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5 Simple Word-Processing Programs That May Work Better for You

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Remember the days of classic WordPerfect? In DOS? Does anyone remember DOS? Bueller? Bueller?

Both modern-day Microsoft Word and WordPerfect have a lot of fancy geegaws that you can distract yourself with when you have to write. Ooh, look! I can play with the fonts! Ooh, look! I can adjust the styles! With a deadline quickly approaching, it can be better to hearken back to the days where it was just you and the white-on-blue glow of the text.

So if you can't afford to waste time setting your margins just so, here are five "distraction-free" word-processing programs that eliminate the extra stuff you're tempted to play with:

1. OmmWriter.

This application supports Mac, Windows, and the iPad. There are no text formatting options: It's just you and a plain background. You can change the background color and have OmmWriter change the colors along with your music, which is kind of neat.

Pros: Supports Mac and Windows. Also your iPad, for when you are actually using it for work.

Cons: Not free (but it's "pay as much as you want" with an average donation of $7.)

2. iA Writer.

iA Writer is incredibly easy to use. It supports customizable keyboard extensions and there's absolutely no way to customize it. No fonts, no backgrounds, no nothing. iA Writer also supports Markdown, Jon Gruber's dead-simple implementation of simple HTML formatting.

Pros: Nothing to fiddle with; easy to use.

Cons: Mac or iPad only. It costs $5. Markdown isn't easy to import into Microsoft Word, though you can export your documents as RTFs or DOCs. If you don't like the beige color scheme, well ... too bad.

3. Writer.

Because Writer is a Web app, it's supported on Mac and Windows. By default, it's got the familiar green-on-black of the Good Old Days, but its simplicity belies a host of options, including printing, creating a PDF, and changing the color scheme. You can also turn on fun "typewriter" sounds. Upgrade to a Pro account to get a boatload more features, including Dropbox integration and offline support.

Pros: Some options, but not too many. Autosave and other advanced saving features (like making a PDF). Cross-platform.

Cons: No formatting options (e.g., no italic, no bold). Documents are stored with Writer (and you don't know anything about them). Possibly too many options, inviting unnecessary fiddling around.

4. WriteMonkey.

Like OmmWriter, WriteMonkey operates on the "zen" principle of absolute minimalism. There are no obstructions while you're writing -- but that doesn't mean the program doesn't have lots of options. You can play with the fonts and background colors as well as the line height, line width, and on and on. You can use it windowed or full screen (for minimum distraction).

Pros: Free! Again, lots of options.

Cons: Windows only. Options lead to fiddling.

5. The Command Line.

Why use a command line emulator like Writer when you have a real command line? Mac OS X is based on Unix, and as such, it has various Unix command-line text editors. Open up Terminal and type nano or vi to access a plain-Jane text editor.

Pros: It's free! Saves directly to your computer. No extra installation required; it's already there.

Cons: You need to know some basic Unix first. VI in particular has a learning curve. For Unix-based systems like Mac or Linux only (although if you have time to waste, you can install cygwin on Windows to get some Unix-like features).

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