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 […]

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.

If you don’t need a million features and don’t want to shell out 400 clams to write something, give one of these great alternatives a spin.

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.

By Leo Babauta

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  1. Cranking out the text is all very well, but I am one writer who doesn’t find any “word processor” to be up to the task of writing. Sure these full-screen apps are good for brainstorming, but I need to have research materials and organisational tools to hand. I find that I’m constantly flicking from desktop to full-screen, which is annoying. My solution is Scrivener, which does everything necessary in terms of organisation and research, has an excellent text editor, and an outliner, and will do full screen too. Really well as it happens.

    Having said that online word processors (mostly Writely/Google Docs) have already speeded up work on a couple of collaborative projects of mine and I can see myself using those more and more.

  2. Notepad (the plain old version) all the way.

    No curly quotes, no squiggly lines and no automatic formating.

  3. @Junger

    Too bad MS Notepad adds strange invisible DOS characters for no reason.
    Not such a big deal if you’re just writing text, but if you’re coding it can cause huge headaches.

  4. Seriously, the best choice around for Mac users has to be: . It is so light weight and straight forward.

  5. I highly recommend Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom (Mac). The clean, simple look and feel does, in my mind, actually encourage creativity. I’ve even seen a 15-20% increase in productivity using it, compared to Word, Writley etc.


  6. i’ve been using Bean for a few weeks now and i really like it.

    if you’re looking for a minimalist, open source word processor for os x that can handle those word documents that people keep emailing to you, you should check it out.

  7. @Chris – Zoho has a desktopize widget:
    http://www.desktopize.com/apps/Zoho-Installer.exe which will make your Zoho Writer behave like a desktop app: open full-screen, resize, stays open if you close all browser tabs, stays in systray when you close ..etc.

  8. [...] week’s post about free office productivity software you may want to check out this review of ten free minimalist word processors from Web Worker Daily. The same blog has a post that reminds us that no matter how useful computers [...]

  9. These are not all word processors! A word processor is something that provides font, paragraph, and page formating options that go well beyond a text editor. The very use of “processor” instead of “editor” is that it offers more than simple editing — you aren’t just editing your writing, you are processing it.

    JDarkRoom, WriteRoom and other such programs don’t have the formatting capabilities that a word processor should have. They are text editors.

  10. LyX.

    Free, lightweight, powerful, cross-platform, and produces some very professional looking output.

    It does take a rather different approach which requires some getting used to. The idea is to allow the writer to concentrate on writing a well-structured document, without being bothered by small details of font sizes. Typesetting is based on the structure and type of the document.

    I’m pretty sure you could write an entire book in this if you needed to.


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