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WrongRoom? The Scourge of the Full-Screen Text Editor

Software-engineering is very often a balancing act. We're constantly trying to add more features, while also trying to reduce overall complexity.

Nowhere is this more important than in a text editor.

Everybody has their text editor of choice — one which they stick by. There are legions of people who are very passionate about the subject.

There are plenty of text editors to choose from. Some are focused on providing a bazillion features, some focus on making it lightweight, and some just focus on making it easy to use.

There's so much variation — it's impossible to make a text editor that pleases everyone.

And that's the point. Your choice of text editor is a very personal affair — even if it's just Windows Notepad. What works for one person might not work for another.

A niche in text editors

Which brings us nicely to today's topic of discussion: full-screen text editors. "Distraction-free writing" that's been the scourge of power users and the dreamboat of novelists.

Their premise is simple. Offer a completely uncluttered interface for users who want to focus on just their text. WriteRoom started it all.

In a way, they remind me of another phenomena. Netbooks. Full-screen editors are to text editors what netbooks are to computers.

  • Full-screen editors are **intentionally primitive**. Just like netbooks, which sacrifice basic features for portability (like an optical drive).
  • Normal editors can do everything a full-screen editor can do. This is just like regular computers, which can do everything a netbook can.
  • There are loads around. WriteRoom, DarkRoom, JDarkRoom, DarkCopy, Q10, and many more. They all basically do the same thing. Much like netbooks, all having the same specs.

However, there are people who seem to hate them. Mark Pilgrim, in a 2007 article, has more.

"These programs aren't for serious writers at all. They're for the writer's equivalent of script kiddies - people who want to go to Starbucks and pick up chicks with their MacBooks and their iPods and their glowing full-screen text editors.

No doubt they will be wildly successful. Meanwhile, if you need me, I'll be in the corner writing my next book with a real text editor. I think it even has a full-screen mode."

What is he talking about? Perhaps he is more used to the traditional Text Editing Solution®.

What Mark Pilgrim has made abundantly clear is that: full-screen editors are an acquired taste.

Full-screen text editors: Useful? Maybe

It's not hard to see the appeal. Imagine an editor that just gets out of the way.

They hide all distractions (no Twitter, no Facebook, no Google!), and they're great for quickly firing up a text editor to take down some notes in class.

Okay, maybe they're not for everyone — just like a netbook.

Parting Note

Maybe you want the extra features. Maybe you want the extra power. Maybe you can deal with the extra distraction. Maybe you need every conceivable feature a text editor might need. Before you know it — we can end up looking like this:

As stated earlier, it's all a question of balance.

Over to you

Do you use a full-screen text editor? Did you ever use one? Do you like it? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Full disclosure: I did indeed use a full-screen editor to write this post.

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