My thoughts on Byword

Like many bloggers, I like to try new text editors and I get secretly excited whenever a new one is announced. A couple of weeks ago I purchased Byword and I think I have found what I was looking for in a text editor. In this post I’ll tell you why.

This is not by any means a Byword review. I’ll just try to explain why I’ve chosen Byword as my default text editor to write the posts of this blog.

What I have immediately liked about Byword is the fact that it encourages you to write. If you think about it’s not a trivial quality for a text editor. Like a perfectly crafted pen and the pristine pages of a brand new diary invite you to put your thoughts on paper, in the same way Byword beckons you to transfer your ideas onto your screen. Its light background, the full screen view and the well sized fonts help you concentrate and forget the world around you.

Despite being a minimalistic application, Byword contains just the right amount of settings and options. Minimalism is becoming more and more popular in Mac and iOS applications but the worst mistake you can do when creating an application is to forget about essential options.

Minimalism is not about leaving out options, it’s about choosing the right ones.

Apple has always had a minimalist approach when designing a product. They give you just the optimum amount of choices. If Mac OS X were minimalist in the sense of leaving out functionalities it would look like Damn Small Linux. Instead, Apple gives you that minimum set of options that allow you to perfectly adapt the system to your needs.

This concept is consistently applied in Byword. For instance, the preferences window in Byword is split in three self-explanatory panes:

  • Window theme and text width
  • Document Font
  • Default Text Format

You don’t need more choices. Less than that and you would risk of not being able to adapt the editor to your particular needs.

Among the decisions made, I appreciate the fact that the developer has included the possibility to choose between a clear and dark background for the times you want to write in low light. That shows a commendable attention to details.

Following the same line of thought, the limited number of default fonts (you still can pick your own if you really want it) is liberating rather than being a limitation. Too many choices are not necessarily a positive thing. Too little and you risk of being stuck with a font or font size it doesn’t suit your way of working.

There’s much more to appreciate in this application. In particular the four writing styles that the developer has included and that – I am sure – will please any writer. The same pattern applies to columns’ width. You can view your text using a narrow, medium or wide column.

Because of Byword’s characteristics, my workflow has improved a lot since I started using it. When I need to review my posts I can switch to the extremely useful paragraph focus that helps me concentrate on one small section at a time by dimming the text outside the paragraph I work in that moment.

After editing my post, I can preview it with a simple Command + Option + P and then use an easy to memorize Command + Option + C to copy the generated HTML code into MarsEdit.

When you use these shortcuts just a few times, they feel so automatic that your brain is free to concentrate on what to write rather than having to remember what commands to use. This, the full screen capability and the auto-save in OS X Lion works so well together that writing becomes even more pleasurable.

Byword can be more powerful than that. For instance, you can export your text as RTF, PDF, Word and LaTeX (I wish I’d had this when I wrote my M.Sc. thesis all those years ago). But I believe that most of the users will love the four basic things that this software can do better than the competition:

  • It gives you a clean writing page with perfectly balanced fonts and colors
  • It has an optimum number of options
  • It perfectly implements and renders Markdown
  • It makes it easy to export your text in HTML

At first I was a bit doubtful on whether to spend EUR 7.99 for yet another text editor but I think that I’ve finally found what I was looking for. I’m glad to have bought it and my advice is to get it too if you like writing.

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