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Scribes: A Sturdy Reinvention of the Text Editor

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Dec 14, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Scribes: A Sturdy Reinvention of the Text Editor

(click image to enlarge)

Text editors are usually replacements for full-fledged word processing suites. They can offer very simple one-trick functionality such as Leafpad or multi-functional tabbed writing tools with even some semblance of character enhancements like Gedit. Or they can offer something completely different and much more efficient, such as Scribes Text Editor.

Scribes developer Lateef Alabi-Oki has reinvented the concept of what a text editor can do. In some ways it is a throwback to the stark, simple look and feel of DOS (Disc Operating System) writer applications in the pre-Microsoft Windows days. It also resembles the barren writing environments people often associate with Unix and early Linux OSes.

I somehow never discovered the existence of Scribes until recently. I thought I had tried every word processor and text editor that existed in Linux. But my experiences in using Scribes the last few weeks to enter research notes and create writing drafts has convinced me of its power and usefulness.

I live in text processing tools. Most of my steady stream of processing words does not require the visual fancifulness of a final printed form. Instead, I rely on LibreOffice for polished hard-copy displays and Abiword for my in-house quick and simple document needs. Beyond that, my heavy-duty text editor of choice is Geany, a feature-rich text editor with basic features of an integrated development environment (IDE) popular with programmers.

Scribes, however, is fast becoming my text editor workhorse. It is a powerhouse packed within a simple-looking, minimalistic application.

Its minimalistic structure lets me write without taking my fingers off the keyboard. Scribes provides a true hands-on writing environment within the point-and-click world of the desktop GUI.

Wrong Impression

The plain, blank writing window that Scribes presents can quickly give you a distasteful view of what this app is all about. Its purpose is to create an efficient writing environment without the distractions of bells and whistles adorning the workspace. The writing space is simplistic, yes. But the power and functionality Scribes provides is very impressive.

When you first run this text editor, you see an empty writing window with a black background. Start typing and white characters appear. You can change that look without removing the simplicity.

Scribes comes with five themes which set the color. The default white lettering on black background is the Oblivion theme. Other themes hint at their color schemes. Tango, Kate, Cobalt or classic themes provide a range of white, blue, orange or gray backgrounds with a contrasting type color.

Some Configuration

All the icons and menu bars you expect to see in a Linux application are hidden from view. You access them by moving the mouse pointer into the Trigger Area, which by default is the upper-right corner of the app window. Or you can press various function keys on the keyboard to open the various options menus.

I changed the Trigger Area to the upper left corner. Moving the mouse pointer to that window mimics the design of GNOME 3. You can also adjust the size and color of the trigger marker.

The Trigger Area unmasks the limited tool bar. The Tool bar provides access to the most used text editing operations and limited configuration options.

Basic Procedures

As expected, you point to a tool bar button to activate the tool tip for the tool bar button. For a detailed list of what operations are available, see shortcut keys by clicking the help or life-saver ring icon. On that panel you can click a link to load the user manual for more help.

The Editing Area is the major viewing window where you view and type text. It contains a line margin which shows line numbers and a line highlight. The line highlight shows the line the cursor is on.

The status bar displays information about the text editor's operations in four sections. The first one shows an image that changes corresponding to the operations carried out by the editor. The second section shows the full path of the document shown in the editing area as well as text representing operations performed.

The third section shows the current position of the cursor in the editing area. The last section indicates whether the editor is in the insert or overwrite mode.

Routine Tasks

Forget the mouse even exists. You zip through navigational and editing tasks with keyboard commands. Of course, you can access the limited tool bar through the Trigger Area icon

For example, you save a file by pressing CTRL + S. A tiny message pops up from the bottom right corner of the writing window confirming the file save operation. But you really do not have to manually save or enable any timed saving function in a configuration panel. Scribes automatically saves your files.

In the same manner, you can forget about clicking an OK button to confirm any configuration options you select. The menu window remains open until you press the Esc key. Rather than cancel what you set up, it accepts your choice and closes the window.

Want more control over the file-saving process? Just press the Shift-CTRL-S keys. That gets you a traditional dialog box where you can alter the file system settings, name or rename the file, and press cancel or save buttons to finish the operation.

Advanced Functions

A popup menu provides access to some advanced text editing functions. Right-click on the editing area to display the popup menu, or press Shift-F10 or the menu key.

However you get to it, the popup menu gives you access to the typical functions you would cycle through drop-down menus or rows of tool bar icons to reach in other text editors.

The command line is a nifty time saver. You can run Scribes from it and open single file or multiple files by typing the program name an a file name or names separated by a space. When Scribes starts, the specified files are displayed in separate viewing windows.

Usage Tips

I normally do not like word-completion functions when typing text in the editing area. But the approach Scribes takes makes that function much more likable. Scribes tries to guess your text intent as you type in the editing area. It offers a suggestion box containing possible words for completion. The list of words in the suggestion box is filtered as you type to remove unlikely words for completion.

The suggestion box displaying a list of words appears periodically. The suggestion box lists words found in the editing area. Only words longer than three characters appear in the suggestion box. This process is handled automatically by Scribes. However, pressing the escape key will hide the suggestion box at any time.

Press Up or Down to select words in the suggestion box. Press Enter to insert selected words into the editing area. This is far from a hit or miss process. You can finesse the workflow by filtering the list of words in the suggestion box until the right word is the first in the box.

With a little practice, you can use the Enter key to insert text into the editing area without using the Up or Down key to select words in the suggestion box. Once you master this approach, you will reduce typing and errors.

Bottom Line

Scribes is a revolutionary approach to working with a text editor. It takes some getting used to, however. I found that its minimalistic structure was itself distracting. But once I became more familiar with keyboard shortcuts, I realized that my workflow actually sped up.

Scribes does not use tabs to work with multiple open files. Instead, it opens files into separate windows. It has a spell checker. Despite its bare-bones appearance, Scribes has a lot of functionality.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

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