The rising interest among writers in “distraction-free workspaces” is a bit of a fad and a delusion. Focus comes from the writer, not the software. However, I’ve long been looking for a stable, free text editor that provides a running word count and timed writing. FocusWriter fits the bill nicely.
FocusWriter is a free, open source word processing application, with versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I composed this review using the PortableApps version of FocusWriter for Windows. I have not reviewed the non-portable version, or the Mac or Linux versions. It’s possible the PortableApps version has more limitations than the others.
- Can save documents as text or Rich Text Format (RTF). While this isn’t a wide variety, these two formats are very portable.
- Customizable menu bar, so you can include only the items you most often use.
- Easy to create new themes (color and font schemes) for the interface.
- Live document statistics avoid the necessity of running a word count anytime you want to know where you are.
- Session management for working with groups of related documents.
- Daily goals can be set for word count or writing time.
- Spell checking included, and can be live or not.
- Free and open source.
- Can open only text or RTF file types. Ability to import more file types would be handy.
- I’d rather the menu bar and status bar not hide themselves. (Really, how much of a distraction is the menu bar? Do writers typically put off writing by playing with the “Save As” command?) I’d like to check my word count at a glance, without moving the mouse. I don’t see any way to change this in Preferences.
- Project management would be a useful addition. Unless I’m missing something, a document must be open to be part of a session.
- Theme creation is slightly unintuitive, in that “background” and “foreground” do not refer to the page and the text, but to the frame and the page. The terminology could be clearer.
FocusWriter is a simple but flexible tool, capable of being used either as a text editor or simple word processor. By design, it lacks the advanced capabilities of more sophisticated applications, but based on my initial experience with it, FocusWriter bids fair to become my tool of choice for slamming out a first draft — especially during NaNoWriMo.