Since around 2002, I don’t think that the computer a writer uses has mattered much for writers, chiefly because virtually all computers on the market since that time will do everything you need: conjure up a window and allow you to type as long as you humanly can. The same applies to most word processors: I can’t remember the last time I got a word processor to crash except for Microsoft Word, and even that’s a very rare event. Around the time Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.2 came out, operating system stability problems receded—in Linux, they often weren’t present in the first place—and by now both Windows XP and the more recent versions of OS X are so stable that writers barely have to think about their computers if those machines are used primarily for writing.
This post comes in response to Betsy Lerner, who recently observed that she doesn’t work for Best Buy and therefore doesn’t know if an aspiring writer should buy a netbook (as a professional writer and wannabe novelist, I have some opinions on this stuff). For those of you too lazy to click the netbook link, netbooks are small laptops that usually range from 7 to 11 inches in screen size. I’d argue against netbooks: they tend to have lousy screens, and I wouldn’t want to look at one for an extended period of time. A desktop sounds more reasonable.
I prefer desktops because they tend to be more reliable and cost less, as described at the link. The new 27″ iMacs are particularly nice, and the screen attached is as good on the eyes as one can get among consumer machines. But your computer doesn’t matter much: get a $400 Dell with a 20″ monitor and you’ll still have a very nice set up. What actually matters is the time you spend with your ass in the seat, not what you’re facing while you write.
I like Macs, as demonstrated by this shot of my desk. But Windows, Linux, or OS X are all decent; all have fine, stable word processors. For documents you don’t have to share regularly, Mellel is a sweet word processor, and it has the full screen mode some writers really like. By “full screen,” I mean that you can hit command-shift-f and bring up a screen that looks like this, except much bigger:
That’s a real screenshot: you don’t have any menus or distractions on your screen, just text and a scroll bar. I added the black border in WordPress. Some people also like Mac Freedom, a program that “disables networking on an Apple computer for up to eight hours at a time” and sounds like a useful way of Disconnecting Distraction. Spotlight is very cool, as is DevonThink Pro. Both are especially useful for nonfiction.
Nonetheless, that’s the .1% of writing that doesn’t really matter much; the 99.9% that does is sitting at your computer and writing. And you can’t buy that for any amount of money.
EDIT: See also Harold Bloom on word processors (and, for good measure, editing), which contains an appropriate passage I came across on this subject.