Software review: FocusWriter

I’ve been a fan of distraction-free word processing software for years.

These are word processors that block everything on your computer screen except your words. This helps reduce distractions to the writing process — distractions like Facebook, Google and CNN.com. When I see only my words, I tend to concentrate just a little more on the task at hand.

The best such programs allow the user to customize the experience at least by setting text and background color, perhaps also font and type size. Those are the basic requirements for me.

My favorite program of this type for the last couple of years has been Q10. It functions admirably, it’s small, stable and does the job.

But I recently stumbled on an even better program: FocusWriter. Compared to Q10, FocusWriter takes up more disk space. But that’s the only down side, and it really doesn’t matter.

What sold me on the program (well, like Q10, it is freeware, so I didn’t actually pay for it) are two excellent features. First, it can open several documents simultaneously, each accessible by a click on a tab. Second, the menus are easily accessible simply by moving the mouse to the edges of the screen.

Q10 was good, but you had to remember a function key combination in order to get to the menu — maddening if you forgot which key it was.

FocusWriter solves that issue. When you’re writing, all you see is words on a plain background. You can specify the text and background colors and the font. Lime green on black has been my color scheme of choice forever. But if you want to access the menus, just move the mouse to the top of the screen and the menu bar appears. Want to scroll down a long document? Just move the mouse to the right edge of the screen and a scroll bar appears. Want to switch to one of the other documents you have open? Move the mouse to the bottom of the screen and a tab bar appears. Makes perfect sense.

Even better, when you close FocusWriter, then open it later, it remembers all your open documents, so they’re all still there in the tab bar. Even better — it works not in TXT, but in RTF file format, so you can bold and italicize. Perfect!

And the topping bonus is that it is available as a portable application, at PortableApps.com. So I can keep it on a USB memory stick, take it and all my text with me and work anywhere there’s a Windows computer (or a Linux machine with the excellent WINE addition, which lets you run a lot of Windows software — FocusWriter behaves perfectly in WINE, and actually seems to run faster there than in Windows on the same box). [Note: WINE is an acronym for “WINE Is Not an Emulator.” It doesn’t emulate Windows; it’s actually an independently coded Linux program that natively runs programs written for the Windows operating system. I’ve even run Photoshop in it, though most of the other graphics programs I’ve tried won’t run in it. Text-based programs, however, all seem to run great.]

FocusWriter also allows you to add a graphical background image and play background audio. But those would only distract me.

Check it out:
http://gottcode.org/focuswriter
http://portableapps.com/apps/office/focuswriter_portable

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