(Prof)Hacking the ultimate word processor


A while back, I wrote about pursuing something called Techno-bliss. I had described it as a system where you imagined a perfect technological system built around a primary goal My own version of Techno-bliss was a workstation that could live on several machines, using the majesty of the cloud and google docs. In the time since, my needs have gotten a little more specific, and recently I’ve discovered a home-brew, mobile, lightweight and (most importantly) free word processing system that I find very useful. Before I describe it, I should explain why the existing solutions don’t cut it for me, and what I want in a “perfect” system.

Up until recently, I’ve been exclusively using Google Docs as my primary word processor. It fulfilled a few of my criteria for the perfect word processor: Instant Saving, Cloud Storage, and Exportability. When introducing Google Docs to a new student or faculty member, I always show it off by explaining that “the computer [they are using] could explode, or melt underneath [their] hands – and their data would be saved up until the last few seconds.” In the event that their file needed to be a specific format, Docs has you covered there as well. Any system I used would have to be accessible from multiple computers, just like before.

One big downside? Google Docs lives in the browser. Editing in-browser is a great idea, until your notification extensions alert you to the presence of a new email, or Facebook refreshes with an update, or you remember that Reddit exists. A truly productive word processor shouldn’t necessarily live in the most distracting thing my computer has installed in it!

Google Docs also currently lacks any kind of offline capabilities. The ability to edit a document offline (despite how rarely you might find yourself in such a position) is a major function that I do not find in the Google Docs editing suite. This might be me trying to have my cake and eat it too (after all, what good is the cloud if you have it offline?) but there are significant advantages to *also* having a local copy of a file when you need it.

If only there was some service that synced local files to an online cloud folder…wait, there is! It’s called Dropbox, and I think we’ve mentoned it before.

I looked at OpenOffice and Abiword (Ubuntu, anyone?), but I wanted something lightweight, something that I could – if need be – deploy on any computer I am using, whether or not I owned it.


I found my solution in a java app called  JDarkRoom. Created by a group called Codealchemists, it is a cross-platform app  that you can just pop right into your Dropbox folder. Rather than opening the app individually on every machine I use, I open up the same instance of the java applet presnent in each dropbox folder.

Dropbox sees any changes I make to the settings of JdarkRoom and updates the other instances. For instance, I have mine set to very small borders, fullscreen, with black backgrund and green text. At the bottom of the file, there is a line, word, and character count. It saves to plain text or Markdown (and has some really cool HTML functionality that I have yet to explore), and (the icing on the cake) it even saves every few seconds to a temporary folder in the same directory as the .jdk file. Since you can add the .jdk to the Dropbox folder, even the temp files will be synced.

There is one slight problem with the system, but it is something I am happy to work around. Because the files save to .txt, there is no richer formatting. I acually like this – it focuses on the words rather than the way they look. It does require some creative editing if you plan on adding hyperlinks or more formating later on, but its a small price to play for attaining techno-bliss. For me, JDarkRoom +Dropbox is a productivity engine, cutting out all distraction and keeping all the benefits of cloud-based systems.

This is my solution to a few of my personal annoyances. Do you have a favorite alternative word processor or text editor?  Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user Slideshow Bruce / Creative Commons licensed

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