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One of the many problems trying to actually GET anything done online these days is the multitude of distractions that are available on the internet. Short of unplugging your network connection, there are a few things the undisciplined can do to minimize the sites calling your name.

Over the past few years a new breed of text editors have flourished – so called ‘minimalist’ text editors – which can be used to block out all other distractions and let you focus on the task at hand – crafting words into sentences. These “no-frills editors” don’t offer formatting or many of the other features you see in modern word processors, what they offer is the ability to concentrate solely on your writing.

For the purposes of this article, we are limiting our minimalist text editors to Windows programs, and also a constraint is that they must do full screen with no other programs present. If the second parameter does not bother you as much, please continue on to the bottom of this article to see some other recommended editors.

Darkroom

Darkroom is a clone of Writeroom for Mac. Nothing like Writeroom (for OSX) existed for the Windows platform, so the author wrote it using the .NET framework.

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When you open Darkroom, you will see what we mean when we say “minimalist text editors”. The application presents you with a full black screen, a green cursor, and a few up/down arrows.

Features are pretty sparse, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. Ctrl-S gets you a save menu, and there are several other keyboard shortcuts. If you unmaximize the program, it allows you to see a menu with a few other options – such as statistics on the text you wrote (number of characters and words).

jDarkRoom

jDarkRoom is a java clone of Darkroom. However the similarity begins and ends with black screen and green text. jDarkRoom has many more features, and a full list of them is available from the Help menu (F3). Mark actually did a writeup on jDarkRoom Eliminate Writing Distractions with JDarkRoom Eliminate Writing Distractions with JDarkRoom Read More already so you should look there for an in depth review.

The features I think are very handy: automatic saving of your file, ability to change the color and size of text and the ability to search text are all nice.

Also since jDarkRoom is written in Java it is a cross platform product that works great on many other operating systems.

Word 5.5 for DOS
Surprised to see this one on the list? So am I. What is old is new again!

Microsoft patched Word 5.5 for the Y2K bug and decided to release it for free instead of trying to sell it again (and really, who would buy it?) Well, what do you know, some writers still use this program to write their books. It has a simple layout and takes up the whole screen. All of the options are there to help you write. Although the formatting options may be a distraction, you can easily forgo them if you choose.

The kick ass thing about Word 5.5 is that it also includes a spell check and thesaurus. This can really help out those budding writers in a pinch. There are some fancier options for footnotes, head notes and the like, but I don’t believe most web writers will use these. For the intrepid, there are also macros – so if there is a process that you find yourself repeatedly doing you can really cut out some time.

The default blue, gray and teal color scheme is ugly (think DOS in 1990 or so) but this is totally customizable through the options. Also, in case you are wondering, your mouse does work to open the menus and place the cursor, so using it is not a keyboard-only affair.

q10
If DarkRoom and WriteRoom would have a big brother, his name would be q10. q10 offers the same dark screen and minimalist functionality of the other writers, while adding handy features which do not distract from your task at hand.

The colors are totally adjustable and by default there is a bar at the bottom which uses very dark text to blend into the background. This bar displays the file name, a count of words, pages and characters, the file name and a clock. There is also audio feedback which I did find a bit annoying but it is possible to turn this off.

Using Ctrl-P brings up a menu with all of the available options. This menu is much more user-friendly than Darkroom or jDarkRoom and lets you tweak just about any setting in the program.

Some features I really like in q10:

  • Auto saving based on time or paragraphs written,
  • Built in spell checking, auto correction and ‘quick text’,
  • Setting a word ‘target’,
  • Setting an alarm for X minutes and
  • A find/replace system.

Summary
Of all of the above programs, I found q10 to be the ‘most qualified’ to take over my writing tasks. In fact, I wrote this article using q10 and it really helped me reduce the time it took to write it. Depending on your needs, you might find any one of the above better suited for your task, so make sure to try them all.

Other Text Editors
There are some other popular text editors for writers. Of course, one of the most simple ones is Notepad, which comes with Windows. A step up from that is a Notepad replacement. There are a plethora of them, some of my favorites are PSPad and Textpad. See here for a pretty comprehensive list.

There is also the school of thought that favors vi or emacs. These programs, while not easy to pick up for a beginner, can also be very powerful especially if you learn the special keyboard shortcuts or are able to create regular expressions to manipulate the text. They aren’t for the timid but give it a shot if you are interested.

Do you have a favorite text editor that I have left out? Please let me know in the comments so our other readers might benefit from your knowledge!

  1. zaine_ridling
    January 18, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    The Kate Text Editor for KDE/Linux is pretty fantastic, although KWrite is no slouch. Both are modular apps that allow innumerable add-ons.

  2. Brent
    December 16, 2009 at 4:29 am

    WARNING!

    Error upon install with the executables, the exe file in the zips didn't work, the q10@baara.com address isn't valid, and one of the links to support doesn't work.

    I guess I got what I paid for...

  3. KayHMK
    February 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    I have to say, Q10 is the best there is. The sound feedback is absolutely brilliant. The only feature I'd like to add would be bolding (for headlines) but I really should learn to live without.
    I've written love poems for it, that's how seriously good I find the product.

    For my coding needs I use PSPad which is terribly good also, in a slightly different way. A bit overwhelming at times, but when tweaked to personal tastes, great.

  4. ZeGringo
    September 4, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I'm a big fan of Notepad2 when reading some NFO, TXT, ME files, but when it comes to writing some blog post, or homework, i do use Q10

  5. Find Articles
    May 24, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I used to be a fan of Darkroom. However, my growing need for a number of text editing features led to learn to love Google Docs more.

  6. marco
    May 21, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Man, you missed the *** greatest *** text editor in the world:

    PICO - The (Al)pine editor.

    <a href="http://img519.imageshack.us/img519/171/uwpicodc4.jpg"Here is a screenshot.

  7. Alek Davis
    May 10, 2008 at 2:03 am

    Thank you for mentioning Q10. I've been looking for something like this for a long time. It looks like a keeper.

  8. Peter Donohoe
    May 9, 2008 at 12:18 am

    I am a big fan of Text Pad, http://www.textpad.com give it a try.

  9. curts
    May 8, 2008 at 10:02 am

    This is a bit old-school, but throughout the '90s I continued to use Wordstar 3.3 in a CP/M emulator for DOS for my serious writing. Same principle, just older tech. Interesting to see this idea making a comeback.

  10. Visweshwar
    May 7, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    hmmm.. guys you've forgotten editplus a much better alternative to textpad

  11. John
    May 7, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    thank you for the cool apps!

  12. Mackenzie
    May 7, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    vim! It's vi improved :D Nice commands like ci", syntax highlighting, and the ability to backspace over stuff left of where you entered insert mode make it a big improvement.

  13. Alexander Rich-Shea
    May 7, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I don't understand why you would use any of these options is you have Microsoft word. All of these features can be accessed using word, because you can change the font color and background color to you liking, and you can also use the fullscreen option to block out all other programs. This means that you get minimalist but can still use all the advance features you want when you're done being zen.

    • Aibek
      May 7, 2008 at 10:43 pm

      The idea behind these apps is to provide featureless and distraction free interface. When it comes to Word, some people tend to spend considerable amount of time playing around with the look of the page.

    • Mackenzie
      May 11, 2008 at 10:31 pm

      How about because if you code in Word you'll get those damned "smart quotes" which 1) aren't even at the proper code point (Microsoft just made one up for them) and 2) make compilers freak out?

      These are text editors, not word processors. There is a huge difference. Text editors are for plain text files which anyone can open. Word processors have formats which can't be opened in everything under the sun. And if I wanted a word processor, I'd use OpenOffice.org. But I'm not stupid enough to code in a word processor.

      I do most documents (as in, things which need formatting) using vim and LaTeX anyway though. I love LaTeX. It has wonderful typesetting algorithms, which makes sense since the God of Algorithms (aka Donald Knuth) made it. If it doesn't need formatting, why use a word processor? That just adds overhead. Word processors use a lot more memory than any of these, and they create HUGE files. In a plain text file, only there are only as many bits encoded as you need for the characters in the file. A word processor includes unnecessary information such as what program generated the file, the name, address, etc. of the author, and a lot of formatting info that you just don't need. In Microsoft Word's case, your computer's MAC address is even stored.

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