Since in these days (and even more in near future) I’m really writing a lot I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on some writing programs and tools I started using for writing these blog posts, articles, and more.
I’m going to examine a few applications which I find useful for different tasks, since I recently came to the conclusion that I cannot use the same editor for everything I write: some magazines require a .doc document, others want just plain text, my site uses the truly excellent textile markup, zZine Magazine used BBcode, other site use their own “proprietary” styles and so on. One could just give up and use Notepad – or better, Notepad++ – for everything, while someone else like me might opt for various applications according to the task.
One of the few essential requirements for a writer is some spell checking functionality. Sad but true, this is enough to leave the most popular multi-purpose programming editor out: programmers don’t need a spell checker, a highlighter for their favourite language is more than enough.
I will not mention all the applications I tried to find the Perfect Editor, and I’ll just focus on the programs I ended up using in the end. Some may be well known, others may not, anyway, here we go.
Word 2007 Beta 2 – Yes, I know that OpenOffice is free and OO Writer works great, but perhaps at work you’ll be asked to use MS Word. Some editors may require that as well, and their templates may not be correctly rendered by OpenOffice, so in the end you’ll still have to use Redmond’s most popular Word Processor – if you have it. If you got it with your laptop (I didn’t) or your auntie gave you 300$ to buy it you’re all set, but if you don’t?
Oh well, yes, OpenOffice is the right choice perhaps, but at least until February 2007 uncle Bill lets you try the bleeding (quite literally) edge of all the commercial word processors: Word 2007 beta 2. You can download the whole Office Suite (and more) for free, run. I did it yesterday and well, it’s nice to try this brand-new piece of eye candy. the interface is completely new, you won’t find the usual drop down menu but with some imagination you’ll manage to save/create/open a new document by clicking on the big roundy Office logo on the top left corner. More user friendly? Perhaps, once you get used to it. It STILL doesn’t have a tabbed interface, so you STILL have to clutter your taskbar if you want to keep more than one document open.
At any rate, it does the job, exactly in the same way as it did in the previous versions.
I use it if people ask me to, and for writing stuff which doesn’t need to be formatted with a particular markup or style but rather look nice and have pictures embedded.
Writely – Now this is much more fun. A online, AJAX-powered word processor recently acquired by Google. IT’s currently in closed beta, but I was lucky enough to get an account before they closed registrations and I can invite people to use it.
It’s nice. It’s nice if you have to work with MS Word documents or create PDF files, and it supports the most essential features offered by desktop word processors, plus some more, really convenient functionalities.
It can import MS Word documents pretty well and also any kind of text file, so that you can edit it online anytime and anywhere. You can star, tag, archive, edit and delete your documents in a really easy way and – which is one of its killer features – you can grant access to certain documents to collaborators for editing or viewing. Other word processors out there offer similar features, but Writely is by far the nicest to use and perhaps even the more advanced. I recently wrote a couple of articles about CakePHP (coming soon-ish to some online magazines near you) and then gave access to gwoo and PhpNut for editing, so that they could check the code snippets, in particular: it was a success. Magazine editors were happy and impressed as well.
Another really wonderful feature is version support. I discovered this recently: when you edit a document and save it, Writely automatically creates a new version of it, storing the old ones as well, so that you can even compare them to highlight differences if you wish: a great feature to keep track of the editing process and know exactly who edited which. When I noticed it that was it, Writely has become my online repository for my articles and writings.
Cream – I discovered this a while ago, and it’s perhaps the most multi-purpose editor out there. It’s built on top of Vim (respect+) but it has a friendlier interface by default, and that’s exactly what I’m using right now for typing this post. The reasons are simple: it supports ANY kind of file format and any character encoding. There’s an highlighter for everything, including BBcode and textile, and of course you can make your own. It also includes spell checking on-the-fly which is missing in many simple editors.
Whenever I have to write something which requires some particular formatting or markup I use Cream, it does the job pretty well, and whenever I feel brave I can always switch to “expert” view and challenge my vi skills ;)
That’s pretty much what I use for writing articles, posts, and other documents… I tried other alternatives like RoughDraft or similar programs but I’m now really happy with these three applications. Commercial “writer’s programs”? There are some out there, but who wants to spend 40$ or more for something which offer less than MS Word when you can use OpenOffice and Writely for free?