In a post that’s drawn 111 comments as I write this, Mark Pilgrim more or less drops the hammer on would-be developers of text editors generally, and the WriteRoom, DarkRoom, and JDarkRoom folks specifically. His argument is admirable in its simplicity: “You’re writing a text editor. Stop doing that.” The reasoning for this rather blunt request is a slightly more substantial: “Writing a great text editor is insanely difficult. There is a certain class of software that sounds easy but is actually insanely difficult.”
Never having attempted to write a text editor, I’m in no position to judge the accuracy of his contention. As a developer friend of mine recently said, however, “if you’re arguing against Mark Pilgrim you’re probably wrong, so don’t.” That advice, combined with the knowledge that Mark’s forgotten more about application development than I’m ever likely to know, means that I’m inclined to accept his assertion at face value. And so I hereby promise to never, under penalty of something fairly severe, code – for myself or anyone else – a text editor. Like, ever.
What I will not do, however, is stop pining for a better one. I’ve used most every editor out there at one time or another, from emacs to Word, and have yet to find one that I actually enjoy using. Do I think Mark’s correct, that efforts like WriteRoom, DarkRoom and so on are probably frivolous? Yes. I tried JDarkRoom – even installed Java 1.6 by hand to get it to work – and after a half a dozen sessions am not likely to use it again.
The fundamental disconnect, I gather, is that Mark doesn’t understand the goal.
I guess the part I don’t understand is the target audience. Who is so serious about writing that they need a full-screen editor, but so unserious that they don’t have a favorite editor already?
Well, me for one. As someone who takes writing fairly seriously – it’s my job, after all – I do have an editor that I use (GEdit). But I don’t yet have a favorite editor; not a favorite in the way emacs is a favorite of most of the developers I know, or the way that TextMate is a favorite of most of the Mac folks I know. I use GEdit because it’s got the features I really need (text, save, cut/paste, and undo), it’s relatively lightweight, and that’s about it. It works. But I’m still looking for something that does more than work; something that makes what is often but not always a chore (slightly) easier, that elicits a bit more emotion than “it’s ok”, that provides features I didn’t know that I needed.
I remember the first time I used OneNote, it was like a revelation. You mean I don’t have to pick a file name and save every last thing I jot down? That I can drag text around to where I want it, instead of having to create a table? Interesting. It was a different, and better, way of taking notes.
Not what I want to use to write seriously, of course, but better than what I was using prior for that particular task. All these years later I’m still waiting for a similar experience with a real authoring tool. Maybe it looks something Scrivener, maybe not. But I for one would love for somebody to build me a better mousetrap. Because I’ve promised not to.