Byword: A Distraction-Free Mac OS X Writing App

By James Mowery

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Writing tools are a dime-a-dozen these days. There are just so many out there, but the incredible thing is that so few get it right. There is either too much or too little going on, and it never seems to be the perfect fit. But does Byword change things?

Simple, minimal, functional, distraction-free: these are the qualities that the person who spends a day in a text editor can cherish. I should know — I spend countless hours beating away at a keyboard in the attempt to mesh gibberish into logical and entertaining thoughts.

But finding this perfect tool has been quite difficult. I noted that some of the tools out there are great for certain things. OmmWriter, for example, provides users with an incredible Zen-like experience, with music, sound, and imagery. WriteRoom changed how we perceived text editing on a Mac by being one of the first to offer a distraction-free writing environment. Scrivener is the powerhouse for novel and scriptwriters. But what about the everyday person who writes on occasion? What about the hardened writer who needs something that will survive their demands?

Byword caught my eye recently. It garnered some impressive feedback after its debut on the Mac App Store. So, of course, I was intrigued. I managed to get by hands on a copy, and I have been using it for the past week for doing all of my writing. And while my needs might be different from others out there (as I know not everyone who uses a Mac is a technology journalist), I think that my needs represent what most people would appreciate in a text editor of this type.

So no more chitter, chatter. It’s time to get down to business.

Byword Review

When you first start Byword, you are greeted with a full screen of, well, nothing. It’s an off-white background color with a single blinking cursor. You might also notice the magnifying glass and arrows on the top-right portion of the screen, which enable a user to search and toggle fullscreen mode, respectively. But other than that, there isn’t much to Byword.

But after you type out a few words, it becomes apparent that the typography is stunning. It was a little bit small for my taste, so I bumped up the font size slightly, but after doing so, I was immediately satisfied. The text on the screen looks so gorgeous — even looking at it, as I am this very moment, makes me feel empowered.

But that isn’t all there is to Byword, is there?

Well, if you dive into the preferences screen, there are three options: font family, for choosing your fonts; text width, for setting the width of the page; and default text format, for switching between rich or plain text editing. And that’s it — it doesn’t get much more minimal than that.

But don’t be fooled. There is still some cool things going on with Byword. And there is one feature, in particular, that I really like. It’s called Focus.

Focus works by dimming out lines or paragraphs that you are not currently working on. Think of it as a feature that allows you to dim out all the excess stuff and focus only on what you are working on at the moment. It’s pretty cool, and it allows you to focus on the current paragraph or a set of one to nine lines.

It is a simple application, but what it offers is great for the price.

Positives

  • Simplicity — the application is very simple to setup and use.
  • Typography — the text rendering is beautiful, and the preset font selections work well.
  • Focus — the focus feature is a really useful and unique feature that allows you to dial in what you are working on at the moment.
  • Price — Byword is only $5, which is much cheaper than WriteRoom and level with OmmWriter.

If there is one negative that could be said about Byword it is that it is missing one feature that I often depend on as a working journalist: word count. However, I was informed by MetaClassy that this feature is already included in development builds of Byword, so it is only a matter of time.

There is also a few bugs that need to be worked out. I’ve noticed some erradic behavaior when scrolling at the end of documents — where the document would scroll to the top of a document once I reach the bottom. And there could be a bit more customization, but you can’t really complain for the price.

The last thing I’ll pick on is that most of the functionality in Byword is available in WriteRoom. WriteRoom is $25 on the Mac App Store, but it offers significantly more functionality and customization. The only feature WriteRoom lacks, from what I can see, is the Focus functionality that Byword offers. But WriteRoom is pricey.

Conclusion

If you need a cheap, functional, minimalistic writing tool, Byword is worth the investment. It’s only $5 and it provides a great distraction-free writing environment. But if you want something with much more power and customization, there are alternatives available.

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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