I've been peripherally following the latest fad of full-screen "writing-focused" text editors. Here's what I've learned so far: in the beginning, there was WriteRoom (Mac OS X, $24.95). WriteRoom is "just about you and your text." WriteRoom begat DarkRoom (Windows + .NET, $0), which is also "just about you and your text" but requires a 22 MB runtime environment. DarkRoom begat JDarkRoom (Java, $0), which is just about you, your text, and somebody else's multi-megabyte runtime environment. (Depending on your platform, it may be as small as 13 MB, which is what the kids these days would call "an improvement.")
No doubt JDarkRoom will beget something even sillier, like PalmDarkRoom ("just you and your graffiti"), or iPodRoom ("just you, your text, and your scroll wheel"), or WiiDarkRoom ("just you, your text, and the incessant flicking of your wrist"). It's like a Biblical lineage of silliness.
Here's the basic problem: you're writing a text editor. Stop doing that. It's 2007. Saying to yourself "I'm gonna build my own text editor" is as silly as saying "I'm gonna build my own build system" or "I'm gonna build my own amusement park." Blackjack and hookers and all that. Writing a great text editor is insanely difficult. There is a certain class of software that sounds easy but is actually insanely difficult. I call it "garden path software." If I ever start a software company, I'll name it "Garden Path Software," but until then, just stop.
Reading the change logs of these programs is like traveling back in time. Way back. Latest changes in JDarkRoom 8: Undo / Redo. Seriously. Version 8, and they now support undo. No offense, but what the fuck?
I guess the part I don't understand is the target audience. Who is so serious about writing that they need a full-screen editor, but so unserious that they don't have a favorite editor already? I've published two full-length books and posted a hell of a lot more than that, and you can pry my text editor from my cold dead hands. I'm not even going to mention which one it is; it doesn't matter. Switching to a new one would be a frustrating and painful experience that would get in the way of my writing for weeks, maybe months.
All right, I think I've got it. (Write|J?Dark)Room is the SUV of editors. Remember when SUVs were new, and they were actually advertised as off-road vehicles? At some point the auto makers realized that no one was taking them off-road, and they switched to playing up their safety instead (which turned out to be just as much a fantasy as the off-road thing, but hey, it's advertising). I think that's what's going on here. These programs aren't for serious writers at all. They're for the writer's equivalent of script kiddies -- people who want to go to Starbucks and pick up chicks with their MacBooks and their iPods and their glowing full-screen text editors.
No doubt they will be wildly successful. Meanwhile, if you need me, I'll be in the corner writing my next book with a real text editor. I think it even has a full-screen mode.