Byword: Text-Editor for the Masses

For centuries, writing involved the use of paper and ink–pretty simple tools. Then came personal computers, and shortly afterwards, the advent of the text editor. In the four decades since, consumers have become enthralled by Microsoft Word-type bloatware–software bursting with features we may only use once every few months. Happily, over the past two years, a new breed of writing program has emerged. This generation is a minimalist one, meant to stay out of our way and allow easy connection to the text in front of us. These applications offer unobtrusive interfaces, markdown support, companion iOS apps, and automated synchronization with iCloud and/or Dropbox. There are numerous products in this class such as Clean Writer, WriteRoom, Marked, and iA Writer, but my personal favorite is Byword. While all these apps provide largely similar functionality, Byword includes a few features that give it an edge over its competitors, such as font variety, markdown preview, and the most elegant interface. The real allure of Byword is its magical user experience.

Byword opens as a blank canvas–no buttons, no menus, and no rulers–just white. While typing is the same in any program, Byword allows me to focus on the words with its intuitive, text-centric interface. Although Markdown and MultiMarkdown take some time to learn, mastery of the text-based formatting systems for Byword allows me to transcend GUIs and keep my fingers glued to the keyboard, increasing my efficiency dramatically. With its clean interface and keyboard use, Byword is the text-editor equivalent of command line. You really have to experience it in order to understand how unencumbered it feels. By integrating with Autosave and Versions in OSX Lion, Byword also eliminates all of the hassle of saving work and lost drafts. Byword also provides a “Focus” feature, which dims any text outside of either the current paragraph or line you are working on, reducing distraction. There are many other advantages, such as spelling and grammar checks that are disabled by default. In addition to the writing experience, Byword also allows seamless integration with its mobile apps through iCloud or Dropbox. Although my use of this feature is minimal, it does come in handy when I am on the go. For saving work, Byword contains powerful options to export in plain text, rich text, markdown, HTML, Word, LaTeX, and PDF formats.

While Byword will not replace Microsoft Word and its ilk for heavily formatted documents, Byword shines as a text editor that will sharpen your focus, release inhibition, improve productivity, and make writing almost effortless.

Note: this post was written solely in Byword 

  1. Nice review Brad. The impact Byword has on you shines through in this post. I’m starting to understand your taste in software 😉

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