Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vim versus Emacs--Word Processor Style

Context: A forum on the NaNoWriMo website. There is a user named "Glimfeather" on the site who is a strong advocate for Scrivener.

Original Post (by Living In Dreams):

Hey everyone! Does anyone know of a free alternative to Scrivener? I'm currently using Yarny, but I was wondering if there was something better out there.... Does anyone have any suggestions?

glimfeather's response:

As an avid Scrivener user (I bought my copy although in general I'm an advocate for open source) so the question going through my mind is why do you want some free but restrictive clone of Scrivener rather than the full and complete original? 

Living In Dream's response to glimfeather:

Well right now I don't have the $40 to shell out right now lol. I'm a broke college student lol.

glimfeather's reply:

If you're a student then how can you survive without Scrivener?! Investing $40 in your college career will pay you back with better term papers, essays, dissertations, theses. Scrivener isn't only for fiction. It can be and has been used successfully by academics for their studies and their papers and textbooks.

Maybe you should pester your college/faculty to approach Literature and Latte about a corporate deal that way you and all the students could benefit from Scrivener.

So, I come along after about ten or twelve responses to the original poster, and I am confused by glimfeather. My post:

So, looking at glimfeather's insistence that a college student simply must have scrivener, I said to myself, "Mars, what is really so great about scrivener? I think it's time to go check it out." I said this because a) I'm a college student, b) I use gdocs, yarny, other text editors, and I have plume creator on my linux OS, and c) a lot of people think Scrivener is just the bomb. 
Naturally, I went and downloaded the free (until January 1, 2016) beta version of Scrivener to compare it to my other text editors.

Here are my findings after approximately an hour and a half of comparing (and I was mostly looking for what plume creator can't do--some pros and cons of both are left out, since I didn't write them down here on my handy list):


  • Script Mode
  • "Typewriter mode" (which can be turned off)--this keeps your text centered in the screen
  • Multimedia--pictures, videos, pdfs, you name it.
  • "Include in compile" and "page break before" options--the first allows you to decide whether or not you want a certain document or thing in the final product, and the second allows you to decide whether you want a page break before a certain document (useful for chapters and stuff)
  • References--one can link to an inside document or an outside source or whatever.
  • Keywords--search tags on documents
  • Saves history (if you ask)
  • Comments, footnotes, and annotations
  • It has a notably nice synopsis function (the cork board)
  • "Scrivenings mode"--this allows one to see several sub-documents all at once in one large document and edit individual sub-documents as such.
  • Target wordcount can be set for each document individually
  • Search function. I don't think Plume has this.
  • Templates creation option--I think plume has something similar, but I couldn't find it in a quick search about.
  • Collections--copy several related documents into their own group
  • Merging--one can merge scenes/snippets/documents together
  • Custom icons

  • It costs money.
  • It's very busy.
  • The "distraction free" fullscreen mode isn't.
  • Really bright to my eyes.
  • MS Word or Gdocs can be used for commenting, annotations, and footnotes, and most multimedia things.
  • It's not very user friendly. It takes at least an hour to learn all its functions, and then your brain hurts.
  • Celtex can do the script mode thing for free, and it's more intuitive.
  • I couldn't get a spellchecker to work--I think this is probably because I'm using a beta version, but whatever.
  • One has to actively save history by taking screenshots.
  • It crashed on me once. I think that's just a beta thing, though.
Plume Creator--Free

  • Absolutely scott-free.
  • Way less buttons/features to distract
  • A spell check feature, and ability to upload entire dictionaries.
  • Fullscreen mode is actually distraction free--covers the entire screen, instead of just a strip.
  • It seems less bright to me than Scrivener.
  • More intuitive
  • Synopsis, notes, and characters/items/places are pulled up on the side instead of having to switch to a different screen or having to partition your screen very much.
  • You can have multiple tabs of scenes open
  • Auto saves every (customizable amount of time--default is 20 seconds)
  • Very clean look
  • Two default formats to choose from: poetry and normal.
  • I can't find a search option
  • No annotations, comments, footnotes, history saving, collections, multimedia, target word count function, merging option, something like "Scrivenings mode" as far as I can tell, custom icons, templates, "include in compile" or "page break" options, script mode.
My conclusion:

Scrivener has some very nice features that one can use. However, most of these features can be found elsewhere, and for free. It's not worth the forty dollars unless you really want all your stuff in one place. For simple novel writing--well, I've survived years with just Google docs, yarny, notepad, and OpenOffice.

It's not worth the forty dollars if you're a broke college student! I've survived even longer without it while I've been in school than I have as a novelist. "Papers, essays, dissertations, [and] theses" can easily be written without Scrivener, since the only reasons I can see that you would want Scrivener for those is the outline function or for annotations and comments, which can be found elsewhere. But it's not even online, so you can't give it to a colleague without uploading it or attaching it to something online--and if you attach it, you have to make sure that the other person can open it! because what if they don't have Scrivener themselves?

A simple text editor such as notepad can be used for drafting "papers, essays, dissertations, [and] theses," as Scrivener claims that is what it is intended to be--and it's less distracting. I regularly use notepad to write anything and everything, since it pars it down to one thing--write. I also like Yarny (is my friend. Easy sharing capabilities, nice look, autosaving (and having all the versions available to one), basic formatting, characters/place/items options, snippet grouping, search function, multiple projects in the cloud so access from anywhere, etc.,). Gdocs is good for sharing work that one wants commented on.

Hope this helps~!

Naturally, being the fanatic they are--I am going to use 'she' from now on for convenience--glimfeather responds to my post:

You forgot something "trivial" from your comparison between Scrivener and Plume Creator. Well two things in fact. Development and support. Scrivener has active development effort. With regular new feature releases. The developers are talking about what what be in their version 3.0 and they are giving status updates on their iOS version which might make it to market in 2015. Support is given to a large active community of users. There are also third-party developers hooking into Scrivener be that Aeon Timeline (for Mac and Windows) or Index Card (for iOS).

Plume Creator on the other hand … err … last news was v0.6-something (so it's not out of beta notice) was just around the corner in January but no announcement of its release. Indeed development has completely stalled while the single developer goes back to the cork board. Support? Well web site for it hasn't been updated for a year. Oh and there's no longer a Mac OS X version.

Of course she would advocate for close-sourced software. My response:

Thanks for pointing that out, Glim. I wasn't aware of that, for either software.

Here's what else I've added to my list:


  • It has active development and support
  • They're going to add more things
  • There'll be an iOS version, if you're interested in writing with that.
  • It still costs money
  • There will be more "bells and whistles" to distract, and likely add even more difficulty in learning all the software
  • It's not open source
  • The iOS version doesn't come out at least until sometime next year (Pros to that: you don't have to make a decision right now based on whether or not you want the iOS version!).
  • Is the app going to cost money? Are you going to have to make an account for Scrivener on the computer and then sign in with that on your iOS device in order to use it?
Plume Creator--Free 
  • You don't have to worry about future updates changing things you like
  • It will stay clean and nice looking.
  • As far as I'm aware, it's completely open source
  • Doesn't make backups of your work. But you should be doing that anyways.
  • No iOS version.
  • Inactive development and support
  • You might not be able to use it on Windows 10 or something, when we get there, but there will probably be something else you can find for free by then!


If you don't think Scrivener is a god-send for all writers, then it's not worth the money.

If you're a broke college student, it's not worth the money. I certainly don't think it is. Use something else.

If you're still not convinced which way to go, try the 30-day trial of Scrivener, download Plume, compare, and see what you like.

Other Options: 
OpenOffice Word
Google Docs
Paper and Pencil
MS Word (Not free)
Typewriter! (Chances are you have to buy one of these, if you don't just happen to have one lying around like I do XD)

There's tons of free writing stuff out there. Scrivener isn't the only way. Plus, you can avoid some drama by sticking to simple word editors.

Katja casually pops into the conversation to offer a helpful correction:

Correction: With "Open Office Word", you obviously mean either Open Office Writer or Libre Office Writer. 
I'm right now using a combination of Scrivener Linux beta and Libre Office Writer (Libre's better of the two, I think).

BTW, I studied Computer Science a few years back (as an "adult student" (i.e. elder student) making a second degree), and it was required was that you use Latex for your thesis (and also for your smaller works, mainly).

(The Dept. of Computer Science in Helsinki University boasts that Torvalds studied there and at least they're supporting the use of linux... so that was the default system everywhere)

I respond to Katja:
Sorry, I forget that it's not OO Writer and not Word XD Thanks for the correction. I've never user Libre Office Writer.
glimfeather responds to Katja:
Your mention of LaTeX reminded that someone associated with LyX (a sort of not quite WYSIWYG editor for LaTeX) was trying to cement on a Scrivener-style corkboard app. No idea how far they got with it as I gave up on LyX when I switched to Scrivener. It'll suffer the same problem as other free suggestions here: limited development effort, little support, beta quality, trust it at your novel's peril.

Not that the cork board is the best feature of Scrivener. After many years of use Scrivener for all my writing projects including papers to academic journals, text books, novels, program specifications, technical documenation, recipes, and even poetry I still don't use the cork board.
silicon, an advocate for open-source software (and the second purposed author of this blog), pops into the conversation:
I see Scrivener is working well for you. That's great, and I'm glad you enjoy it!
However, the fact that applications such as Plume Creator are free and open source doesn't mean that they will suffer "limited development effort, little support, beta quality, trust it at your novel's peril." Are these open source applications often entirely supported by a small group of developers, with no third-party funding? Yes, often. But that doesn't mean the development effort is not on par, even better, than many funded, closed source applications!

Open source means that everyone who wants to read the code can do so. They can fork the code, and create offshoots of their own. They can improve and enhance the application, without requiring a special permit from a corporation or paying for the priviledge. More eyes reading the code find bugs faster. More programmers working on the code make the application more mature. If you liked the application, but wanted a specific fix -- you can add that! Write a patch! Customize endlessly! Closed-source doesn't let you do all of this. Personally, this is why I vastly prefer free, open source software. This is of course, my choice.

LyX is not really comparable to Scrivener, it's not meant to serve the same function at all. That would be like saying "I stopped using vim when I installed Libre Office" -- doesn't really make much sense. If you write code in Libreoffice, sure, go ahead. But maybe you weren't using vim for its intended purpose in the first place, if you threw it over completely for a full word processor? Editing LaTeX code in Scrivener probably is a bit more difficult than in LyX ... but of course, everyone's different.

The myth that free software == lower quality software is unfortunately very prevalent, and quite wrong. Yes, there are many bad, undocumented, abandoned open source projects. Yes, there are a lot of well-written, functional close sourced projects. But many free applications are well made, functional, and exceptionally stable, just as many closed source projects are poorly written, unwieldy, and prone to crashes. There's good and bad in both groups, the assumption that free == inevitable novel-endangering problems is just inaccurate. Each application should stand on the quality it delivers, not whether it was free or for pay. Many of us who exclusively use entirely free software would be in rather a lot of trouble if free meant unstable. Fortunately, this isn't the case :)

glimfeather's response to silicon:

A couple of points.
silicon wrote: I see Scrivener is working well for you. That's great, and I'm glad you enjoy it!
It would appear that it worked for the OP but the feature they object to is having to pay for it.
silicon wrote: LyX is not really comparable to Scrivener, it's not meant to serve the same function at all.
If Word or LibreOffice are comparable, as many here have tried to make them, then so too is LyX. There is one feature of LyX that I miss when using Scrivener–the dynamic "Binder" of the Navigate menu.

On open source in general there are many more failed projects than there are successes. Yes they can be forked; the most notable example being the LibreOffice fork from when Oracle tried to lay claim to ownership of open source licensed code. That languish for several years while LibreOffice flourished demonstrates not the power of forking but the necessity of team work to keep a project going. Torvalds, Rossum, Matsumoto, and Wall needed benevolent employers to get their one person projects off the group but they are all now leaders of large teams. Plume Creator appears to be only one guy working in his spare time. Scrivener is a small company producing one or two writer specific products full-time.

glimfeather now responds to me:

Rowan Law wrote: Scrivener--$40
Winners of Camp July 2014 received a 50% discount.

Let's examine your other negative comments.
Rowan Law wrote:Cons:
It costs money.
So do computer games as does Windows. Unless you're downloading a Linux or *BSD distribution over someone else Internet connection so do they.
Rowan Law wrote: It's very busy.
Hide the Inspector (there's a button for that). Hide the Binder (there's a button for that) and it has a less busy interface and certainly one less busy than most word processors–the ribbon bar version of Microsoft Word makes Scrivener look like a very simple tool.
Rowan Law wrote: The "distraction free" fullscreen mode isn't.
You might be right. Personally I don't use that feature but from the tests I've done it does "exactly what it says on the tin."
Rowan Law wrote: Really bright to my eyes.
It's no brighter than any other program. If it's an issue there are customisation features available just as there are with Word and the simplistic word processors. This really only has any relevance if the users has Mears Irlen Syndrome, which as it happens I do but I've found that Scrivener isn't the problem–the NaNo forums on the other hand really set my Syndrome off.
Rowan Law wrote: MS Word or Gdocs can be used for commenting, annotations, and footnotes, and most multimedia things.
So can a bolster and chisel. And lets not forget that Word cost money. much more money than Scrivener does but you haven't factored that cost in to your critique.
Rowan Law wrote: It's not very user friendly. It takes at least an hour to learn all its functions, and then your brain hurts.
Rubbish. It is no more time-consuming to learn to use than say Word is to figure out how to get it to do what you actually want.
Rowan Law wrote: Celtex can do the script mode thing for free, and it's more intuitive.
The few times I've use Scrivener for script (Script Frenzy) it was adequate for my needs. The hot key interface and reasonable assumptions as to what the next element would be were inuitive.
Rowan Law wrote: I couldn't get a spellchecker to work--I think this is probably because I'm using a beta version, but whatever.
So your own ineptitude using a beta version is a negative against the product!
Rowan Law wrote: One has to actively save history by taking screenshots.
Scrivener does autosave and will keep backups for you. Yes you can take snapshots but you can't do that with the much more expensive Word.
Rowan Law wrote: It crashed on me once. I think that's just a beta thing, though.
Right so you using a beta version is a con against the stable release product.

My conclusion:

You don't like Scrivener and are using speciss arguments to prejudice others.

I respond with:

I'm not sure I understand your conclusion entirely:
  1. a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g., Homo sapiens. 
  2. a group subordinate to a genus and containing individuals agreeing in some common attributes and called by a common name. 
  3. a kind or sort 
  4. used humorously to refer to people who share a characteristic or occupation.
  5. a particular kind of atom, molecule, ion, or particle. 
  6. the visible form of each of the elements of consecrated bread and wine in the Eucharist.
Which way were you using that, exactly . . . ? I am actually fairly confused by that, to be honest. Did you mean 'specious?' If so, I find your accusation completely unwarranted and uncalled for.

As for the beta comments, I was mentioning that it was beta because it could have been the only thing that caused those negative problems, and that Windows users would probably have no issue with it. Saying those without saying that it might have been the fact that I'm using the beta or my simple 'ineptitude' would have been irresponsible of me, if I wanted to give a somewhat fair representation of both sides of the product.

Besides, my pros list for Scrivener was completely unacknowledged. I never said it's not a nice product. No, in fact, it's a very nice product that has obviously had a lot of time and energy put into it, reflected by the rather long list I wrote up for it on its pros. It's a personal preference to use something else. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean other people don't have to not like it too. A lot of people like it. I'm okay with that.

I'm okay with people doing things I don't and liking things I don't. I'm also okay with people having different opinions than me. It would be boring if the entire world liked everything the same way.

It's great that you like Scrivener and are so passionate about your preferred product.

What I don't understand is why it's okay to flame on anyone who says anything remotely bad about it, or even makes a debate against it.

If I wanted to prejudice people that badly, which I don't, why would I tell them to go see if they liked the thirty-day trial? True, I did say it probably wasn't worth it, and for them to download something else, but in my next breath, I told them to go check it out for themselves if they weren't sure what side of the argument they liked better. Wouldn't I say something more along the lines of, "Ohmygosh, Scrivener will absolutely crash your computer and do horrible things to it! It'll burn your eyes out because it's so bright! It'll phone home to M$! I hate scrivener! There's nothing good about the product or the people who made it! You must download something different or this other software I have right here!" if I wanted to prejudice them into not downloading Scrivener simply because I don't like it? Why would I take the time to try and write a (somewhat; things were left out, as I mentioned) comprehensive list of pros and cons of the product?

That would be a horrendously childish thing for me to do. I am actually very sorry if I come off sounding that way, because that is not how I ever intended myself to sound. I took over two hours to write a comprehensive comparison for both softwares. Also note how many cons Plume has in comparison to Scrivener and how many great trinkets Scrivener has in comparison to Plume; it's not like I fluffed up Plume's pros and Scrivener's cons lists. If I did make it seem that way, it was certainly not on purpose. Scrivener has a lot of things Plume doesn't (which is, admittedly, part of the unappeal to me) and a lot of them are pretty nifty. I could do with a Scrivenings Mode. I could do with the Typewriter mode. I could do being able to easily merge my documents together (although Copy and Paste will likely continue to serve me well). I could do with a lot of things on the pros list. However, I think the cons--mainly the one of it being costly, even if it is only $20 (but that's only if one has won nano; not everyone does. I've won three out of twelve nanos, including camps, and I honestly don't think Scrivener would increase my chances of winning each time, since writing products tend to not make people's brain chemistry change (I would be sincerely concerned if they did))--outweigh it.

The OP wanted a free alternative to Scrivener, so I drew up a quick pros and cons list for both, since I wanted to have a look at Scrivener myself and I figured that, since I was 'inept' at both softwares (Plume and Scrivener), I would compare and see from an unbiased point of view which I liked more. And, yes, I (note the heavily implied "in my opinion") don't really like Scrivener because it took me more than an hour to even start to grasp what all the tools do; in fact, it even says in the tutorial that it will take at least an hour to get through. I wrote that list with the idea in mind that people who'd be reading it would be new to Scrivener. I was trying to give them a good idea of what to expect.

A lot of computers come with Word installed, albeit perhaps a 30-day-trial. And a lot of us get tutored bit by bit how to use Word from the first grade. Perhaps if I had been taught to use Scrivener since I could use a computer, I would like it. Word was something I could think of. Convenient, one might say, because a lot of people know how to use it. I can't think of something that would be terribly time-consuming to learn in Word (besides that stupid, stupid envelope feature it has), unless one is computer-dense. Maybe that's just because I've grown up on it. I can't really say, since I don't have an alternate life to compare that to.

And I did mention that it costs money in the "other options" I listed. Just use Google docs instead for a free option, since I mentioned that as well in the same sentence. I happen to have Word on my M$ OS because I got it for free; it was gifted to me. Perhaps other people have their versions gifted to them as well. Maybe people get gifted with Scrivener, too. It's great if one has something nice like those to work with for free.

Furthermore, something I apparently should have mentioned earlier: in my opinion, Word is also not worth buying if one is a broke college student (and, as you mentioned, it costs a fair amount of money. I'll be honest and say I don't know how much, nor do I really care to know when I have other things available to me that are free). I wrote my first novel in Open Office. I wrote many of my Highschool essays in Open Office. So far, I've written A college-papers (the highest grade I can get at my school; no A+s, sadly) all in Google Docs. Scrivener could literally not improve upon that score, since I can't get better than an A, unless I thought my professors were dodos and my papers were crap and that Scrivener could alter my brain chemistry to make me super intelligent, since I can find other software that offers what it does for writing papers--none of which are true.


I'm sorry I didn't spring from the aether as a "professional" word-processing user, but I don't think Scrivener is ten-thousand-times better than a simple word processor.

I'm sorry if my attempts to help came off as attempting to prejudice the world against Scrivener. It seems to me a hard thing to swallow, though, when I gave pros and cons for both the softwares I was comparing.

P.S. My tone in this rebuttal is a bit agitated. I apologize for that.

P.S.S. I also have light-sensitivity issues. The Nano forums are ridiculously bright; that's what I first thought of when Scrivener opened, because it has the same color scheme upon opening--bright blue and white. Everything is grey in Plume besides the actual paper one writes upon. Yarny is grey around the edges as well. Word and Gdocs are also pretty bright, probably why I use Yarny so much for all my novelling stuff (or I have since after my first nano). It's an overload of stimulus to have all them bright pixels glaring back at my eyes with no relief.

--sent from my typewriter :)

Rowan Law wrote: I'm not sure I understand your conclusion entirely:
Not species but specious
Merriam Webster Dictionary wrote:  
spe·cious adjective \ˈspē-shəs\
         : falsely appearing to be fair, just, or right : appearing to be true but actually false
Ridiculous. I respond likewise:
glimfeather wrote: You don't like Scrivener and are using speciss arguments to prejudice others.

THE MORAL OF THIS STORY: Don't be a hardcore fanatic about stuff and believe that your opinion is the only right one. Don't call people names, either, or insult their intelligence without proper evidence. It makes you look bad.

Remember: The internet never forgets, and never forgives.

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