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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.

monkfish's picture

Re: Slate Magazine on the market for "Zenware"

While I appreciate the recent advance of simplicity and usability in software, I cannot help but smile at the story about setting document properties every time before you started writing. Why? Because Word really does a great job doing all that stuff for you while you are in the flow of writing the document.

The problem is: you don't know it's possible, and you can't be bothered to read up on it, can you?

Word can use template documents, and it's really easy to use them, basically you set everything up once as you described it above, and then you just save that document as a template. It's a good idea to learn about styles (I use the german version, so maybe that's not the correct term) while you're at it.

There's lots of predefined shorcuts that let you do all formatting while you write, there's an outline that lets you elegantly move around sections or chapters, there's autogenerated indexes and TOCs, you can use it in fullscreen mode so you just see the text, and no distracting toolbars...and it's all so easy to use once you dig it, you'd wonder why anyone bothers to write another word processor at all.

It is a sad truth that I have only twice in my career met a person who would know how to really use word to its full advantage. Millions of people use it every dat but don't know how. Even sadder because I have been able to teach the essentials to my colleagues and business partners in less than 2 hours each, because there's really not much to it.

While it goes without saying that the writing you refer to in your post is an art in itself that takes years of practice to master, nobody seems to acknowledge the fact that using a complex piece of software to it's full advantage must also require a certain amount of time and effort.

People don't even bother to read the manual, as they don't do with their cellphones, and then they bore everybody to death with stories of how they fail to use it correctly.

The real Zen approach IMHO to a problem is to try to make an informed decision of what tool to use and then to learn how to use properly.

To take it to extremes and really become a Zen master, you could use VI and Tex to write your stuff, apart from Q10 there's no other editor that has less distctracting elements, and nothing else comes even close to the quality of Tex layouts. Both are available on Mac, too.




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