3 Bare Bones Word Processors: Byword, iA Writer, Dāna II

3 Bare Bones Word Processors: Byword, iA Writer, Dāna II

Jason Rodway
Nov 23, 2011

Microsoft Word, Pages, and OpenOffice all do a more than sufficient job for word processing duty, perhaps even offering more features than needed for the everyday user. You can write, format, embed images, add links, and much more we barely touch when we launch any of these applications. But what if all you want to do is write, and write without all those distracting bells and whistles? Pared down OS X applications like Byword, iA Writer and Ommwriter Dana II offer users a focused writing environment...

My initial experience with a stripped down word processor was off to a good start using Byword. Offering full screen capabilities, most of the options can be hidden away in the menu bar to keep the working area clear of UI clutter. There are only three choices to make before jumping in: choosing black text on white (or vice versa), wide, medium or narrow margins, and which of the five fonts to use. We didn't even have to worry about saving, thanks to the built-in autosave feature.

Other features include word search, word and character count, Lion integration with Versions, and true full screen mode. And if you're fluent HTML, you'll especially like the ability to focus using Markdown mode. $10

iA Writer
It's abundantly clear a lot of detail was put into designed iA Writer, as we found using this app as eloquent and minimal as using a pen and notepad. For example maneuvering through the text can be done with only the keyboard. Option + Left/Right shifts the cursor over each word while Command + Left/Right jumps between sentences. Word and character count, read time, and full screen are all available, but note customizing any further is not available. $5

OmmWriter Dana II
"Absolute zen" the two words we'd use to describe our time using OmmWriter's Dana II. OmmWriter creates a mood that can either bring out your words or stop them in their place altogether, thanks to the integration of tranquil music, serene backgrounds, and several keystroke sound effects (all of which can be selected or turned off). All together, these UI and audio elements create a work environment which is part meditative and part word processor. $5

So which of these three apps should you be using? Well any of these three options are proficient for the most basic word processing duties. But here's our thoughts after using all three side by side:

Some say the best menu is one that you never have to see. We prefer iA Writer because all we need to do is open and jump in. There's no need to meddle with fonts, font sizes, or any additional settings. iA Writer's user interface made it the easiest to launch and start writing without distraction.
Verdict: iA Writer

All three applications offered an intentionally minimal features list, but Byword included one extra feature we found particularly useful: HTML Markdown mode. Whether offline or online, HTML coders can work away in this focused setting...very useful for bloggers, webpage designers and coders. Verdict: Byword

At just $5, iA Writer is our first recommendation, especially since the $5 price is the same as the iPad version. However for absolute value, aka FREE, an earlier version of OmmWriter Dana II is available as a free download, perfect for those strapped, but still in need of an able app. Verdict: iA Writer

After using all three of these apps one after anoter, a clear favourite became obvious: iA Writer. Features we particularly liked included keyboard shortcuts and an optimal screen layout; everything was accessible and nothing was distracting. Although Byword has a similar focus mode, each time the mouse or trackpad is bumped, this focus mode would disappear, and our own focus alongside it. Verdict: iA Writer

iA Writer was our clear-cut choice in our head to head comparison. But to be honest, you can't go wrong with any of these options. We liked Byword's black background with white text in one line focus mode, a wonder during late night writing sessions. In our opinion Ommwriter was hampered by distracting key sound effects, but the serene meditation ambiance music helped us relax and get work done even with deadlines looming (like putting this post together!). But iA Writer is the only one we're now still using.

Verdict: iA Writer

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