WriteRoom for Linux

Okay, I'm only kidding. There is no WriteRoom for Linux, but with my suggestions here you can probably get a similar effect under Ubuntu.

WriteRoom is a word processor for the Mac whose claim to fame is its simple no-frills full-screen text editing. It received a lot of mileage thanks to Lifehacker, a personal productivity website. WriteRoom was so successful that it spawned a Windows clone called DarkRoom.

WriteRoom, which I'll admit I've never used, essentially brings us back to the future. Full-screen text editing seems so sweet after the barrage of menus and icons that's present in most word processing packages nowadays (even with OpenOffice.org and Abiword). But that was the norm for word processors back in the early days of personal computing, the apex of which I'll claim was WordPerfect 5.1.

So how to get the WriteRoom effect on Ubuntu? To begin with, Ubuntu, as with many Linux distributions, comes with several text editors and they all have full screen modes. vim and emacs come to mind immediately. However, vim and emacs are not exactly user-friendly for the casual Ubuntu user.

The good news is that there are other word processors in Ubuntu that you can configure to get a WriteRoom-like environment. Here are three alternatives:

1) JOE
JOE, which stands for Joe's Own Editor. JOE was written by Joseph Allman back in the 1990s and came with many Linux distributions. Not nearly as ubiquitous as vi, but a tad friendlier to use. JOE makes use of Wordstar-like key combinations (remember Wordstar?), probably not the best choice but easy enough to remember once you get the hang of it.

JOE is a great choice if you like working in console mode. Yes, it runs in full screen, in all its 80x24 characters. If you don't particularly like the default JOE color combination, you can change it by copying /etc/joe/joerc configuration to your home directory and renaming it .joerc. It also is possible to get rid of the information status bar on the first line. Read through the configuration file and enable the options you like. More on this in the future.

JOE is not on a default Ubuntu installation. You can install it via

sudo apt-get install joe

2) Gedit
Gedit is otherwise known as Text Editor in Ubuntu. While it doesn't boast of a full-screen mode, you can maximize it and get plenty of writing real estate. It is possible to change the colors so you can get green-on-black.

No need to install anything as it's part of Gnome, the windowing system for Ubuntu.

3) Abiword
If you really want a full featured word processor but with the simplicity of WriteRoom, you can run Abiword in full screen mode. Just press F11. If you don't want to see the simulated paper edges, you can edit in Web Layout mode (View->Web Layout). If you really want WriteRoom's green-on-black color scheme, you can change your font and background colors under Edit->Preferences.

Caveats with using Abiword this way: you lose your flashing cursor and Abiword still introduces gaps in the page breaks.

You can get a similar effect with OpenOffice.org Writer. This is left as an exercise to the reader.

There is also a web-based alternative, if you're always online: Writer, explicitly written as a clone for WriteRoom.