I have a professional interest in finding alternatives to MS Word on OS X, particularly alternatives that are tailored to a book writer's needs, as opposed to a memo writer's needs. And so I enjoyed playing around the trial version of Ulysses, a newish Cocoa application from the European Blue Technologies Group. Here's how they describe the software in the help guide:
Ulysses wants to set focus on the only thing that counts: the text and its content.
Ulysses wants to enable the writer to fully concentrate on the story he wishes to tell, without hobbling his creativity by means of unnecessary burden and distraction. Someone who at least once in his life spent hours in a document searching for the correct way of formatting instead of using the time to tweak a title or heading, knows what it's about.
Ulysses wants to free the writer from the need to deliver and develop his text in predefined structures. Instead, the writer should be given the ability to form his own preferred structures -- both within the text and in organising things.
Sounds intriguing, but the actual program is a little dictatorial in the way it "frees" the writer. My favorite example: the software will not allow you to use bold or italic type as you write. Using italics would only be a distraction, apparently. Now, I hate Word's formatting system as much as the next guy, but I've never been all that puzzled by the italics function. And I use it quite often.
This reminds me of one of my favorite typographic stories from college. (Sounds good already, no?) One of my more, um, enthusiastic friends was applying to be a Rhodes Scholar. This was a very smart guy who may have had his intellectual energies dialed up just a few notches too high. (He once printed out 200 copies of his mid-term paper in a Nietzsche lecture we were taking, and handed them out to the entire class.) When you apply for the Rhodes, you write a two-three page personal statement explaining why they should consider you for this great fellowship. If you're lucky, you get asked back for a couple of interviews. My friend sends in his statement and other materials, and then a month or two later gets called in for an interview. Usually, this is a good sign. But in this case, the committee sat him down, and handed him a piece of paper, and asked him if he recognized anything on the page.
He looked at it for a few seconds, and said, "Yes, this is a list of fifty or sixty words that you've randomly selected from my personal statement."
The committee chair shook his head. "Not random. Those are all the words you italicized in your personal statement."
If he'd only been using Ulysses, that guy might be a Rhodes Scholar today.