WriteMonkey is a simple idea that has been very well implemented. It is a distraction free word processor which provides all the features you need to do one thing: Write!

There are no bloated extras, no counter-intuitive menus, no fuss and the minimum of frills. There is just you, a dark screen and your all important text. As the WriteMonkey web site says:

No whistles and bells, just empty screen, you and your words. WriteMonkey is light, fast, and perfectly handy for those who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter but live in modern times.

As an aspiring writer, I’ve been looking for something like WriteMonkey for what seems like forever. In the dim and distant past I used a typewriter but correcting stuff was a nightmare, page layout always caused me problems and it was always after I’d typed a word that I realised I should have checked my dictionary sooner! Whilst word processing software eased the pain of formatting and spell-checking they brought problems of their own: a cluttered interface; too many options; computerised assistants designed to help but which only confuse; taking up too much memory and processing time; and grabbing increasingly large portions of hard disk space with each new version.

Happily, WriteMonkey does none of these things!

So, what does it do?

Well, it is small so it starts fairly quickly and has very low memory footprint. It allows you to type without being put off by a plethora of buttons, menu choices, and the “glitz” of a window interface and border. It is effectively a blank sheet of paper – in any colour you like – with your choice of contrasting ink. It is a wonderful tool that allows you to focus on the business of creation.

Now the lack of buttons and menus does not mean that it can’t be configured or that it doesn’t offer handy features such as a spell checker, text formatting (bold, italics) or a find and replace tool. It provides all these and more but chooses to conceal them behind a logical set of control key combinations. And before you start thinking “OMG! How will I remember all these combinations?”, you don’t have to. You just need to learn the obvious ones such as CTRL+N (New Document), CTRL+S (Save), CTRL+O (Open) and F1 (Help). That last one’s the key, see, as it opens up a neatly ordered list of these and all the other key combinations available to you; and trust me, you’ll learn them in no time!

Then there’s the F10 key, which is ultra-important as it opens the options dialogue where you can configure WriteMonkey so that it works best for you. You can configure the layout of the WriteMonkey screen and the colours used for the background and font. There are options to specify what elements actually appear on the screen alongside your text (such as file name, number of words and the current time). Other settings allow you to control text justification, line spacing and paragraph indentation. You can also pick the language you want the built-in spell checker to use (you can download additional dictionaries from the WriteMonkey web site).

As if that weren’t enough there you can also define Replacements – character combinations that are used as short cuts to automatically insert values such as the current date, your signature or characters that may not be present on your keyboard. You can also configure print options and a set of Look Ups – key combinations which when pressed will look up a word or phrase on a specific web site (e.g. Answers.com, Wikipedia, etc.). All these options are accessed via a series of tabs, the last of which is a Misc tab which allows you to enable sounds (yes, using WriteMonkey you can actually make your PC sound like an old-fashioned type-writer), specify your preferred date format, and other such items.

WriteMonkey provides an excellent, simplified word processing environment which I think is an ideal tool for getting on with the business of writing. As that ubiquitous meerkat would say: “Simples!”

The above post originally appeared on another blog of mine, The Free Software Files. That blog recorded my experiences using various free and open source applications and gave recommendations about which ones were worth using. I’ve decided to discontinue that blog as I no longer have the inclination or the time to keep it going and haven’t posted anything there for about 18 months now.

I figured I’d re-post here the entries from that blog which relate to free applications that I still use and recommend, starting with this one about the pretty damn fine WriteMonkey.


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