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. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.