Mac-Based Retro Writing Software

By: Firoj Khan


Having learned several painful lessons after introducing the bulky Macintosh Portable in 1989, Apple turned to industrial designers and adopted a product strategy based in three portable devices.

In Write Room’s default full-screen mode there are no menus, toolbars or ribbons; no extraneous windows inviting me to check e-mail, read RSS feeds, search the Web, rearrange my virtual desktop, or otherwise shirk the task at hand. There's nothing but green text, a black background and a cursor.Power-Book users enjoy fewer upgrade options than owners of desktop Macs, but you can still buy higher-capacity hard drives for many older models. You can also find CPU upgrades for relatively recent PowerBooks such as the 1400 and early G3 models.

Balancing Distraction and Interruption
My writing tool of choice will surely remain emacs, that faithful companion of two decades and counting. Thanks to Write Room’s built-in support for some of the basic emacs key bindings, I'm immediately productive with the program. As a result, I'm reminded yet again how cruelly oxymoronic the phrase "productivity software" can be.The paradox, of course, is that interruptions are vital, too. They are all required to be interrupt-driven in ways that vary according to the circumstances of our lives and our work. The trick is to find the right balance. Sadly, by inviting us to interrupt ourselves more than necessary, software tends to contribute more to the problem than to the solution.

With the emergence of the Web page as a preferred application style, the pendulum began swinging back toward simplicity. There were only a handful of core widgets to work with, but that constraint turned out to be profoundly liberating. The page refresh model was clunky, to be sure, but its minimalism made applications easy to create and easy to use.

Now with AJAX, the pendulum is swinging back again. As the new generation of so-called rich Internet clients arrives, let's be careful what kind of richness we wish for. We don't need Web recreations of the feature-bloated monsters that our office suites became. What we need instead, and what's starting to appear, is a breed of lightweight single-purpose Web applications for basic tasks: writing, communicating, spread sheeting, charting.

As the reaction to Write Room proves, there is enormous pent-up demand for applications that do one thing well. When the platform for those applications is the service-oriented Web, the office suite can be reinvented as a loosely coupled set of communicating parts. The individual parts can and will grow richer over time, but the new software ecosystem happily lacks the perverse incentives that created the baroque monoliths we're abandoning.Consider the effects of the graphical user interface. At hospital admitting desks, in accountants' offices, and at video retail stores, I watch people perform tasks for which the desktop metaphor -- with its cluttered surface and overlapping resizable windows -- is at best a distraction and at worst an impediment.

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