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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.