FocusWriter and how I came to despise WriteRoomPosted: January 17, 2011
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of fullscreen editors. It wasn’t until I tried FocusWriter that I realized why.
That’s not a slight against FocusWriter – FocusWriter is a rarity among these sorts of editors in that it is not only fullscreen, it is full-featured. Straight out of the box, FocusWriter gives you a non-eye-bleedy color scheme – black on light gray – a spellchecker, rich text capabilities, and an easy interface to switch between documents. It is, hands-down, the best editor of its type I’ve seen and probably ever will see. I may even use it once in a while, which is the highest compliment I can give to a member of its species.
So why do I dislike other fullscreen editors so? It turns out FocusWriter answered my question for me, simply by being so damn good. Let me explain the navigation experience: generally, FW gives you nothing on the screen besides your text, earning it that “distraction-free” label. Move your mouse to the top, however, and you will find – honest-to-su – a menu and a customizable toolbar.
But that’s not all. Wander over to the right and you’ll see a scrollbar. Wow. You might think I’m being sarcastic with that wow, and I wish I were, but I’m not. I’ve experienced way too many fullscreen editors missing this simple navigation tool, forcing me to page up or down the whole length of my document to get anywhere. I think we can all agree this is, to use the software-engineering term, stupid.
Finally, a short trip to the bottom gives you stats (words, paragraphs, characters, and pages), a clock, how close you are to achieving your defined goal for the day (wordcount or time), plus tabs to switch between the documents you currently have open. And there you have it, folks – a distraction-free text editor you can actually use.
Using FocusWriter made me realize just how disgustingly unusable most other editors of its kind really are. And for this, I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of WriteRoom, one of the most popular editors of this sort for OS X. For just twenty-five dollars (say it with me: twenty! five! dollars!) you can purchase the most uncomfortable writing experience of your life. Every single useful option is buried under so many unnavigable menus that the extremely limited amount of customization allowed (color, font, plus a load of small tweaks) is hardly worth the effort. There are no toolbars, only one kind of statistic, and certainly no clock or other means of keeping track of time. Switching between documents is anything but intuitive, and a pain to do even once you’ve learned how to do so. It is a stiff, unyielding program, although I will admit that it does have a scrollbar.
Why mention an OS X app on a Linux blog? Because everything I’ve said applies to its imitators – and, usually, worse. WriteRoom has set an infuriating trend among fullscreen editors – minimalism to a fault. A word processor should bend to the will of the writer, not force them to just “deal with” what they’re given. I’ve had a more customizable experience writing on a typewriter.
In short, fullscreen editors are awful and take refuge in their own “minimalism” to dodge the fact that they have virtually no features whatsoever. FocusWriter is the exception, a perfect example that minimalistic doesn’t mean featureless. Please, “distraction-free writing software,” get your goddamn act together. Give us something that adds to the writing experience instead of crippling it.
In the meantime, use FocusWriter. It’s free and it works in Linux, Windows, and OS X. Oh, did I mention it’s themeable, too? Here’s a winter theme by FreedomSurfer1984 to get you started, and just so you know, it looks like he’s taking requests.
If you try FocusWriter and decide you like it, subscribe to this guy’s blog – he’s the developer. You can follow him on twitter too, if you prefer. He’s on vacation at the moment, but once he gets back to making an awesome program, I’m sure you’d want to know. I sure do.