If the other major apps for writers previously reviewed are aircraft carriers, and Jer's Novel Writer is a destroyer, then CopyWrite is a frigate. Lightweight, simple, focused, and devoid of anxiety inducing complexities that can stymie the creative writing process.
There are apps for writers that try to do everything: manage time lines, enable rich text notes and graphics, track submissions, or finely tune the output in exactly the right Microsoft Word format demanded by the publisher.
CopyWrite doesn't do any of that. Instead, like Jer's Novel Writer, it's forte is the clean and organized generation of text. However, because CopyWrite has very limited export capability, the user will be responsible for the casting of the final product into the desired format.
CopyWrite Main Window and secondary (left)
- Tabbed view of document types
- Side drawer for notes
- Extensive document info window
- Global search and replace
- Full screen writing mode
- Version control
- Tracks writing goal with project statistics
- Automatic Project backup
True to my observation in the review of Jer's Novel Writer, the central theme of CopyWrite is freedom from distractions. As the Website says:
"Rather than focus on formatting and layout, CopyWrite stands apart in its project-oriented approach. Word processors and page layout tools are good at what they do -- formatting and layout -- but they offer no help at all to a writer during the creative process. In fact, the 'gee-whiz' features crammed into these tools do more to hinder writers, getting in the way of their work flow. Put simply, these tools constipate writers; CopyWrite is like a tasty bran muffin ... with extra bran."
To that end, rather than force the user to construct organizational structure, CopyWrite has a default, built-in tab system for files: All, unfiled, Chapters, Characters, Places, Elements, Ideas and Premise. These categories can be modified, but, out of the box, the writer is presented with organization support that is immediate. The net effect is that instead of taking hours to create the desired environment, the writer can just start writing.
Naturally, the down side of that is that CopyWrite enforces a fundamental simplicity that may not suit everyone. It occurs to me that while this kind of enforced clarity in design may appeal to some adults, it may also be a good approach for younger writers. That is, those who are working on non-professional writing projects that need CopyWrite's features but have no worries about excruciating details for product formatting during a complex export.
A few of the positives include considerable control over the look of the text in the composing window, the side notes, the full screen editor and printed output -- both in font and color. CopyWrite also makes the reasonable assumption that in a simple, direct written product to paper mode, the user will expect to be able to introduce formal bold, italic, underline text, and hyperlinks right in the body. With little fuss and bold clarity, those functions are right in the (customizable) Toolbar by default.
One feature I especially liked is the detailed info window for each document combined with the option to include or exclude the document from the project statistics. For example, the writer's personal notes typically won't count towards the word count for the novel. Also, the notes can be excluded from export or included for the sake of reference value.
The preferences are a model of clarity primarily because the scope of the app is so limited. Even so, this reviewer has come to learn that the design of the preferences is a window into the organizational, logical and design powers of the developer.
In this case, one can see discipline and grace in the product, if one grants the overall design goal of simplicity, maybe to a fault.
So far so good.
Another really nice feature is the full screen mode which has a discreet bar at the bottom. There's never any doubt about what clicking the bar will do. Exit is straightforward. The size of the text in full screen mode is set with a slider. The effect is that one immediately knows what to do, doesn't have to go back to a preference page to change the size, and the feedback is immediate. Some of the other apps in the aircraft carrier class could learn from this kind of intuitive design. However, because the drawer at the bottom is transparent, there can be cosmetic issues with dense text behind.
CopyWrite also recognizes that if one needs to change a character name or a reference item in a note, it needs to be searched globally and it needs to be replaced globally. One always gets the feel that the developer is in full control of the author's written text because organizational complexities never get in the way.
So much for the good stuff. There are, however, some major limitations and mild negatives, by design, in CopyWrite:
- Text import and export is limited to rich text. One can control which documents are exported, but not the detailed format. However, there are a few print preferences that could be used to dictate Print -> PDF, but one can only print one document at a time, not the whole project.
- Notes are limited to text. You can define your characters well, but not drag in an image that's useful for inspiration and visualization of a character or, say, location. In fact, one cannot even drag images into the body of a document. Instead, a local file URL is created.
- There no inline/margin notes or bookmarks. These niceties, considered essential "features" for other similar apps are avoided in CopyWrite. The philosophy could be taken as stop fussing and keep writing.
- Unlike more expensive competitors, the full screen mode doesn't have the spiffy "typewriter" mode in which the cursor stays in the center of the screen.
- Given these limitations, despite the apparent stability of the app based on a simple design, the price is out of sync with a much more formidable app, like Jer's Novel Writer-- which is nominally US$30.
- Finally, this app is a finished product, no longer in active development. The author told this reviewer: "... please keep in mind CopyWrite has not been changed in several years. The focus for this application was met and I've had no desire to keep up with the 'whiz-bang' features others have added, and which most of my users feel are useless clutter. In other words, I don't feel CopyWrite is 'behind the competition' but stands firm in its goal to avoid UI clutter and feature bloat."
Accordingly, when the customer buys CopyWrite, there can't be expectation for continued evolution. That has an impact on the perceived value for the price paid.
The entire documentation consists of several pages accessed from the Help menu. The main page is shown below, and several of those links link to pages with more links. By and large, most questions are answered because the scope of the app is so limited and actions within the program are so intuitive. However, the user who is accustomed to detailed documentation on every element of a $25 program may be disappointed.
Documentation: in Help Menu
This is the section where I mention problems that I encountered with the software. However, outside the limitations I described above, that are driven by the design of the software, I didn't encounter any problems. Every other writer's app I have reviewed has either crashed at some point or took me into a spinning beach ball that lasted too long. CopyWrite is clean and fast, and given its design goals and execution, there aren't any fundamental nits to mention.
The most important question to ask in this series of reviews is: Would I commit to use this app to write a 100,00 word novel for publication? The answer in my case is "no." CopyWrite could be used for that purpose, but then one would be faced later with formatting the document for export. That's a task the developer defers.
Another metric I use is this: is this app so well done and so well documented that I'm willing to depend on it as a tool for my professional career, something to put bread on the table? Again, the answer is "no." The very simplicity and focus of the app leads me to suspect that it could be used as a front end, a nice writing tool, but then one needs something else to take that RTF output and get it ready for publication as well as manage the visuals and artwork for characterization, locales, etc. This makes me think of the app, as I said before, that younger writers might use in high school or college for research papers or short stories, but maybe not by Robert B. Parker or James Patterson. (I could be wrong.)
Finally, for a product that hasn't changed in a few years and whose development has ceased, the developer may want to consider lowering the price. Also, I disagree with crippling the app to five documents and no export during the trial period. Such crippling isn't merited by the scope and stature of the application.
For those who are serious about writing formidable non-fiction or fiction as a career, I suggest working back up the ladder to one of the other apps previously reviewed. However, for light duty, especially in education or short stories, CopyWrite is appropriate.
For the rating, I consider many things. The feature set, the app stability, the design, the intuitiveness, the documentation and the price. It's a subjective process. I also have to put the app in perspective against the competition. With all this in mind, CopyWrite gets a 3 out of 5 rating. Solid.
I'll post a summary soon with links to all the writer's apps reviewed to date.