Thu 01 Jun
Here’s an update on Blockwriter, my concept for a text editor that’s as reductive and productive as a typewriter. After a fair amount of reader interest, I was disappointed to find that no Cocoa developers actually stepped up to claim the idea and run with it. Of course, it’s presumptuous of me to assume that any idea I throw out there will ignite a flurry of developer activity, but still, you can’t blame me for hoping a similar application would magically appear on Version Tracker one day.
Then I got a note from David Goodman, a MetaFilter reader who liked the idea enough to post it to Ask MetaFilter, in the hopes that someone could point him to a similar product for Windows. A respondent to that post, apparently, decided to take up the challenge and, according to David, has begun to code a prototype in Python.
Which is great news, but as a Macintosh user, what I really wanted was a slick, beautiful Cocoa application, something completely native to the Mac. Then I got an email from Jesse Grosjean, proprietor of Hog Bay Software. Jesse was responsible for Hog Bay Notebook and its successor, Mori — both excellent examples of reductive, elegant and distinctly Macintoshian applications (full disclosure: I designed an earlier version of his Web site).
As it turns out, Jesse has been working on a Mac OS X application he’s currently calling WriteRoom which uses ideas very similar to Blockwriter: it’s a simple text editor that goes full screen. In many ways, it’s even more dramatic than Blockwriter in that all users see on the screen is text — no window chrome, no buttons or user interface widgets, no nothing.
This is great news, but at the moment, the best thing about WriteRoom is that it’s a real, working prototype. You can download it yourself and run it today. (if you have a Macintosh. You do have a Macintosh, don’t you?)
Of course, it’s still an incomplete work, so there are some shortcomings — not being able to actually save a document, for instance, is probably a show-stopper for serious usage. But if you give it a test run, you’ll very quickly get an idea of how compelling a single-tasking application can be: immediately after launching WriteRoom for the first time, I found it very comfortable to write within. In fact, the name that Jesse chose is very appropriate — the application does very much feel like being inside a room that’s dedicated exclusively to the practice of writing.
Unfortunately, WriteRoom doesn’t do some things that Blockwriter does — or would do, I should say, if it ever gets built. These are things that I personally would really like to see: network blocking, sound muting, application isolation, and, most importantly for me, forward-only, typewriter-style text entry. Of course, adding those features would turn it exactly into Blockwriter, which I’m not sure Jesse wants, anyway. In fact, Jesse is wondering aloud how much people really need those other features, and if just adding file saving to WriteRoom in its current state might be enough to qualify it for shipping status. After using it, I actually think it might be. I encourage readers here to head over to Jesse’s site, download WriteRoom, give it a try and give him some feedback on just how much more he should add, and, importantly for scrappy, independent software developers like Jesse, how much you’d pay for it.