In perhaps the quintessential example of small, independent developers creating best-in-class applications on Mac OS X, today we’re going to look at Literature and Latte’s Scrivener. One of the most notable things about this particular developer is that Literature and Latte is not primarily a software developer — it’s actually just one person, who in turn is a writer. Scrivener came out of this individual’s desire for an application that did exactly what he wanted it to. The result is a top-notch, polished application that is responsive and remarkably easy to use.

The motivation for Scrivener stems from the nature of writing — really writing. While jotting an essay out in Word or Pages is one thing, when you’re working on larger projects (a novel, screenplay, thesis, et cetera) you generally have all sorts of things you’re trying to keep track of: a chapter idea here, a snippet of dialogue there, outlines, multiple drafts, and reference materials like pdfs, pictures, movies, music, and web sites… needless to say, it’s a vast morass of material that’s easy to get bogged down in. Scrivener’s job is to keep track of all that stuff in one easy to access spot, so you can get down to actually writing what you need to write, rather than spending all your time trying to track down that one pesky reference. The whole point is to allow the writer to get down to the meat of things and just write. It’s got basic text formatting options, but as the developer is quick to point out, it isn’t a page layout application — go use Word, or Pages, or InDesign, or Quark when you’re ready to go to print. For actually creating content, however, this program is definitely where it’s at.

The best way to really get a feel for what this application does is to download it and try it out. It comes with a well written tutorial file that explains how to use the core features of the program (well worth the time to go through), but the application itself is flexible enough for you to adapt it to the workflow that works best for you. I do want to point out a few things that I’m particularly impressed with. Right off the bat, I want to say that I’m quite happy with the “fit and finish” of Scrivener. It appears to not only use, but actually adhere to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines using the Aqua Unified user interface. The icons are all fairly self-explanatory (and yet everything actually has useful tooltips in case you’re wondering), and look sharp (according to the About screen, most of the UI icons are from Royalty Free Icons). When it swaps over to full screen mode, the HUD interface will look remarkably familiar to anyone who has used Aperture, or the slideshow functions in OS X 10.4 or iPhoto — I’ll admit, when I first tried full screen and played around with it a bit, the first thing that came to mind was “Oooh, sexy.” The application icon itself is sharp and looks at home in my dock — another small but incredibly nice touch is the custom .dmg icon, as well. It all just makes the application feel really polished and professional.

Another remarkably handy feature of Scrivener is the split screen mode. Lots of apps have split screen views (even Terminal), but one of the nice things about this particular split screen mode is that you can toss a different document (including reference files) into one of the screens, and continue typing in the other. This means that if you’re, say, reviewing an album, you could play a particular song while writing without having to leave the application. (I’m sure a lot of folks might just swap over to iTunes for this, but the same logic can be applied to reviewing a document, or a photograph or painting, or a movie… again, the whole point is to have everything you need at your fingertips without having to leave the program.)

I could go on, but I do try to keep these spotlights short (relatively speaking), so instead I’m going to move on from the feature set. Something that I and others I know have been burned by before is format obsolescence (HOW many Word formats have there been? They all list as .doc, but you’ll know it’s changed when it suddenly no longer works even in Word after a version update): the developer has kept this all in mind, and opted for open source file formats. While .scriv is technically unique, each .scriv file is actually a packaged directory that you can open (ctrl+click, select Show Package Contents). Inside you’ll discover that all the content is actually stored via RTFD and XML files. So, even if Scrivener suddenly disappeared tomorrow or changed its format and stopped supporting the old one, you could still get all your content out.

It might sound like I’m being a little overzealous with my praise, but I really am quite impressed with both the application and the developer. Scrivener does exactly what I’ve been hoping for, and Literature and Latte completely exemplifies the principle of independent development on Mac OS X. In a relatively short period of time (especially since he was teaching himself Cocoa in the process), a single individual was able to put together a professional quality application that easily rivals the offerings of much larger organizations (and for much less money). This is what indie development is all about.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 26th, 2007 at 9:06 AM and is filed under AppleTalk. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


Comment by Sam
2007-02-26 19:10:25

Interesting. I’ve been using Ulysses ever since I got my MacBook last April and I do love it. It’s made my writing a lot more organised… However… Scrivener is like Ulysses except 1/3 of the price and with a metric shit ton more functionality. That’s before you get to the style comparisons. Scrivener is shiny.

Having played with Scrivener for just a few minutes it’s already covered my biggest gripe with Ulysses. When working in full screen mode it begins scrolling the text upward once you get halfway down the screen. So simple… but so damned important! It’s quite jarring to type to the bottom of the screen where the white plastic surrounding the MacBook screen joins the black background.

To think all this was done by one guy. Just awesome!

2007-02-27 22:04:26

[…] As a follow up to last post, I did indeed procure and install a shower head and pillow (well, the pillow doesn’t really need installing per se, but the gist I think is made). Life is better, though I’m still looking forward to something more resembling a bed. I’ve gotten a few other errands out of the way, and my Scrivener review is now up, if you care to read it. […]

Comment by klinkie
2007-02-28 14:14:12

wow.. sounds like a really great program.
i know this sounds sort of lame, but i’ve been toying with the idea of getting a mac and developments like this have helped me to decide that my next box will be shiny and white. *grin*
so long linux!
thanks so much for the enlightening review.

Comment by Chris Giddings
2007-02-28 16:33:26

Scrivener is fantastic. While I haven’t yet paid for my copy (lost my card while at Katsucon last weekend – don’t worry it’s been canceled), I am planning on reimbursing the developer heavily. And mayber picking his brain a bit. :D

Comment by Frodo A.
2007-03-01 02:44:52

Wow, that program sounds like nothing but awesome. I’ve been looking for something like it for ages now. And this is Definitely going on my birthday list for things I need to have!

Comment by Gangrell
2007-03-01 11:19:49

Whenever I am looking for the best software for my needs I find that I am useing a small fraction of what the software has to offer but also note that they are features and gimicks I will never personaly use. So I become frustrated with the idea of useing it, because I don’t like having ‘useless’ programs on my mechine. Here is a program that offers quite a few options that I would love to have. Plus there are features that I am sure I would not have to learn to live with like some others, but would love to learn how usefull it really is. Alas such usefull software is beyond my platforms reach. A platform that I have become chained to because of everything other then professional need. I am, now and for the future to come, that little boy stuck inside looking out.

Comment by Theodore
2007-03-10 16:28:50

I am amazed by how flexible the program is. I can certainly see how useful it is for purely creative writing storybording etc. I started using it for my upper level biology term papers. The best features would be its ability to Juggle 20+ PDF journal articles on my a 14″ ibook. It can also keep track all the little bits of typing with each. Not only are they easy to flip through quickly, everything then gets stored away nicely in one tight package. The full screen mode and polished flexible interface are certainly perks. Amazing find!

Comment by Zali
2007-03-20 04:26:01

Frankly, the program can use a little work. I would really like to able to control where new documents open in split screen for example (either in the one with attention, or in the one without). And I also would really like to be able to “clip” out of a larger article in order to make a new notecard (I use Scrivener for research papers mostly).

But I still recommend the program very highly. Two reasons. One, the community does listen when you have a suggestion. Two, the programmer uses the program and has every interest in making in better. The program already is a good 4 out of 5 stars, I can only imagine it getting better, and I can only imagine that happening quickly. So I look forward to following this program through it’s development.

Bottom line, buy it, buy it now. It will only get better.

Comment by Seenuan
2007-03-22 01:38:58

Wow, took me forever to figure out what this was about- I’m slow like that and perhaps for good reason. Sounds like an awesome program, but my infrequent experience w/ Mac has left me loathing it. I’ll have to dig up a friend w/ a Mac to try the program out and see if it’s worth the ultimate conversion, which I’m sure certain people think it is :D

Comment by Raveled
2007-03-26 11:22:41

Damn. 90% of what I do on my PC is either writing or gaming… But now it looks like I need a Mac for the first…

Comment by NoahKai
2007-03-29 21:43:34

This only goes for a Mac huh? and seocnd we gotta buy it we cant try it for free? well if thats the way it is then alright, when I go to uni I’ll be getting a labtop so if I get a mac and have enough money to buy this program I’ll get it

Comment by Nabil
2007-03-30 12:33:16

It is indeed only for Mac. As for your second question: there is a full featured trial mode that runs for 30 days before you need to pay.

Comment by Grason
2007-04-06 09:05:56

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Nabil! I tried it, bought it and now am pushing it at my other writing mates. I’ve already been able to perform major surgery on my NaNoWriMo novel from last year. The visual outline (notecards) are a huge help, and I love being able to embed notes, links, graphics, etc. into one portfolio instead of having to have my browser, my PDF reader, etc., all sharing desktop real estate.

Comment by Rich Bon M
2007-04-28 14:37:05


2008-04-17 23:47:09

[…] a bed. I’ve gotten a few other errands out of the way, and my Scrivener review is now up, if you care to read […]


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.