Full Screen Text Editing

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Robert Daeley

Robert Daeley
Oct. 11, 2005 11:41 PM

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In preparation for NaNoWriMo, as well as connected to my recent explorations of emacs and general Terminal goodness, I've done some investigating of what options are available for creating a full screen writing environment.

There are different meanings for 'full screen' -- at its simplest, one application is taking up most of or the entire screen. How much of the rest of the OS/UI environment is visible is the crux of the matter. Otherwise you can just maximize your favorite text editor's window and be done with it.

After quite a bit of trying out various options and arrangements, I've settled on two.

The first (the capability for which has been removed as of Tiger from what I can tell) should be familiar to longtime Mac OS X users: using >console as a login name, no password, which brings up a terminal-style login prompt. Then you can use vi or emacs or whatever you like for a true full-screen experience. Something close, at least in spirit, is to create a new window in Terminal, give it a larger font size, and then maximize the window.

This brings up a set of options that sacrifice the 'full' full-screen arrangement for ease of use. Using the non-metal Smultron, I jacked up the text size with a maximized window, then got rid of everything else I could. I have the Dock hidden all the time now, so that was already gone. Hid the toolbar and the left-hand document list. This left the standard menubar up top, the window title bar (with widgets in graphite rather than colorful), some framing along the sides, and the footer at the bottom with a small wordcount status item. The extraneous stuff is pretty subdued, particularly if I ditch the unnecessary menubar widgets -- which is technically all of them apart from the Spotlight icon which is not generally removable. But I'll probably leave the clock and Airport indicator.

Very much the same type of thing can be achieved in most word processors and text editors. After experimenting with a number of them, I eventually settled on getting a similar effect in TextEdit by setting it to Wrap to Page, then maximizing the window and zooming in to 200%. What's the difference? Eh. I lose the ongoing wordcount at the bottom, but I imagine that would get distracting after a while. Less framing around the edges which is cool. And by using Wrap to Page, there's a nice bit of white space on either side of the text. Here's a screenshot.

So much for the free options. The rest of the candidates are newer writing programs such as MacJournal, CopyWrite, Jer's Novel Writer, and Ulysses. These are $29.95, $29.99, free (until version 1.x), and ~$120 respectively. Their full-screen presentations vary but are relatively equivalent. The real question is how much you wish to pay. Or if you do.

What's the big whoop about full-screen? Well, it's something to do with the terminal-based text editing obsession we've talked about recently. Perhaps it's different for writers, but having what amounts to a blank piece of paper and nothing else on the screen is very attractive, not to mention conducive to getting the words out.

Addendum: something I am hoping to get to work (but ran into errors during compiling) was using the X11.app along with the ratpoison window manager. Saw this mentioned in a MacSlash article about the topic: Full screen Text Editing?

Robert Daeley is a writer and programmer in Southern California. By day he is a mild-mannered server administrator and website developer; by night, in addition to his super-hero duties, he cooks, bikes, hikes, cheers on the Dodgers, and writes fiction.