Starting up a high-end word-processor like Office 365′s Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages is like stepping into a candy store. On display for you to enjoy are toolbars, ribbons, and dialogs offering dozens of tasty-looking formatting features that let you choose color-coordinated fonts for headings and text, set custom page margins and line spacing, create multiple columns, draw pictures, and other high-tech delights. In contrast, when you start up WriteRoom ($9.95, direct), the pioneering minimal word-processor for OS X, you get a window and nothing else. Pages and Word give you a lot more.
The whole point of WriteRoom is that it gives you less. If you’re a writer who wants to get well-written text on the page, and you don’t want to be distracted by options that have nothing to do with the actual words you’re writing, then less is more. The fewer visible options there are on screen, the more you can concentrate on your writing. WriteRoom makes concentrating easier than any other app I’ve tried.
When WriteRoom first arrived a few years ago, it was a surprise success in the Mac market. All other Mac apps were designed so that (as Steve Jobs said about the buttons in OS X) they looked so good “you’ll want to lick them.” WriteRoom, in contrast, made the Mac screen look like the text-only green-screen monochrome monitor that your parents bought for their PC in 1987. Compared to the programs that ran in that old green PC screen, WriteRoom has its many clever options hidden away. By default the latest version looks more like a piece of typing paper than a green-screen monitor, but it’s still the least distracting writing environment I’ve used on a modern computer.
In fact, I’m writing this review in WriteRoom, concentrating on typewriter-style text that appears on a plain gray full-screen background, and it’s a calming, Zen-like experience unlike anything else on a modern computer. I tested WriteRoom on a Mac; a separate version, which I haven’t tried, is available for iOS devices.
Writing in WriteRoom
By default, WriteRoom creates files either in a bare window with a gray background using a monospaced (typewriter-style) font. A keystroke lets you switch between windowed and full-screen mode. The windowed mode displays a current word-count in the title bar. Full-screen displays a word count unobtrusively in the lower-left corner, but (again by default) hides the count while you’re typing to avoid distraction.
You can customize the word count feature so that it displays any combination of line count, word count, character count, and the amount of time you’ve spent working on a document—or you can hide all these things. Other options let you turn on live spell-checking, grammar-correcting, and autocorrect. An option that’s useful if you need to keep track of the time you spent on any writing job is one that keeps a spreadsheet that records the editing time of each writing session.
You can change the whole appearance of the screen by switching among what WriteRoom calls Themes. Some of these are supplied with the app, others downloadable from the vendor’s site. Available themes include versions of the old green-screen (my favorite) and some silly themes that make the screen look like an ancient Commodore 128 or a piece of old linen. You can modify a theme merely by choosing a different screen font or by opening a customization menu. If you’re willing to find or create the needed sound files, you can even assign sounds that will play when you type a letter, delete something, or press Enter.
By default, WriteRoom creates plain text files—no italics, no bold, no headlines, just words, saved in the standard .TXT format that any text-based application can open. If you want to apply bold, or italic, or any other formatting, you can open the .TXT file in another word processor, or you can use WriteRoom’s option to convert your file to Rich-Text Format (RTF), which is readable by all word processors. In its RTF mode, WriteRoom can create tables and bulleted or numbered lists.
One minor annoyance is that if you want to convert an existing document from plain text to RTF format, WriteRoom creates a completely new, untitled RTF file containing the text of your original .TXT file and you have to save the new RTF file with a new name. I would have preferred this feature to work like Apple’s TextEdit, which replaces the TXT file with an RTF file so you don’t end up with two more separate documents as you do with WriteRoom (and, to be fair, with all other word-processing apps).
WriteRoom relies on the built-in powers of OS X to handle document formats. You can use WriteRoom to open Microsoft Word and other standard document files. An imported Word file will preserve basic formatting, and WriteRoom will edit it in RTF mode. Features like tables and lists are preserved, but not multiple columns. When I want to concentrate on the content of a Microsoft Word file, I sometimes open in it WriteRoom to get the job done.
With its barebones feature set, WriteRoom isn’t for everyone, but it’s an app that’s worth trying by every writer—and everyone in school or business whose writing would improve in a low-distraction environment. WriteRoom deserves its name: it provides room for writing that you can’t find anywhere else.
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|OS Compatibility||Mac OS|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc