I've been writing professionally for the better part of a decade. I've used a ton of different word processing programs and all seemed to be lacking.
Microsoft Word includes every feature under the sun and is great for writing a lengthy book or academic paper, thanks to its powerful organizational and footnoting abilities. It's also great for many types of collaborative efforts because of its impressive track changes abilities. However, for general purpose writing — when one wants to focus on the writing, Word is overly complicated and has way too many features.
On the other end of the spectrum, a basic word processor like notepad or TextEdit isn't powerful enough, because they lack the ability to export in multiple formats or even perform basic formatting like bulleted or numbered lists.
Then there's Byword. My preferred writing application for my Mac, iPhone, and iPad, Byword is a simple and effective tool that helps block out distractions while allowing users to mark up their writing as much as needed.
Byword is designed to use Markdown, a simple markup language designed by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. It's meant to allow Markdown-formatted documents to be publishable as plain text without losing any additional meaning. For example, text wrapped with a *single asterisk* is meant to be italicized and a **double asterisk** is meant to be bold. However, Byword can also be used as a rich text editor, acting like Microsoft Word, for users more familiar with that.
Aside from unique formatting abilities, Byword has other useful features. It has an excellent full-screen mode that puts a document front-and-center on the display, hiding away email, web browsers, and other distractions. They're easily found again, of course, but sometimes that extra step is hugely beneficial for a writer on a deadline. There is also a "Dark Mode" that inverts black and white, putting white text on a black background, which can reduce eye strain.
Other nice touches include a "typewriter" mode that permanently puts the writing cursor in the middle of the page — rather than constantly having the page scroll up from the bottom, the cursor and the line currently being edited remain in the middle of the page at all times. It's a love-it-or-hate-it feature, but for those who love it, you'll miss it when you're writing in other applications.
There are also features that can dim all text but the paragraph or line that you're currently editing, which reduces potential distractions even further when trying to focus.
For users with multiple Apple products like Macs, iPhones, or iPads, Byword can save documents to Apple's iCloud service. Byword can then access those files on any Apple device, with syncs happening almost immediately upon saving. Being able to start a document on an iPad when on a plane and having it show up on a desktop Mac when arriving at the office is a joy to behold, and it makes me wonder how we ever got by moving files around on floppy disks or USB flash drives.
Byword can export files in Markdown, HTML, PDF, RTF, Word, or LaTeX formats, and an extra charge via an in-app purchase allows for direct publishing to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Scriptogram blogs, and Evernote notebooks.
Have you used Byword, or do you prefer / recommend a different word processing application? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
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Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.