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10 Free Minimalist Word Processors for Greater Productivity

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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. [digg=]

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. – a desktop word processor for the Mac, 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.

55 Responses to “10 Free Minimalist Word Processors for Greater Productivity”

  1. The web-based ‘word processors’ are little better than WordPad, they’re really only there for novelty value. For example: how many of them can do footnotes? Not macros, mail merge, or anything fancy like that. Just footnotes.

  2. I found, for a free text editor, TextPad is fine. It’s great for coding in various languages such as Java. It’s free, although a donation is appreciated. I’ve had no problems with it and it does what I’ve needed it to do.

  3. I’ve recently become a fan of Bean for OS X. I’ve been using it to highlight text to show changes to others. The only thing that I find lacking is an export to PDF feature. However, since I can just use Print>Save as PDF, that’s not too big of a deal.

  4. I prefer good old fashioned Word97, myself. And WP10. Though my all-time favorite WordPerfect was WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS and Windows. Lightweight, did everything you wanted, and the “Reveal Codes” feature beats Word’s feeble attempt at same.

  5. This is off topic becuase it’s technically not free, but I use MS Notepad for every first draft of everything. For my unix box I use ABIWord, but that doesn’t beat notepad for simplicity, speed, and size. If you’re using a MS box, notepad is free to use, and the files work on any ‘nix box too.

  6. My blog is hosted by – just like this one – and I’ve been using that in a similar way to Google Docs. It has the added advantage that it’s not part of the Google machine. The Pages are set to “Private”, but I can give people the URL if I want to. If I ever decide to publish something, it’s just a matter of fixing it up and hitting “Publish”. This is for “my” writing only, of course, nothing related to business, for which I only use offline tools such Word or Notepad++ (the best pure text editor I’ve ever seen).

  7. Great post and very helpful comments.. thank you all! I quite like Leo’s loose definition of “word processor” and think it’s appropriate here. Word is so ubiquitous as to be almost universal, but it still drives me crazy sometimes, especially when it tries to be intuitively helpful (then I just want to take that cute little paperclip guy out back and SHOOT him!)

    @Junger, @Eggman: I was going to sing the praises of “plain old notepad” too, as a great app that I can pull up from wherever I am and paste stuff to (or write in directly) and then carry to my next application or browser, pretty-much-always sure I’ll have stripped any coding issues by doing so. But I had noticed that there were occasionally gremlins (“hidden DOS characters”, apparently!) So eventually I may need something else, but it has to be simple minded of necessity –.I’ve just switched careers and need to ramp up on so many other apps right now that Notepad will have to do…

    @Mike Demers re Bean

  8. @Nabicht: You’re right … I cheated a bit by including DarkRoom, Writer, et al, as word processors, even though they offer no formatting (on purpose) … I did this because they are the best minimalist choices for the purpose of this article, and not including them would be a great omission. However, it’s an interesting discussion, because:

    1) If you use the original definition of “word processor” (coined by IBM), they would be included, as would electric typewriters; and

    2) DarkRoom and the others are descended from word processors, not from the current line of text editors. That is to say, text editors are most often used for other purposes, not writing articles or reports or novels or the like … WriteRoom took the word processor and stripped it down to the most basic version: writing text. It removed all the extraneous features, and gave it a retro DOS look and made it full-screen. In fact, it tries to copy the DOS word processors, but without the formatting tags. So in this sense, it is the word processor, minimalized.

    But your point is taken.

    @Lance: Comparing the launch time of Word with that of your browser to make a comparison of Google Docs with Word is a bad comparison. Google Docs is most useful if your browser is already open, which is most of the time for a lot of web workers. If your browser is already open, then launching Google Docs (or other web word processors) is much faster than launching Word. And if your browser isn’t already open, I would recommend AbiWord — it launches and runs much faster and lighter than the bloated MS Word, and does everything most of us need. After using AbiWord for a couple of days, you’ll hate going back to Word.

  9. nabicht

    “You forgot all about echo + redirect! For quick file creation just…

    > echo “Your text” > file.txt

    *cough* Sorry.. Couldn’t help myself…”

    Wow! This is in no way a word processor. If only we knew what type of tools we used we might be able to use them more efficiently.

  10. Lance Fisher

    For me, Word opens just as quickly as my browser, and quicker than I can open a Google Doc for sure. I have used Google Docs to make a spreadsheet that I can easily share with multiple people. I like it for that, but for everyday writing or writing a report, I’ll stick with Word. I’m currently using Word 2002 on XP.

  11. Tried several earlier.
    Most, esp. Abiword not ready for primetime.
    Didn’t like RoughDraft. Some so ugly makes you want to slap developer’s grammaw. Jarte, slate, angelwriter are all NG.
    Even if you boost the ram & turn off java, OOO writer itself is still 3x slower than the dreaded Word.
    CopyWrite for mac wasn’t that bad, though. Copywriter for pc: meh.

  12. 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.

  13. nabicht

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. Eggman


    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.

  16. 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.