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Slate Magazine on the market for "Zenware"

Sort of an add-on to the New York Times piece Merlin linked the other day about Scrivener and its cohort of new writing applications, Jeffrey MacIntyre at Slate coins a new term for programs that eschew the familiar, bloated twiddliness of Microsoft Office for simplicity:

There's an emerging market for programs that introduce much-needed traffic calming to our massively expanding desktops. The name for this genre of clutter-management software: zenware.

The philosophy behind zenware is to force the desktop back to its Platonic essence. There are several strategies for achieving this, but most rely on suppressing the visual elements you're used to: windows, icons, and toolbars. The applications themselves eschew pull-down menus or hide off-screen while you work. Even if you consider yourself inured to their presence, the theory goes, you'll benefit most from their absence.

MacIntyre's word processor of choice is WriteRoom, but he also includes desktop managers like Spaces, Spirited Away, and various interface tweaks in the zenware category.

I'm a Scrivener fan, and like everyone who's dealt with the auto-formatting, self-correcting madness of Word out of sheer necessity for all these years, the most drastic change I noticed when I started using it was that it let me jump right in and start writing. This may have been my own form of procrastination, but I always had this little ritual with Word every time I started a new document: set the margins, adjust the font, fill the headers and footers, etc. You still have to do this with Scrivener and its ilk, but the trick is that it's done after the fact, when you're finished writing and you're ready to export for printing or emailing. It's an artful dodge; Scrivener didn't remove or try to automate the necessity of formatting, it just shifted its timing to a place more conducive to the writing process. "Zenware" is a little too cutesy; that's just smart.

philip.sternberg's picture

I prefer the term "lightweight apps"

Less cutesy and overused than "zenware".

So many computer tools have gone bad due in large part to feature bloat without the careful UI design that's needed to manage them: Word, Netscape, and the Yahoo! homepage are the first examples that come to mind.

I do most of my work in LaTeX, which as noted above by BenM naturally divides the workflow into separate content/presentation stages. The latest inadvertent hack on my life comes from my workstation not having LaTeX installed, so when I'm writing, I'm ONLY writing, and not recompiling the whole damn thing every time I write another sentence.

I know that LaTeX isn't for everyone, but most of the same benefit can be derived from starting the composition process in a text editor and only copying to the WYSIWYG program at the last possible moment. And you're less likely to get your document sent back to you by surly social engineers.




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