There are times when all we need to do is write. Really crank out the text. (For me, that’s most of the day.) We don’t need distractions and we don’t need a bloated, expensive word processor with way too many features and way too slow a load time (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word).
What we need is a minimalist, distraction-free word processor — and being the cheapskates that we are, we want it free.
Luckily, there are a number of great alternatives. I personally use several of these, depending on where I am and what I need to do (Google Docs, AbiWord, and DarkRoom are my poisons of choice), and I’ve used all the others, and I can attest that they are speedy and very productive. They do what you need to do — just write — and they do it well.
1. Google Docs – a popular online word processor offered by Google, Docs (formerly known as Writely) doesn’t offer the full features of Microsoft Word, but it is quick and easy and can be accessed from anywhere. The go-to choice of many web workers.
2. Zoho Writer – The Zoho online word processor offers many of the same advantages of Google Docs — namely, its accessibility and portability — as well as a pretty slick interface for a web app and some additional features. Definitely a must-try for those who are looking for an online solution.
3. ajaxWrite – another online word processor offering, this one takes a few seconds longer to launch, but once open it works lightning fast and is very small. Another cool feature of ajaxWrite: it doesn’t require you to register.
4. AbiWord – everyone’s favorite cross-platform, open-source minimalist word processor, AbiWord is a desktop app but launches and runs so much faster than apps like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. It’s light, but it does have most of the commonly used features of the bigger desktop word processors.
5. DarkRoom – One of a series of ports of the great minimalist Mac word processor, WriteRoom, DarkRoom runs on Windows and requires the .NET framework. It offers an old-school, full-screen, distraction-free writing environment. It’s basically text and nothing else — perfect for serious writers who don’t need frills and don’t want distractions. When I’m going to do some serious writing, this is my app of choice. WriteRoom would be on this list, but it hasn’t been free since version 2 came out.
6. JDarkRoom – Another alternative to WriteRoom, JDarkRoom is multiplatform, as it runs on JAVA, and is freeware. Nuff said.
7. Writer – Yet another WriteRoom look-alike, Writer is the web writer’s dream — because it is not only minimal and fast, but online, so you can access it from anywhere. It’s WriteRoom meets Google Docs.
8. Writer.app – a desktop word processor for the Mac, Writer.app is about as minimalist as native Mac apps come. It’s also very customizable, and will even disconnect your Internet connection if you need it to.
9. TextEdit - This little word processor ships free with OS X, and is open source to boot. It reads and writes documents in Rich Text Format, plain text, Microsoft Word format and HTML, among others. For a bundled word processor, TextEdit works very well.
10. RoughDraft – a freeware word processor for Windows designed specifically for writers, RoughDraft can be used by anyone but was created with creative writing in mind: novels, short stories, articles, plays and screenplays.
Bonus: Text editors – Although they’re not really word processors, text editors could obviously be used as a minimal word processor if all you need to do is create text. There are so many popular ones that I can’t recommend any single one (and I’m certainly not getting into the text-editor war thing), but some of the more popular free ones include vi, emacs, Vim, KWrite, Scribes, gedit, Text Wrangler, EditPad, Notepad++, and NoteTab Light.
Got a favorite minimalist word processor? Let us know in the comments. And check out our earlier open thread on word processors.