Get Some Work Done: The Best Writing Environments for Mac OS X
When tackling writing projects, you need the best writing environment possible to get the job done.
Fortunately for Mac users, there’s no shortage of writing tools available for long and short form writing projects. A good writing environment provides cross-platform access, collaboration features, and multi-format support. In addition, you may want to use a program that can assist you with all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming, drafting, to final edit.
For long form writing projects, such as manuals, research papers, and books, I prefer to work in Literature and Latte’s Scrivener ($45). It provides a format for managing research, outlining content, and drafting and exporting documents. This is a writing environment that makes it relatively easy to setup and manage chapters and sections of a writing project, allowing you to skip around and work on various sections of your document. It also provides an excellent distraction-free writing environment .
Scrivener allows you to categorise your writing, notes, webpages and media files under a system of folders and subfolders. All content is kept packaged in a project file where it can be saved on your Mac or a cloud service, such as Dropbox and Google Docs. There’s no iOS version of Scrivener, but it does include features for exporting and syncing drafts to iOS word pressing apps.
Scrivener supports exporting documents to all major platforms, including Microsoft Word, and even the Kindle ebook format. Scrivener however is not a desktop publishing program like Word and Pages. It’s a popular application for writing writing novels, as well as plays and scripts, and non-fiction projects. We have previously published an article about advanced techniques for using Scrivener , in addition to our free PDF beginner’s manual, Your Guide to Scrivener .
Pages ($20, free with new Macs)
Apple’s classic iWork Pages ($19.99) program is billed as both a word processor and desktop publishing layout software. It can easily handle simple reports, resumés, newsletters, fliers, and even entire book manuscripts.
Pages is not cluttered with lots of buttons in the toolbar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with features. The latest current version (5.5) displays tools according to a selected element in a document. For instance, when text is selected, the font, body, and alignment tools are appear in the sidebar. Likewise, when an image element is selected, the image adjustment, and object arrangement tools appear. Though this approach means the tool sidebar is no longer floating off to the side as in previous versions of the application, it does reduce redundant mouse clicks in order to get the appropriate tools.
Advance features include 2D and 3D chart templates, tools for creating footnotes and endnotes, and tracking changes made to a document. Pages automatically saves previous versions of a document which allows users to revert back to or copy from previous drafts. Pages documents can be exported to PDF, Word, and even ePub for ebook publication. The online and iOS versions of Pages (previous version reviewed here ) mirror the features of the desktop client, providing nearly seamless workflow and collaboration between writing environments.
Unfortunately there are a group of older users who are still waiting for Apple to add features they removed from previous versions of Pages, and the App Store reviews very much reflect this. Regardless, Pages is still simple and user-friendly word processor for newcomers.
Microsoft Word ($140 as part of Office for Mac 2011)
For good or bad, Microsoft Word 2011 ($139.99 for the Home Edition) is still the industry standard for writing platforms. The Word version for Mac probably has the fullest range of feature and tools for both writing and desktop publishing, though compared to Pages, Word may appear cluttered and somewhat challenging to use.
Like it or not, Word is still widely used on both the Mac and PC. It includes a wide range of document templates — from newsletters and brochures, to reports and resumé layouts. The application’s toolbar includes text formatting tools, dozens of data and table formats, and SmartArt graphical templates for inserting various types of 3D charts that pull data from PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheets and Outlook mail. Word also supports Pages documents, if you need or want to work in both environments.
As with Pages, the online and the recently released free iOS versions of Word make it a cross-platform program for writing collaboration and writing in different environments. Unlike with Pages, Microsoft’s online version of Word and its other office suite of applications require a monthly subscription, whereas the iWork suite is available to anyone with an iCloud account.
If you’re looking for a free writing environment that includes many of the features found in Pages and Word, LibreOffice is worth a download. While its user interface is somewhat dated, and is not as attractive as Pages, it is a cross-platform application that includes tools for formatting text, spell checking, inserting images and tables, and creating footnotes. Writer documents can also be exported to PDF and HTML, and it supports Office and Lotus 123 formats.
However, Writer does not track changes made to a document, and it doesn’t have a corresponding online or iOS client. The program also doesn’t include templates for various types of documents, but a basic set of templates can be downloaded and installed. It might not be the most robust writing environment, but it gets the job done.
Note: You might be scratching your head when considering the differences between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, but generally speaking LibreOffice is making some of the best progress in terms of innovation and code optimization – but you be the judge!
Soulmen’s Ulysses III is advertised as “a smooth writing experience” – and that certainly could be the case for many users. Ulysses is a clutter-free writing environment that also provides tools for managing multiple writing projects. It’s not a desktop publication program, but it includes support for Markdown . An iOS version of Ulysses will be released soon, and documents can also be synced with the iOS app, Daedalus Touch.
Ulysses provides a distraction-free writing platform that includes a typewriter scrolling feature in which the current line of typing stays positioned at the selected top, middle, or bottom of the document. Its two left panels can be hidden, and the software supports full screen mode typing. With Ulysses, documents are not saved in the Finder, but instead they are kept together in a library, organized by writing projects and individual “sheets.” The Ulysses library can be saved to iCloud, Dropbox, or anywhere in your Mac Finder.
For text and header formatting, Ulysses includes a handy sidebar of Markdown attributes for applying to selected text. It also keeps track of writing related stats, including character and word count, and supports export to PDF, Word, RTF, TXT, and ePub.
The note-taking and Markdown Mac client, Write ($9.99), is similar to Ulysses, but it allows for managing and syncing documents and folders in multiple locations, including iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Documents and notes can also be tagged and starred, and there’s support for Markdown.
Write includes typewriter mode, as well an option for fullscreen distraction-free writing. Notes or documents can be share shared directly from Write to email, AirDrop, Messages, Twitter and Facebook, and there is support for HTML preview. And as you might expect, there’s also an iOS version of Write that can either sync through iCloud or Dropbox. Check out a 7-day trial version of Write to see if it fits your needs.
If you’re managing various blogs, the long established blogging editor MarsEdit ($39.99) provides support for WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad, Movable Type, and several other programs. I use MarsEdit for drafting most of my articles for this very website, mainly because its features are faster for embedding URL links, images, and header formats.
MarsEdit provides options for typing in WYSIWYG mode, as well as HTML and Markdown editors . You can manage and edit uploaded blog posts from within MarsEdit, and if for some reason the application crashes, your current draft is automatically saved.
Plenty of Options
There’s hardly no shortage of writing environments for the Mac. Others include the blogging apps, Drafts, and Blogo 2 (reviewed here ), my favorite journal writing app, Day One , and iBooks Author for ePub publications . Each of these applications offer unique features for particular writing and collaboration needs.
Let us know what you think of these writing platforms and which ones you prefer.