WrongRoom, Maybe, But Still Looking for the RightRoom

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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.


  1. Stephen, do you still use OneNote? Can it export your notes to RTF or equivalent if you want to use something other than OneNote in the future? (i.e. what’s the lock-in factor here?)

  2. Savio: i actually don’t, because i’m on Ubuntu these days. as for export, i’m not sure. it did not have that capability when i last used it, but i believe it may have some export functionality at present.

    i’m also talking to some folks that may want to reverse engineer the format, so that may be in the cards at some point.

  3. […] Wow, another month has already passed? I can’t believe we are 1/12th done with 2007 already. In either event here are the past month’s blog posts, thanks to Mike: “the OneNote blogs (here, here and here) represent a superb example of how a product development team can use this new media to inform, build a relationship with and take feedback from their community of users and prospective users!” “Zoho Notebook gives tough competition to Microsoft OneNote!” “I’ve been playing with OneNote 2007 and am very impressed.” “OneNote is the only Office 2007 application I’m really interested in using in the suite.” “I remember the first time I used OneNote, it was like a revelation.” “One note is almost 200mb? Then in the installation, it needs almost 800 mb for the default install?  MS should have access to the technology to make relatively small and efficient applications, but almost a GB????????” “I’ve become a bit of a OneNote addict” “Microsoft did a great job of integrating OneNote 2007 with Outlook 2007. I’m really getting to enjoy the way the two work together, and see myself using them together a lot more in the future.” “why can’t I share OneNote pages with non-One Note users through some sort of Live interface?” “I’ve never met a Microsoft product I liked.  Okay it’s not quite true… I quite liked OneNote.” “OneNote 2007 + MindManager” “OneNote 2007, Groove, and Getting Things Done” “OneNote and Idea Management” “Last week I upgraded to Office 2007 and the integration from outlook to OneNote is great.” “This is a post about a little known application that has saved me more than once.  It’s called OneNote.  And the 2007 version is even better.” “That is where the integration between OneNote 2007 and Outlook 2007 is so handy!” “Microsoft OneNote 2007, ahh, what a productivity booster” ” I honestly would probably go with OneNote as its 2007 features have really stepped up its use as productivity tool.” […]

  4. Thanks for the heads up Stephen – and pls be sure to post if/when the reverse engineering work is done.

    Are we there yet?
    Are we there yet?
    Are we there yet?


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