Distraction-Free Writing

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I’m reasonably picky when it comes to word processors-slash-text editors; if anything, I’m looking for less features than most offer. I imagine Microsoft Word would be ideal were I trying to put together a presentation for an office meeting, but I really don’t need the pages of templates and options for tables and clipart when I’m just typing up a bog-standard article or blog entry, I don’t need eighteen pages of settings to tweak. Also, the computers I tend to be using aren’t usually on the cutting edge of technology; Word, and its open-source counterpart, OpenOffice, tend to require something capable of launching the Space Shuttle to run smoothly, eating up prodigious amounts of RAM to produce a two-page essay.

On the other hand, there’s a certain minimum level of functions I like to have. Spellcheck is essential, and I strongly prefer a live wordcount function of some kind. For these reasons, I find things like notepad and wordpad unusable just because they don’t offer anything like this. I’ve tried things like EMACS, and it may just be the way I’m used to other OSes, but the keyboard shortcuts and options are just non-intuitive for anyone who’s been using Windows-based software for years. When certain key combinations have lodged themselves into the muscle memory of your hands, it’s difficult to change to something wildly different.

A while ago, somebody wrote Writeroom, a full screen text editor that tried to give the writer as distraction-free an environment as possible; a blank screen with nothing but the words they type and the cursor. This, for someone like me who’s easily distracted by shiny things, is ideal. Unfortunately (as least as far as I’m concerned), Writeroom is only available on Apple systems, and the odds of me finding myself writing something on a Mac are about as likely as this article winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Writeroom has, however, spawned a lot of clones and copycats. Q10 I’ve used for some time, though it’s another example of a single-OS system, this time available only for Windows. Pyroom is a similar setup, though at the moment only available for *nix type OSes (their website promises faithfully that a Windows version is on the way). The only Writeroom-like I’ve seen that’s available for multiple platforms (If I’ve missed any, please leave a comment) is the one I’m using right now, is FocusWriter from Gott Code.

FocusWriter offers packages for Windows and Mac, and builds for half a dozen common Linux versions, as well as OS/2, should that still be your ‘thing’; the source code is also available if you want to build your own flavour.

I’ve been using FocusWriter on my Ubuntu laptop for a couple of weeks now, and it’s everything I wanted in a text editor for my poor old Psion Netbook; it’s fast, it’s pleasingly basic, while still having the features I need (word count, spellcheck), and ONLY those features. It allows me to get on with writing things with a minimum of fuss, and it ports flawlessly over to Windows if I feel like continuing something on the desktop PC. Indeed, by saving stuff in my dropbox folder, I might as well be using the same hard drive for both.

If you’re looking for something that offers extensive formatting and graphic options for a document, it’s probably not the sort of thing you’d like. If, however, you’re looking for something which will let you get a lot of words down one after another with a minimum of fuss and bother, I’d heartily recommend FocusWriter to you or anyone.


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