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Topic: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing? (Read 2743 times)

  • ersi
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What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Here's a list of text editors http://www.tuxarena.com/2011/06/20-text-editors-for-linux-overview-screenshots/

The most professional and advanced thing is of course an office suite for word processing, but my foremost concern here is plain text in e.g. emails and webforms (textareas) and, by extension, coding and programming. My code-editing needs are minimal (naturally on a par with the abilities) and I have usually not much use for e.g. the self-completion kind of bracket-and-tag-matching. However, I often search and replace massively in texts, often in multiple files at the same time, which makes me perhaps intermediate so that I cannot stick exclusively to the simplest editors such as Notepad.




What's the best interface?

It's probably useful to distinguish between GUI and terminal programs. While menus and statusbars are common in both graphical desktop environment and easily possible in terminal (or console), GUI programs can rely more on toolbars with buttons and mouse interaction. Terminal programs can have some mouse interaction, but it's of a whole different quality. Mouse support has no standard in terminal programs, so it's not uniform. Terminal programs rely more on keybinds.

Mouse interaction and buttoned toolbars make GUI interface stand out. Apple and Google interface engineers (and others infected by them, such as Gnome and MS devs recently) think toolbars plus a viewing/editing area is all a user should ever want. They tend to provide menus as another button on the toolbar and they deliberately hide or kill the menubar.

So, in addition to mouse interaction (point&click, scroll, drag&drop) and buttoned toolbars, which are more GUI things, not for terminal programs, some other elements in editor interface are:

  • Menubar and context menus

  • Titlebar and statusbar (with info about e.g. file name, clock, file size, cursor position, etc.)

  • Keyboard shortcuts

  • Theming (font sizes and colours)







What's the functionality you cannot live without?


  • Search, find, select, copy, replace

  • Undo, redo

  • Highlighting

  • Spellcheck

  • Self-completion (of common text, as in Open/LibreOffice)

  • Tag-and-bracket matching (of code and programming languages, as in Geany)

  • Macros (sequencing available actions or creating custom commands) and formatting

  • Buffer management

  • File tree

  • Sessions

  • Formatted preview

  • Plugins and extensions



Given your combined needs of editing, what's your choice of editors? What kind of editors have you been looking at and what did you find?

As for myself, I often tend to use the simplest editors for quick file-changes in GUI, such as Leafpad and Mousepad which are basically equivalent to Notepad. For more concentrated use I open up Medit for its sessions (to continue where I left off), for its file-tree, highlighting, theming, and macros. Sometimes I miss tag-and-bracket matching which is not there in Medit, but not too badly.

In terminal, the necessary theming is done by configuring the terminal rather than the program in it. I tend to use the terminal a lot because all programs in it display uniformly in the fonts and colours I set. My preferred editor in terminal is nano which is much simpler than vi or emacs. Linux distros tend to include nano out of the box, even though vi tends to be the system default, so I have to configure vi away every time and make nano the system default.

Same as the likes of Notepad, nano is a very good option for quick file-changes, but I have ended up writing long text in it (such as this forum post). I have configured it to display highlighting and learned its shortcuts to find, copy, cut, replace, undo and redo stuff and to move around in files. Among other features nano provides automatic justification of text (due to the justification feature, it serves well as email composer for mutt), navigate the file system, some mouse support and management of buffers.

On the list linked above, joe with its multiple frames/windows looks interesting. This is something that nano doesn't do.




Web interface, forms and textareas

Webpages have holes where to type stuff. These are called forms and textareas. Sometimes, such as in these forums, they provide some formatting options, smileys and such. These are things I don't care about. I often browse the web with images off. I don't care in what way the textareas are styled. When I don't use them, I want them small, but when I use them, I want them big, i.e. I want them to be configurable. This means either user CSS or an external editor as a plugin or extension to the browser.

A good example of inbuilt configurability in webpage textares is at Github. It offers a modest textarea for comments along with a full-screen button, i.e. the textarea can fill the browser frame, the font turns big and it's much comfier to type. The Github design would be in my opinion the best kind of design for textareas all around the web, but still the problem is that it's not adequate for everyone and everything. The same way as browsers provide a way to configure an external source viewer, downloader, emailer, etc. it would be obvious to provide a way to configure an external textarea editor too.

  • jax
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #1
There are at least three modes of writing, "creative" writing and/or outlining, typing, editing. Each with their own needs. I'd like to have available what I need in each mode, with a minimum of distractions from what I need.

In normal/work use you don't write in isolation, you add to what others have written, and edit for the purpose of publication.

  • DarkFireZero
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #2
I would say maybe just import the data, then get the users to come back and make a fresh account.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #3
Why didn't I think of that? :doh:

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #4
LibreOffice 5 is out for those who like such things. It's my favorite insofar as I don't dislike the entire concept.

https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/ReleaseNotes/5.0

On topic, when it's just for me I generally prefer to work in Markdown, with some LaTeX mixed in when necessary.

My browser post composing, when not done in the browser itself, I do in Zim. This has more to do with its note-keeping and organizing capabilities than with its capabilities as a writing platform per se. Paper and Zim are where my ideas incubate and where I keep my lists of things of interest; where I write down my research results before I buy things, etc.

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #5
Writing software, as Microsoft's Word or any other, destroys reasoning.
People should be forced to write with ink and paper and not allowed to make corrections. That's the only way of having things orderly structured inside your mind.
Anyone that can write an A4 page by hand knows it.
A matter of attitude.

  • Barulheira
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #6
And then, copy by hand and send by mail. No fax allowed. Too much technology. :left:

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #7

On topic, when it's just for me I generally prefer to work in Markdown, with some LaTeX mixed in when necessary.

My browser post composing, when not done in the browser itself, I do in Zim.

And you don't use Latex editors? I noticed some time ago that Gummi's default startup interface is awesome: The code and rendition side by side in dual frames.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #8
And you don't use Latex editors?

For the moment my preferred text editor is Geany, with SciTE for those circumstances where for some reason or other it's a bit slow. Specialized editors are rarely any more responsive.

Gummi did look quite nice when I tried it a few years ago, but like I said I don't much care to compose directly in LaTeX if I can avoid it. Markdown is much more legible, easier to write, and even with some fairly significant \latexblabla control codes still transforms nicely into e.g. HTML and DOCX.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #9

And you don't use Latex editors?

For the moment my preferred text editor is Geany, with SciTE for those circumstances where for some reason or other it's a bit slow. Specialized editors are rarely any more responsive.

I see. So from your point of view the editor must be "responsive". This must be so for fast typists.

For me, the editor must be legible, first and foremost. Geany may be responsive in that it puts letters in place as fast as I can type, but a dark theme that I once upon a time got to work in Geany looks a bit glitchy, and looks matter a lot to me when it comes to text. So I prefer things like Mousepad or Medit that come with Cobalt and Oblivion themes inbuilt. It's a bit stupid that themes matter to me this way, but it's my stupidity and nobody can take it away from me.


Gummi did look quite nice when I tried it a few years ago, but like I said I don't much care to compose directly in LaTeX if I can avoid it. Markdown is much more legible, easier to write, and even with some fairly significant \latexblabla control codes still transforms nicely into e.g. HTML and DOCX.

In Gummi I like the default dual-pane overview of both the source and the rendering. It's a totally fabulantastic thing.

The markdown format seems awkwardly limiting to me. It's both too easy and too complicated at the same time. It's easy to understand the basic idea, e.g. you can emphasise words and create lists with asterisks, but when you *really* intend to type an asterisk, it's the end of the world.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #10
For me, the editor must be legible, first and foremost.

I'd just as lief type my initial draft with the screen off. :) But sure, legibility is important. I've never had any issues.

So I prefer things like Mousepad or Medit that come with Cobalt and Oblivion themes inbuilt. It's a bit stupid that themes matter to me this way, but it's my stupidity and nobody can take it away from me.

There's nothing wrong with Mousepad. That's why I like plain text: any editor goes. But one thing that becomes quite important in longer documents is having an overview of the structure (F5 in LibreOffice). To my knowledge Mousepad doesn't have that.
The markdown format seems awkwardly limiting to me. It's both too easy and too complicated at the same time. It's easy to understand the basic idea, e.g. you can emphasise words and create lists with asterisks, but when you *really* intend to type an asterisk, it's the end of the world.

Escaping characters works with a backslash, same as in LaTeX, regular expressions, and pretty much anything I can think of. But *emphasis* is just a poor man's italic, just as underlining is a typewriter's (also poor man's) italic. This scenario should be exceedingly rare, and I've certainly never encountered it.

It's true that Markdown is somewhat limited, but the only true problem is an ongoing lack of a built-in means of referring to images and tables. (NB That depends on the MD implementation; at least one does have it and there's an extension for Pandoc that does the trick as well.)

In any case, to me Markdown is a reasonable approximation of how I already typed in plain text. And plain text is preferred for obvious reasons. It may not be perfect, but at least for me it's pretty darn close to it.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #11

I'd just as lief type my initial draft with the screen off. :) But sure, legibility is important. I've never had any issues.

When you can type so well that you don't need the screen, of course you should not have any issues. As for me, I have always taken care (and spent possibly months of my lifetime) to set the fonts and colours right - and that's why I don't have any (serious) issues with the eyes either.


But one thing that becomes quite important in longer documents is having an overview of the structure (F5 in LibreOffice). To my knowledge Mousepad doesn't have that.

You mean like headings, paragraphs, pages, tables, etc. neatly listed? Plain text documents are not even supposed to need this in the first place, because there's no formatting and no embedding by the very definition. 

However, a replacement offered by some plain text editors is marking or bookmarking. When you type a line that is supposed to be a heading or something else important, mark the place and later you can jump between lines that are marked this way.

For overview, I would like to see a reading mode in big word processors, as in Libreoffice. By reading mode I mean a distinct mode of displaying the document, separate from the editing mode, so that when you scroll it here and there to get an overview, typing would not alter anything. And preferably it should be possible to set different fonts and colours for reading mode, so that you know for sure it's reading mode right now.

(Recently, Firefox has implemented a kind of reading mode. Safari had it earlier but, knowing Apple, it was surely copied from somewhere earlier still. Of course, Opera's userCSS was perfectly suitable to put the whole internet into reading mode and that's what I used it for.)


But *emphasis* is just a poor man's italic, just as underlining is a typewriter's (also poor man's) italic.

In books published in the Soviet Union somehow the most preferred typographical emphasis was s p a c i n g. I guess that was poor Soviet Block's italic.


It's true that Markdown is somewhat limited, but the only true problem is an ongoing lack of a built-in means of referring to images and tables. (NB That depends on the MD implementation; at least one does have it and there's an extension for Pandoc that does the trick as well.)

The worst thing with Markdown is lack of standard or lack of definition. The original statement is open to various interpretations and now it indeed is very varied. In Github you learn one thing, in other places you have to accommodate to variations, whereas I would really prefer to have the plain good old plain text available. I shouldn't need to escape plain text!

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #12
You mean like headings, paragraphs, pages, tables, etc. neatly listed? Plain text documents are not even supposed to need this in the first place, because there's no formatting and no embedding by the very definition.

An editor like Geany lists headings in Markdown and LaTeX; specialized LaTeX editors list the headings in LaTeX files. "Embedding" could likewise be listed, although I have no need for that.

The worst thing with Markdown is lack of standard or lack of definition.

There is a certain lack of standardization, but not in a way that is problematic.

In Github you learn one thing, in other places you have to accommodate to variations, whereas I would really prefer to have the plain good old plain text available. I shouldn't need to escape plain text!
You're talking about something very different (i.e. not for your own use on your own computer). It's a control issue more than anything. Like how we're sometimes forced to use Word. Yuck! :P

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #13
Using PyRoom right now.
"Distraction free" text editor, I like the concept.

Quote
PyRoom is a free editor that stays out your way - and keeps other things out of your way, too. As a fullscreen editor without buttons, widgets, formatting options, menus and with only the minimum of required dialog windows, it doesn't have any distractions and lets you focus on writing and only writing. It is distributed under the GNU General Public Licence v3.
A matter of attitude.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #14
Oh yeah, I tried that for a bit. It's pretty cool. :)

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #15

Using PyRoom right now.
"Distraction free" text editor, I like the concept.

Does it have any specific advantages over vi? (Even though I use nano instead.)

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #16
Does it have any specific advantages over vi? (Even though I use nano instead.)

Sorry, I don't know vi.
I'm currently using Pluma (which comes with Ubuntu Mate) and I'm satisfied with it to write in English. Can't see how I can add other languages to the spell check plugin, I suppose I can't but to the six "versions" of English... which it's funny from a distro that comes with the name Mate - a Brasilian plant known for it's tea.
A matter of attitude.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #17

Does it have any specific advantages over vi? (Even though I use nano instead.)

Sorry, I don't know vi.

Type man vi in terminal. vi and a plain text filename in terminal should show you the interface.

Basically, I meant by my question how PyRoom compares with terminal-based editors, because if you want minimalism, you'd go to the terminal.
 

I'm currently using Pluma (which comes with Ubuntu Mate) and I'm satisfied with it to write in English. Can't see how I can add other languages to the spell check plugin, I suppose I can't but to the six "versions" of English... which it's funny from a distro that comes with the name Mate - a Brasilian plant known for it's tea.

I am also having constant trouble with spellcheckers. I seriously wonder why the makers of spellcheckers don't think beyond the system default language. I have to be able to spellcheck any arbitrary language and switch them on the fly, obviously!

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #18
Basically, I meant by my question how PyRoom compares with terminal-based editors, because if you want minimalism, you'd go to the terminal.

Well, I like minimalism but always with style... :)

The terminal is not something that I enjoy too much using and I restrict it's usage to a few sudo this sudo that...

The question to me remains at using a full text editor like libre office's Writer when I need to use advanced and powerful editing tools or something lighter that makes me feel comfortable to focus on the creative writing process itself.
A matter of attitude.

  • Barulheira
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Mate
Reply #19

a distro that comes with the name Mate - a Brasilian plant known for it's tea.

South American, to be fair. Mainly from Paraguay.

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #20
The question to me remains at using a full text editor like libre office's Writer when I need to use advanced and powerful editing tools or something lighter that makes me feel comfortable to focus on the creative writing process itself.

I'm trying out Scrivener, which is basically a novel/screen writing application. At first glance, it's the opposite of minimalism. It includes templates for character development as well as for settings and I suppose you can make your own and modify the existing ones. The application also has folders for "front matter", which the book cover, dedications and you can make your own additional front matter such as the legal information (copy write, credits, etc) and compiles the finish product into epub, mobi, etc. There's also a minimalist "compose" mode in which you're presented with only white typing space and a black background for distraction-free working, good for focusing on the creative process. All this is available from the main screen. The downside is that not everything is innovative to use and testing all those features detracts from work time.

The "best" depends on what you need, obviously. For my work, having a simple as possible interface doesn't cut it and I actually need features. The simple editors have their own problems. For instance, I don't want to have multiple windows open with text documents with all the characters' traits, the plot, what each setting is supposed to look, smell, sound, etc like. A dedicated creative writing tool like this can help resolve that issue.

No, I don't work for them and I'm not getting paid for this :p Like I said, I'm only trying it out myself.
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #21
Speaking of software like Scrivener, I've heard some good things about bibisco. Never tried it myself.

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #22
I've never heard of it, but it also looks like it might be useful to him since he needs something for creative writing. A disturbing amount of the creative process for long works is is keeping the work consistent. For example, in my writer's group we catch people changing the exact spelling a character's name in the course of the book. I've even caught myself doing that with some characters name "Praetextus" (a Roman name.) Even worse is keeping track of when events happened in a 300 page book after a dozen re-writes that even involve changing the order in which events happen or adding scenes then having to think "Did event X really happen yet to give the character knowledge of it or maybe it did happen but was that particular character actually there or was otherwise told of it?" It would help a lot if whatever software he chooses can help keep track of issues like this (it looks like Bibisco can also do this, but I'll need to fire up my Linux box to test it.) You also want some sort grammar checker. The built in ones suck, but can help find simple typos and cut some time off the proofreading (not real editing) process.

It's romantic to imagine opening up a plain text editor and just writing a whole story stream of consciousness, but that notion is far from reality. If a writer says he does that, I can think of three possibilities: 1) He's lying 2) His IQ is higher than that of Steven Hawking 3) His stories are riddled with every imaginable, and then some, errors.
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #23

It's romantic to imagine opening up a plain text editor and just writing a whole story stream of consciousness, but that notion is far from reality. If a writer says he does that, I can think of three possibilities: 1) He's lying 2) His IQ is higher than that of Steven Hawking 3) His stories are riddled with every imaginable, and then some, errors.

4) He is supermethodical (no need for massive IQ, just discipline) 5) He is writing under inspiration, not under impulse to show off or under compulsion to meet a deadline or contract.

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #24
None of the tools Scrivener or Bibisco offer is a contradiction to inspiration. Go nuts, write out the character profiles in far more detail than you'll need in the story. Write settings out multiple times, again with far more detail than you really need, and base the finished product on the best one or a combination of them. Have fun :yes:

In fact, the tools can inspire by helping you imagine details that you might not have thought of otherwise - details that separate your work from the pack.  A example of this is mannerisms. Abigail, one of the characters in my latest novella that I'm still working one, scratches at her in response to uncomfortable questions.

I'll try to show you what I mean. This is from the same the same short book, which I consider to be still rough draft quality.

Quote
Abbie pursed her lips. "Nobody told me anything like that before. I'm trying not to fuck this up. I mean mess it up..."
I pressed my finger to her lips. "You don't have to change your vocabulary or anything else about yourself for me."
"I do. I'm evil." She scratched at her left arm.
I took Abbie's self-harming hand and held it gently with a measure of firmness. "Stop it. Why would say that about yourself?"


Even that's not as intense as it could be. A new writer without tools will typically produce something like this:

Quote
"Nobody told me anything like that before. I'm trying not to fuck this up. I mean mess it up..."
"You don't have to change your vocabulary or anything else about yourself for me."
"I do. I'm evil."
"Stop it. Why would say that about yourself?"


See this difference without tools and editing for character development? This version doesn't show the extent that the first character feels badly so about herself and uncomfortable that she digs at her own arm and the second character instinctively protects her, etc.

The plain text editor is great for cranking out your rough draft in one night under inspiration. To take the story to the next level and beyond, you'll want something better. It is possible to drive in a screw in with a hammer, but for best results choose the correct tool.
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal