why text software is outdated
my thoughts on why (and how) typing could be better
I’ve been typing and editing text documents in Pages and Word for years. And honestly, I didn’t think that there was a better way to accomplish that task. I fell in love with Pages when I was 12 or 13, because I thought it was (along with iTunes) one of the best apps ever written for computers. And with ‘best’, I mean ‘good-looking’. And still today, Pages is good-looking, though it’s in need of a major revamp, and everybody can get work done with it.
Now - here’s the thing. There’s nothing ‘bad’ with Word, Pages & Co., I just think lots of people are missing the point on why typing on computers should be fast, efficient and easy. Typing in those apps is (maybe) easy, but there’s a big lack of speed an efficiency. The fancy menus won’t help you to finish your work sooner. In fact, they’ll just make your work tiring.
What, in my opinion, is really ‘bad’ (I don’t like the word so I’ll put it in a special ‘…’-box) is the interaction between humans and those apps. It’s the way most of us use them, it’s the way we were taught how to use them (at least my generation) and our blindness. There’s really nothing about being productive with that category of apps. And don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying those apps are useless; I’m saying that people could use them in a better way.
Here’s a quick example: last year, I had to do a project for a class in school and I had to hand in a document at a given date. After typing in every information i could possibly find online, I dragged hip pictures and graphs into the document and played around with awesome fonts. And the editing got slower. And slower. The file was just under 500MB when I asked myself: Is this really the best way to use this app? Typing is a mess, pictures are a mess, the whole thing just sucked.
In school everybody was doing the same thing (we were taught how to make Word-documents during the first year in secondary school) but nobody (including me) complained or even thought about complaining about Word, Pages & Co. And still today, teachers and students work with “Productivity-Suites” and many think of them as the only way to get letters, calculations and presentations done.
In August 2012 I got the chance to join an incredible team behind the app “PercussionTutor” (c.f. my last post for more information). And Laurent introduced me to the wonderful world of Markdown. I’d started to write a bit of HTML and CSS and I loved the structure of it (I started to love the Internet even more!): the HTML-file is the backbone of the website and you can style it with a CSS-file. That’s it. There’s one file for the content, and another for the styling.
Let’s go back to Markdown. I was just starting to enjoy the <p></p>’s of HTML when Laurent came to me and said: “Hey - I’ve got something better”. I wasn’t immediately convinced. I was rockin’ HTML with Sublime Text 2 and the hip geeky fonts so why would I care for a simple text-only language, right?
Well I was wrong. Because Markdown may be one of the best inventions - ever. The syntax is easy to pick up and you can export it (almost) everywhere. You can work with Markdown and play with Pages. You can write without losing focus. And focus is everything.
In addition to Markdown, you can use apps like “Byword” (wich syncs across all of your devices) to type and export, TextExpander for intelligent shortcuts etc.
There’s a whole lot of possibilities and solutions to the problems we face with “traditional” text writing software. Most of them remain unknown to the majority of people out there: teachers, students, etc.
In my opinion there are 3 solutions to ‘The Problem’:
1. Better education: students should learn how to use apps in order to be productive. Computers have been designed to work fast and hassle-free.
2. Better integration of existing apps: e.g. apps should have better options built-in to export the document and to create a final document. The final document matters: what if you have 5 awesome apps and you loose time to connect them and transfer your docs back and forth? Productivity should be productive.
3. Big disruption: everybody needs a powerful text software. Someone has to build a system that hits the sweet spot.