jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Principle of Least Software

Use only the software that you need. No more, no less. Choose one application for each task, and become an expert on that application.

I have two types of applications that I’ve had a hard time finding a favorite: web browsers and text editors. When I first started writing, I wrote everything in Microsoft Word. When I needed to learn vi for work, I unconsciously relegated it to headless servers. Later, when I had a brief fling with Linux on my work PC, I used, and despised, Open Office. Last month I found that I had purchased or installed every major word processor and text editor for available for the Mac.

I’ve had Word, Pages, Mellel, Mariner Write, Ulysses, AbiWord, Bean, WriteRoom, OpenOffice, MacVim, and TextMate. To top it all off, I’ve coupled the last two with LaTeX for “document generation”.

Browsers are a similarly sad story. My default browser as gone from OmniWeb to Camino to Safari to iCab to Shiira to Firefox to Flock to Sunrise to Stainless to Chrome to Opera and finally back to Safari.

All of this, everything I wrote about each of those applications above is ridiculous. I have the utmost respect for the developers, but the honest truth is that I simply do not have the time or desire to keep trying new software.

Which leads me to the “Principle of Least Software”. The less third-party software you install, the less likely you are to run into problems when upgrading. Apple has brilliant engineers working for them, and their bundled applications that come with OS X set the bar for competing apps. Safari is a perfectly good web browser; it’s fast, loaded with features, and supports extensions. That’ll do, thanks.

Another perfectly good application bundled with OS X is TextEdit. The humble text editor that could. When I am writing, I need only for the text to be rendered in a pleasing font, and for standard OS X keyboard shortcuts to be recognized. Everything else is gravy. I write my blog posts in Markdown, so most of my writing looks like plain text anyway. Markdown syntax is so minimal that having keyboard shortcuts for it is almost silly. How hard is it to put an asterisk at the beginning and end of a word? Or to enclose a word in brackets and follow it with a URL in parentheses? Not hard, and I’ve been chasing my tail on these “productivity hacks” for far too long.

I’ll keep Word around, because, face it, sometimes you just need Word. For everything else, I’ll be sticking with TextEdit and Safari. I’ve been to the fancy TextMate clubs, and the exclusive Vim resorts. I’ve been to the Firefox festivals and Chrome love-ins. I’ve been there. I know exactly what they can do, and I’m no longer impressed.

Use only the software that you need. No more, no less.

I need only one text editor, one web browser, and a handful of other single purpose apps. What do you need?

mac personal productivity