Remember my post about JDarkRoom?  The one in which I told you that this was one of the most helpful tools around for just getting down to work and concentrating on your text?

Well, I also mentioned that it was based on WriteRoom, a Mac-only application doing the same thing, and was a springboard from DarkRoom, a Windows-based version of WriteRoom.  Now, I’m using DarkRoom instead of JDarkRoom (for this post only), because I wanted to tell you a couple of things about it that differentiate it from JDarkRoom.  They also, in my opinion, defeat the purpose of a full-screen, text-only program that allows you to forget the surrounding distractions usually plaguing someone using a computer, but that’s going to be left to the reader to decide.

First off, if you’re interested in obtaining DarkRoom, it can be had here.  Download it for free; if you like it, consider donating to the author, who’s done a lot of work for us to use freely.  Okay, sermon over.

DarkRoom has some advantages and some disadvantages over JDarkRoom.  For one thing, it has a scroll bar integrated into the black screen so that you don’t have to use the PgUp/PageUp and PgDn/PageDown keys to move vertically around the screen.  In addition, it has complete Windows-style menus available, so that you can do your standard FILE, EDIT, VIEW and HELP things just as with any other Windows program.

Another thing that DR can do that JDR lacks is the ability to be reduced to a window on your screen.  This is especially helpful should you need access to information in another window or program and you don’t want to leave DarkRoom completely.  When you want the distraction-free mode again, press F11 and it’s full-screen once more.  A nice feature which removes the task bar and all the other programs on the screen from view, as well as DarkRoom’s own menu and title bar.

It allows you access to all the Windows-installed fonts your computer has to offer, too.  Some of us just don’t like the monospaced, Courier-style fonts that JDarkRoom limits itself to using.  For those of you that want to use Arial, or Tahoma, or Comic Sans (hey, it could happen — I’ve seen it used as the default text in emails, for pity’s sake), you have the ability to do that in DR, whereas it’s missing in JDR.

The color choices for DR are also vast — it allows you to open the standard Windows color choser and define your own colors if the ones presented by default aren’t to your liking.  You can apply the full range of Windows-available colors to both your font and your background, so feel free to be creative and have fun.

DR also outputs as a .txt file; while JDR outputs a file that it can read, if you want to use the file in another program it has to be named with a .txt extension.  I haven’t tried .rtf, but it may work too, since JDR by default doesn’t place an extension on the file name.  In addition, DarkRoom allows you to set it so that it runs in a more portable-compatible mode, so you can drop it on your USB flash drive and go with it.  You know I love that.  It allows you to choose other options for the look of the program as well as it’s behavior, and that includes something called “Neutral highlighting,” which implies that text which you highlight with your cursor will be automatically colored for you.  JDarkRoom allows you to choose this, and I’m sure DarkRoom does too; this option probably just overrides your choice and can make the decision easier.  No matter what font color and background colors you choose, you’re highlighted text will stand out and be visible.  I guess.

There are a couple of drawbacks, however, with DarkRoom.  Of course, there were drawbacks with JDarkRoom, too, but I have to point them out.

Another handy feature is use of the standard Windows shortcuts for certain features, like SHIFT+UP (the arrow key pointing up) to move from one paragraph to another, and moving one word at a time with SHIFT+(direction key, the arrows), just as in Word or any other Windows-based editor.  I seem to recall that JDR has less of these available, but that hasn’t — and won’t — keep me from using it.

For one, the program is dependent on, and requires the installation of, the .NET framework on the PC.  A link to the download site from Microsoft is on the DarkRoom website, so do a check in your Add/Remove Programs utility in the Windows Control Panel and see if you have the .NET Framework installed.  If not, get it; DarkRoom won’t work without it.

The biggest thing, though, is that DarkRoom was originally designed to be a distraction-free writing environment.  With all the bells and whistles added to the program, it almost feels like it’s lost its way.  It’s not that clean, small, very useful app that it probably started out being; the demand of users for more and more features led to what we have now.  It’s not a full-blow word processing program, but we’re getting closer.  While JDarkRoom could probably take a few tips from DarkRoom, I hope it doesn’t go too far.  I hope that JDR remains a clean, uncluttered and tiny program that can do wonders for you if you just want to get some text down out of your head.

That isn’t to say DarkRoom is a bad program though.  Considering it’s speed and size, it’s really useful.  And, it’s a bit easier to use it at work for things I’m not supposed to be doing (like this blog, for instance), because I can minimize it and make it a standard sized window, making it “blend” with the other apps on my PC.  When I want to focus and get things done, I can run in FS mode and the room will go dark.

For my personal use at home, I’ll probably retain JDR instead.  For one thing, the cross-platform capability means that my impending move to either Mac or a Linux-based PC.  (“Impending’ is writer-ese for “when I can afford it”, especially where a Mac is concerned.)

So, at any rate, if you’re interested in these things, there’s another option for you.  The fact that it’s cross-platform makes JDR a bit more useful to me, but DarkRoom is a very well-written and documented program that has a lot of great features and can become an indispensable tool for the writer that needs to crunch words in an uninterrupted way … without excluding the possibility of being interrupted if necessary.


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