WriteRoom 3 Takes Back the Top Spot in Fullscreen Writing

We last reviewed WriteRoom way back in 2009. It is arguably the app that launched the fullscreen minimal text editor craze that seems at its height right now. In a time when text editing apps were becoming more and more bloated with features in order to stay competitive, WriteRoom was a breath of fresh air making a very convincing argument for what it called “distraction free writing.”

WriteRoom recently hit version 3.0, and we think this major overhaul makes it the perfect time to take a fresh look. If you haven’t seen this app in a while, you’ll want to check it out!

Simple Text Editing Gets Even Simpler

WriteRoom 3 isn’t so much about new features as it is the complete restructuring of how the app works. The thing that has always really set WriteRoom apart from the competition for me was that, despite its simple exterior, it is loaded with power.

“The thing that has always really set WriteRoom apart from the competition for me was that, despite its simple exterior, it is loaded with power.”


Unlike other minimal text editors, WriteRoom has always possessed a ton of customization options and features. The preferences allow you to tweak almost every little piece of the editor so you can truly make it your own.

For instance, many users, myself included, were drawn to the app for its full screen mode but quickly found that the glowing green terminal text on a dark background wasn’t the easiest combination for your eyes to stare at for hours on end. This didn’t matter much though as you could completely customize the color scheme to your own tastes.

However, this power came at a price. The preferences menu was quite complicated and contained several tabs loaded with various options. It all made perfect sense but could be intimidating to newcomers. WriteRoom 3 has done a fantastic job of reworking all of these options so dramatically that it has done away with the preferences window completely. I was skeptical of this at first but after a couple of weeks with the new system, I’m embracing the improvement. Let’s see how it all looks.

Roaring with Lion

Before we launch into the structural changes, it should definitely be noted that WriteRoom has embraced the Lion style of application building. It was years ahead of the game on things like disappearing scroll bars, autosave and full screen mode but it has overhauled these features to the familiar format that we’re seeing on all new apps (Versions support is present as well).

screenshot

WriteRoom 3 is 100% Lion Ready

As you can see in the screenshot above, it picks up the slick borderless window style of Lion and sports a new theme that seems to take a nod from iA Writer, a similar competing app that has always had a much more friendly default theme. Speaking of themes, let’s take a look at how WriteRoom has improved this system.

Themes

My favorite new feature in WriteRoom is the overhauled theming system. It’s always been the case that you could customize WriteRoom’s appearance, but once you got it set there was no easy way to save alternate styles. You simply built a single theme and stuck with it.

The new system allows you to quickly and easily switch between different themes via keyboard shortcuts or a menu command.

screenshot

Switch between different visual themes

A few prebuilt themes are included (crazy terminal green is no longer the default) and the app allows you to automatically alter a theme depending on whether its in windowed mode or full screen mode. For instance, the default light theme is shown in the first screenshot above but as soon as you enter fullscreen mode it changes to a dark theme.

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The default fullscreen theme

I still prefer a light theme when editing in fullscreen but that’s the beauty of WriteRoom, I’m free to make it look however I want by creating my own themes.

Creating and Editing Themes

Choosing to edit or create a new theme brings up the window below. Here you can add sounds to various actions, customize the colors, you can even choose to use a background image like in Ommwriter.

screenshot

Creating or editing a theme

Other Options

So what happened to all that stuff that used to be in the preferences window? It’s been rearranged, trimmed down and placed into the menu options at the top of the screen. For instance, the “View” menu now contains options such as which insertion point to use, line highlighting, etc.

screenshot

The expanded View menu

Similarly, if you want to change the text associated with a given theme, you now look under the “Format” menu. Here you can choose a font, adjust your line height, etc.

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The new Format menu

Sessions

For those who like to track their work, WriteRoom goes beyond Versions and introduces a feature called “Sessions,” which can optionally record specific data about a given document that you’ve been working on.

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An example Sessions file

Sessions records your writing session start and stop times in addition to other relevant information and throws it all into a CSV file that you can open in Excel, Numbers or any other spreadsheet app.

My Thoughts on Version 3

These days fullscreen writing apps are a dime a dozen. Apps like WriteRoom laid the groundwork for a very successful genre and others quickly jumped on board. Some of these apps, like iA Writer, quickly raised the bar for excellence and have only served to improve this market through healthy competition.

Through all this, WriteRoom has remained my standard writing app. It has a prominent position in my dock and is indeed where I spend most of my week. I love this app. As I mentioned above, I was hesitant to accept all of the new changes but I quickly saw that the new options system is far better and has actually made WriteRoom much simpler to use.

No matter what you’re looking for in a fullscreen writing app, chances are WriteRoom has it. Rich text, plain text, custom themes, word count, reading time estimation, spelling and grammar, current line highlighting, full screen and windowed modes, Versions, Sessions, autosave; it does it all with seamless finesse. It manages this while walking that perfect balance between simplicity and power that sets it apart from the rest.

However, it isn’t perfect. The most prominent exclusion happens to be an area where iA Writer shines: Markdown. There is currently no Markdown support in WriteRoom and from what I can tell we shouldn’t expect it any time soon. If this is a deal breaker for you, WriteRoom isn’t your app.

If however, you’re not a Markdown user, WriteRoom is priced at $9.99, right in line with competing apps while outperforming them in power and versatility. Version three has restored WriteRoom to its place as a clear market leader.


Summary

The latest version WriteRoom has been rethought to be more user friendly than ever while still maintaining its powerful feature base. WriteRoom 3 is fully Lion compatible and makes use of OS X style Versions, autosave and fullscreen editing.

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  • Sandy C.

    Why do people even bother with this kind of so called minimalist text editor when TextEdit does just fine for “simple text editing?” You call it “simple text editing” but there is nothing simple and minimalistic about this app when you think about some bells and whistles this app seems to offer. In fact I think it should be called “half-assed app” in the name of minimalism. It’s got more features than TextEdit, then it doesn’t have enough feature to be a full featured word processor.

    Every time I see this type of app I can’t help realizing how minimalists completely miss the point. They despise “bloated apps” yet they keep adding incomplete sets of features. They are admitting that it’s not quite as simplistic as saying “less is better” and they keep showing me they want more, just in a different way.

    Complexity is bad only because it’s confusing. Having more features can sometimes simplify things. I can see WriteRoom will eventually be just as feature-rich and complex as other apps minimalists despise and completely defeat the original intention.

    Besides, I can’t believe someone hasn’t thought of simply hitting Command + Option + H and change Desktop Background to plain color to remove distraction. I even wonder if WriteRoom obsession itself is more distracting than MS Word.

    • foljs

      Why do people even bother with this kind of so called minimalist text editor when TextEdit does just fine for “simple text editing?”

      Because it’s not about “simple text editing”. A minimalist text editor makes a better job of being invisible and focusing on writing.

      You call it “simple text editing” but there is nothing simple and minimalistic about this app when you think about some bells and whistles this app seems to offer.

      Which you *don’t* have to use. Or that you can set up and forget.

      If it was lacking those (say it only offered one background color and font choice) it would be unbearable for some, despite them liking everything else about the app.

  • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

    I personally never could get used to using older versions of WriteRoom, but am so glad I got it in a bundle this summer now that v.3 came out. It’s seriously great stuff. I’m still stuck on iA Writer for its Markdown support. But for plain writing without Markdown, or for a darker interface, this is really nice.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Yeah, iA Writer has some of the nicest Markdown support I’ve seen anywhere.

      • http://fnurl.se fnurl

        I used iA Writer as my primary Markdown editor for a while, but have now switched over to Byword. First Byword looked like a not so well executed clone of iA Writer, but with recent updates, it has moved beyond iA Writer in terms of Markdown support. I outlined some details here: http://fnurl.se/the-battle-of-the-markdown-enabled-typographi

  • Sandy C.

    Markdown is stupid. Why learn yet another subset of code when you can just write HTML code in the first place or use WYSWYG HTML editor to type normal text and let the editor generate HTML code for you. Oh yeah, that’s right, you hand-code minimalism purists would loathe that idea but then you are just a bunch of hypocrites because otherwise you would be hand-coding Markdown in TextEdit without any of those helper apps.

    See, you want more features. Simplicity is NOT the answer.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Always nice to see passionate readers :)

    • Matt Henderson

      Dearest Sandy,

      Markdown is a simple, human-friendly markup language — it looks good when styled, but also looks fine natively. That’s why people far brighter than you invented it, and why people far brighter than you use it.

      Cheers. :-)

    • foljs

      Markdown is stupid. Why learn yet another subset of code when you can just write HTML code in the first place or use WYSWYG HTML editor to type normal text and let the editor generate HTML code for you.

      Because:

      1) I don’t want to write HTML. Markdown requires less characters to active the same task. Like 9 compared to 1:

      #foo = foo

      Plus, HTML adds visual noise with all those tags.

      2) Because HTML WYSYWIG editors are crap.

      3) Who said I want HTML output anyway? Markdown is based on the standard plain text formatting used since the early UNIX days. In most cases I just want to publish and exchange that.

      Oh yeah, that’s right, you hand-code minimalism purists would loathe that idea but then you are just a bunch of hypocrites because otherwise you would be hand-coding Markdown in TextEdit without any of those helper apps.

      Did some minimalist took a piss on your cornflakes or something?

      I don’t want to hand-code Markdown in TextEdit. I want a tool SPECIFICALLY MADE for this task, that helps me focus with stuff like the “focus” mode, typewriter scrolling, etc. Oh, and I would like it to be beautiful, unlike the ugly beast that TextEdit is.

      See, you want more features. Simplicity is NOT the answer.

      Whatever rocks your boat. For me simplicity *is* the answer, and I don’t want “more features”, I just want the features that help me do what I want to do. For example, I don’t even care that iA Writer doesn’t have Rich Text support, because I don’t need it.

      End of story.

    • http://chipotle.tumblr.com/ Watts

      If I’m writing a 1000-word article for a weblog, I probably don’t *want* to type all those HTML tags. If I’m writing a 5000+ word story that may end up being translated into other formats, this becomes even more important. I’d rather write in Markdown and get clean HTML and RTF out of that than write in TextEdit and get clean RTF but crap-laden HTML.

      In fact, even if I’m writing just several hundred words for a web page, writing them in Markdown and then converting them to HTML by selecting them and running a menu command in BBEdit is going to be faster. It’s not about “simplicity,” it’s about efficiency. For many–not all, but many–tasks, writing in Markdown is more efficient than writing in HTML.

      Having said that, I really do wonder why it bothers you so much that some people think it’s worth spending $10 on apps like WriteRoom, Byword, or MultiMarkdown Composer. It’s not like we’re forcing *you* to do it, and if TextEdit really meets all your needs, fantastic! You’ve saved $10 you can spend at the casual dining establishment of your choice.

    • http://www.danscribing.com Dan

      You clearly do not understand Markdown or many of the people who use it. Markdown is terribly simple to learn, allows me to easily read my text without having to navigate messy code, and it lets me write without thinking about formatting or coding. Whether I am writing a blog post, a short story, or a novel, I can use Markdown in an IOS app, in ByWord, and then in Scrivener. From the very first spark of an idea to the finished product I can easily insert simple formatting without thinking about it, without grabbing the mouse, and without messing up my text.

      Markdown allows me to be far more efficient, and it gives me all the formatting tools I need while staying almost completely out of the way. With the best editors it only takes one or two clicks to turn my Markdown into HTML or any number of other formats.

      Personally, I cannot imagine why the author here would suggest that WriteRoom has taken back the top spot. The truth of the matter is that it is excellent for some people and fatally lacking for others. I love so much about it, but until it has Markdown built in, it’s not even an option for me or for almost all of my friends who use such apps. I wish they would add Markdown. I would love to use this on IOS and Mac, combined with nvALT and Scrivener, but not yet. : (

  • Don Parr

    Thanks for the great article, Joshua! Targeted @ those having made what I consider to be less than positive comments re: WriteRoom. I’d like to share a quote, from a long time ago, that’s just as relevant today as the day it was made, “What we have to do is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions.” – Walter Pater, 1873; English critic & essayist (1839 – 1894).

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Thanks Don, great quote! There’s just something about writing in a simple, no fluff full screen mode that really helps me focus on the task at hand. It’s definitely not for everyone but I appreciate those developers who see this need and spend their time “courting new impressions.”

  • http://dlscott.info Dave

    Thanks for the article; I’m a new WriteRoom user and very pleased. I am a writer and blogger and I have many choices of what tool to use. One of the best being Scrivener. But WriteRoom has a definite place in my toolbox and seems to be a great app. Plus I really enjoy seeing individuals take an idea and make it happen with excellence. Your article is a very helpful overview. For $9.99 it was a welcome addition for my creative endeavors.

  • http://kindlecovershq.com/ Derek Jones

    It seems that the Writeroom developer has finally realized that he actually has a competition!
    WR has always been totally overpriced, but now it seems that the price has been lowered to match the competition. Same with functions of the software.
    The truth is though that with IA Writer and others, WR has lost its battle a long time ago.
    One can only hope that the developer does something with his other program, Taskpaper before it meets the same end.

  • Mike

    Another alternative for poor student like me is FocusWriter. They have theme feature way before writeroom have it lol.

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