unlimited number of files and sub-folders in it (although the top folder is called a ‘package’ in Apple language).

To me, softwares are just a means to accomplish something. So the question remains: “Exactly what is it you want to accomplish?”