Macintosh classics: WriteNow

The most popular word processor for classic Macs is probably Microsoft Word 5.1 — and, for once, deservedly so. A quite capable word processor with the right mix of feature set and Mac-friendliness. Thus, it’s likely to be the first recommended application in this category when you want to use your vintage Mac for writing and you ask around in the community. I, for one, have been recommending it along with WordPerfect for a long time. Until — alas, belatedly! — I discovered WriteNow.

WriteNow Splashscreen.jpg

WriteNow is a Macintosh classic par excellence, since it was one of the first word processors available for the Macintosh along with MacWrite. Its genesis is interesting and is well summarised by the Wikipedia entry:

WriteNow was written for Apple Computer, Inc. by John Anderson and Bill Tschumy in Seattle, separate from the Macintosh computer and MacWrite word processor development teams. Steve Jobs was concerned that those programming MacWrite were not going to be ready for the 1984 release date of the Macintosh; he therefore commissioned a team of programmers to work independently on a similar project, which eventually became WriteNow. Members of the WriteNow team knew about MacWrite, but members of the MacWrite team did not know about WriteNow. Ultimately, MacWrite was in fact completed on schedule and shipped with the Macintosh, while WriteNow was later made available as a commercial product after Steve Jobs left Apple to form NeXT. WriteNow was originally owned by NeXT and published by the T/Maker Company.

There is a very nice review of WriteNow 4.0 (the last and more complete version) on the 5 August 1994 Issue of MacUser UK, written by Clive Grace. The following is a series of highlights I chose to illustrate what’s good (and what could be improved) about WriteNow.

The review starts with one of the most important things about WriteNow, compared with other applications of its kind:

WriteNow is carving a niche for itself among users who don’t want the memory overhead that comes with a heavyweight word processor. Microsoft Word, for example, takes in excess of 6.5 MB of your hard disk and, where possible, occupies 2 MB RAM, and few users fully utilise the flexibility and programmability of a package like Nisus either.

Stiffer competition comes from cheaper, leaner integrated packages such as Microsoft Works and ClarisWorks which cost just under £100, and so approach WriteNow’s territory, which sells on the fact that it has been written for speed and compactness without sacrificing features.

On import and export formats and features:

WriteNow 4.0 imports and exports other word processing file formats and is compatible with Microsoft Word, and Windows Write and Works files. It will also read MacWrite II, PageMaker and QuarkXPress files, but sadly, only the DOS version of WordPerfect is supported. However, if your existing word processor doesn’t support any of these file formats, WriteNow 4.0 will save and read RTF files.

WriteNow 4.0’s new features focus on improved table handling, better and faster importing of EPS, PICT and MacPaint files, colour support for pictures and text, and a set of PowerBook features to manage your battery more efficiently.

One thing I like about WriteNow is that, as the reviewer points out, you can install as much or as little of the application as you need. For users with PowerBooks there are additional installation options, including a feature that loads the word processor entirely into memory along with as many documents as the RAM can support:

Although this option eats up memory, the result is a faster word processor — and not using the hard drive saves on battery life, squeezing an extra 30 minutes from a new Type III battery.


Unless you use a battery monitor utility, you’ll find WriteNow’s battery-saving software a useful alternative to switching to the Finder and so spinning up the hard disk. The battery indicator stays invisible on a PowerBook Duo, which uses a different set of power management tools, but it operates without incident on a PowerBook 145B.

The WordMaster thesaurus is excellent, but you’ll have to be careful when you install it:

A Mac IIcx suffered repeated bus errors and fatal crashes until we made the machine 32-bit aware by adding Connectix’s Mode32 and setting 32-bit addressing in the Control Panel. However, once running, the thesaurus ran circles around Word’s resource-hogging equivalent and indeed made using an online thesaurus a viable proposition on a PowerBook.

Finally, I fully agree with the reviewer’s conclusion:

If all you need is a small, lightweight word processor with none of the extraneous features of an integrated package, but with enough graphics and tabling functions to let you perform basic DTP operations, then WriteNow is ideal. Its ability to read and write to other word processor formats makes it useful as a cheap word processor to run on a PowerBook and because it’s fast, it’s ideal for slower machines such as the Mac Plus, Classic, or an SE.

You can download all WriteNow’s versions (1.0 – 4.0.2) nicely packed in a single self-mounting image at the Macintosh Garden.

Update: The Macintosh Garden website appears to be down at the moment. Luckily, I managed to grab the package previously, so if you can’t download WriteNow at the address provided, you can find it here.


7 thoughts on “Macintosh classics: WriteNow

  1. I’ve been using WriteNow for years, and it’s perfect. I’ve run it on PowerBooks and on an SE/30, and it’s great on either. The authors got little things right: if you’re anywhere in the last line of text and press the down arrow, the cursor goest to the end of the line. Scrolling doesn’t automatically move the cursor. Microsoft could learn something from this. The low cost of memory and the increase in computing power mean that programming doesn’t have to be especially efficient. So little gems like WriteNow only exist on older systems. Sigh.

  2. Back in the mid-90’s when I was an editor of my high school’s newspaper, we used WriteNow on B&W compact Macs to draft articles, and PageMaker to lay out the paper. I have fond memories of both apps, and now almost 20 years later I’m using WriteNow 4 on a Color Classic to draft a screenplay. I have no idea if this script will sell, or if I’m any better off using WriteNow than I would be using a modern version of Word, but it certainly makes the process more fun!

  3. Wow, I used WriteNow to both layout whole school tabloid newspapers AND laying out scripts for the drama club. Later I used it to set-up and print legal documents when the first LaserWriters came out (yay! Early employment.) It handled the personal touches and ease so much better than the early version of PageMaker. I even had a full 280 page manual written entirely with it. Memory required it be broken into three files, but it was easy to deal with.

    Wish there was a successor to it, that had all the same features and would read the old files without destroying all the formatting.

  4. Write Now! was one of the few things that I miss from the early days of home computers. It had just the right mix of features and simplicity. I wish that there were a version of it for present-day Macs.

  5. WriteNow was hands down the best word processor program ever, and I really miss it. If there was a way to install it on the Mac I have now, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

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