Distraction Free Writing in Linux - Vim and AbiWord

Distraction Free Writing in Linux - Vim and AbiWord
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Eliminating the Extras

As you’ve probably discovered, most Linux text editors have a high geek quotient. They’re heavily slanted to programming – they’re great for banging out and verifying code (the building blocks of software).

Of course, text editors are also good for their namesake, editing text. Originally, the only way to edit text on a system was through a plain text editor. Now, modern word processors have added a myriad options and miscellany to the game of computer aided writing. This is all well and good for formatting in the end, but what about when you just want to write?

By using a plain text editor or a full screen, minimalistic editor, you can create a distraction free work environment that will eliminate everything but the necessities: you and the task at hand. You would be surprised at how ignoring the formatting and production side of your writing can lead to increased productivity and a stronger voice. As more people have discovered the benefits of distraction free writing, more applications facilitating the process have been developed for use under Linux. First we’ll look at some of the old favorites, then move on to recent clones of WriteRoom, the popular Mac OS X application for distraction free writing.


Vi, now typically Vim, is the classic text editor still used by a number of programmers today. Vim has a steep learning curve, with little to no mouse functionality. This means that as you write, if you want to move around, you have to know the proper key combinations to do so.

Vim runs from the command line, so you can either use a maximized (F11) terminal window from your desktop environment or no desktop environment at all. The interface is extraordinarily customizable from the .vimrc file in your home directory. Since the key bindings for Vim are hard to learn, many new users choose to post a cheat sheet on their wall until they have the key bindings they use most memorized.


AbiWord-2.0-Gnome from AbiSource.com

AbiWord may be a full word processor, but the project recognizes the necessity of a stripped down, distraction-free interface. If you are looking for a way to emulate one of these minimalist itnerfaces in a day-to-day word processor then you can simply press “F11” in AbiWord to have all of the extraneous buttons and data disappear from your screen. The one drawback to using AbiWord compared to the others is a lack of “theme” or coloration support. Many users who end up enjoying WriteRoom clones like the amber on black or green on black interfaces since the aesthetics appeal to them, hiding the daunting blankness of a stark, empty white page. Still, AbiWord is capable of performing as a distraction free writing center if you can handle the bright emptiness of a plain white page.

The Rooms

One of the original applications to apply the concept of no-nonsense, distraction free, full screen writing was WriteRoom for Mac OS X.

TextRoom from TextRoom.SourceForge.net

The name spawned a number of clones, all similar, but often written in different languages. I refer to them as The Rooms and summarize them here because every editor is near identical. They all share the same full screen appearance, some have customizable background and text color options, and most perform the same duties: simple, plain text editing.

The most downloaded for Linux is TextRoom. TextRoom has many of the features of a modern word processor like LibreOffice’s Writer, but maintains a minimalist interface. Many users like TextRoom because it’s a cross between a fully stripped down interface with no formatting options and a fully populated, distraction rampant word processor.

JDarkRoom is another popular spin-off of WriteRoom with a hyper-minimalist interface. It has a goal feature, where you can input the word count you wish to reach and JDarkRoom will inform you when you have reached your goal for the day. As the “J” suggests, JDarkRoom was written in Java.

PyRoom is the final WriteRoom spin here, but certainly not the last one available. PyRoom attempts to be even further out of your way and minimalist than JDarkRoom and, as the “Py” suggests, is written in Python.

Since all of these WriteRoom alternatives are open source, they are free to use and modify as you need. The standard application will be good for those looking for a functional, full screen, distraction free writing environment though.


FocusWriter from GottCode.org/FocusWriter

FocusWriter is very similar to the WriteRoom clones, but adds several additional features that someone looking for a hybrid environment might enjoy. The interface of FocusWriter is minimalist like the others, but the application supports tabbed interfaces and dozens of themes. This allows you to further customize the environment to your liking without having to modify any of the editor’s source code.

However, FocusWriter does not stand out for its aesthetics alone. A built-in statistics system lets you view your writing statistics over time to see if FocusWriter or another application has actually improved your ability to get down to business. Finally, FocusWriter offers a similar goal system to JDarkRoom, but lets you expand that goal into a daily one so you can keep on track with a big project or document.


Screenshots from:

AbiWord, https://www.abisource.com

FocusWriter, https://gottcode.org/focuswriter/

JDarkRoom, https://www.codealchemists.com/jdarkroom/

PyRoom, https://pyroom.org/

TextRoom, https://textroom.sourceforge.net

Vim, https://www.vim.org