Distraction-Free Writing Tool • The Register

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FOSS-Festival PanWriter isn’t that small, but it’s simple, clean, and does the bare minimum compared to a plain text editor.

If you’re a programmer, there’s an almost embarrassing abundance of text editors, from crusty old things from the 1970s that force you to actively cultivate Stockholm Syndrome, to sophisticated modern endeavors that try to type your code for you. There’s less choice if what you’re writing is meant to be read by humans rather than computers.

Of course, there are word processors, although Microsoft Word has already eliminated most of them. Its most valuable tool, Outline View, is now a niche feature that the free web and Android versions don’t bother to include. There’s always WordPerfect, the killer app that won’t die, if you have the time to learn its user interface. LibreOffice is very convenient, but also does not implement the outliner.

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But they are very complex tools, festooned with options to format and print your text, and a gazillion controls to manipulate. Sometimes you just want something very simple: words, maybe bold and italics, and hyperlinks because we’re in the 21st century, and that’s about it. This is where the free and open source PanWriter comes in (code and license here).

It uses Markdown, which is a kind of lowest common denominator markup language. Markdown is readable in plain text with a tiny bit of formatting, but even with practice it’s easy to forget what’s bold and what’s underlined, or what parentheses to use. PanWriter has a handy WYSIWYG live preview that shows you at a glance how well you understood.

It has no code completion or anything: none of the coders like this get in the way of the writer, no syntax highlighting, no line numbers. In fact, it has virtually no user interface, just a menu bar. It understands the standard keystrokes, such as Ctrl-S to save, that any CUA editor does. Run it full screen and all you get is text, whatever.

Behind the scenes, it integrates with Pandoc, which means it can output almost any format you could ask for, from HTML to RTF to several types of word processing documents. The Reg The FOSS office finds the “Export as rich text to clipboard” feature very handy because it allows the operating system to determine which format is best without asking.

There are many rivals – for example, Typora, which has more features, but PanWriter beats it on price: it’s free. It’s an Electron app, which means it’s not small, but today 130MB isn’t that big. The Linux version comes as an AppImage, a single file that runs on any distro.

Without bloating the app with extra features, the only thing we’d like to see is built-in word counting, but otherwise, even in the current version 0.8.4, PanWriter is close to perfect. ®

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